Egyptian Judiciary: Is There Room for Women?

Wednesday 14 March 201808:20 pm
Four years ago, Omnia Gadallah graduated from Al-Azhar University's Law and Sharia faculty, second in her class with degrees in general law and international trade with honors. She wanted to kick off her career by landing a job at the Egyptian State Council, one of the country's supreme judicial bodies. But despite her degrees and credentials, she -- along with other women -- were not allowed to apply for the assistant delegate position on 30 January, 2014. Gadallah says they were denied the opportunity to apply only because they were female candidates, even though the new constitution clearly states that women are eligible for this job. The then head of the State Council Farid Nazih Tanagho also confirmed that women would be considered for the opening under the 2014 constitution. "But what happened with us was the complete opposite," Gadallah told Raseef22, explaining that women are not welcome at the State Council. Although women have taken up various jobs in all fields in Egypt and the Arab world, the State Council is still controlled by a radical notion that women cannot properly fill judicial positions. The State Council's general assembly upheld this belief in a 2010 meeting, even though women have secured jobs at other judicial bodies in Egypt. The reason for the State Council's decision is that the judiciary requires certain characteristics that only men have, and that the nature of work at the council does not suit women. The decision was met with a backlash from human rights advocates.

The Constitution Is Not Enough

Only men were allowed to apply for the assistant delegate position, even though women are also eligible for this job pursuant to the law and constitution. Prohibiting female candidates from applying was a violation of international treaties Egypt has signed, most prominent of which is the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Gadallah and around 20 women filed a complaint at the office of the State Council's head and the police, insisting on accessing application forms in order to apply for the job. Gadallah also informed the National Council for Women (NCW) of what happened, before the latter sent a letter to the State Council condemning the injustice the female candidates were subject to. However, the State Council's reply came rather aggressive. Without explaining why women were not allowed to apply for the job, it issued a strong-worded statement hitting back at the NCW and calling for the removal of its head for not using the appropriate language while addressing the State Council's head. The equality between men and women in civil rights is upheld by the 2014 constitution. Article 11 stipulates that the state is responsible for achieving such equality on the economic, social and political levels. This means appointing individuals in public positions, including in the judiciary, should not be gender based. Articles 53 also stresses the law does not differentiate between a man and a woman or any other considerations, for that matter. Discrimination and incitement of hatred are punishable crimes, according to the same article. What is more, Article 14 says all citizens have the right to take up public jobs as the selection is based on competence, not favoritism. Tahani Al-Gebali, the first female Egyptian judge to be appointed at Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, told Raseef22 that women's constitutional right to be appointed by judicial bodies is not debatable with the 2014 constitution in effect. "Although judicial bodies like the State Council does not comply, we've come a long way," she said. "Today in Egypt, there are 73 judges working throughout the judiciary except for the State Council and the general prosecution; these two bodies insist on not appointing women which is against the constitution."
[caption id="attachment_71191" align="alignnone" width="832"] Tahani Al-Gebali.[/caption]
After lodging complaints, Gadallah said the State Council's Commissioners Authority issued in May 2015 a report, which is not legally binding, rejecting the appointment of women within the council's ranks.

Pregnancy, "Nature of Women" Among Reasons for Rejection

While the State Council did not justify the refusal to appoint women, the decision opened the door for discussions over their nature, an excuse that is often used to explain why women are denied deserved professional progress. Ahmed Mahran, a law professor and the head of the Cairo Center for Political and Legal Studies, reiterates that the constitution unequivocally gives Egyptian women the right to be members of the judiciary. Yet in the same breath he said the nature of the cases at the State Council urges it to refrain from appointing them. Speaking to Raseef22, Mahran explained that an administrative lawsuit could last for years, which a woman cannot endure because of her domestic responsibilities, not to mention her need for long vacations either for pregnancy or maternity. This, he said, would cause important cases to be shelved. Al-Gebali says that putting the rejection of women at workplaces down to their social or psychological conditions is no longer acceptable, stressing that only the constitution determines the eligibility of all citizens. According to data provided by Nehad Aboul Komsan, the head of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, the ongoing saga of not appointing women at judicial bodies started decades ago, in the most liberal era of the 20th century. The first case was Aisha Rateb -- who eventually became a minister, an ambassador and a general law professor -- when she appealed the State Council's decision not to appoint her like her fellow 1951 graduates. Between that year and 2003, only three female judges were appointed in Egypt, including Al-Gebali whose appointment was seen as a huge victory for women. In 2007, 32 female judges were installed, and 26 more in 2015.
[caption id="attachment_71190" align="alignnone" width="831"] Aisha Rateb.[/caption]
Despite Egypt's regional leadership in the 1950s and 1960s, with Cairo leading popular and cultural movements, the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights said the number of female appointees at Egyptian judicial bodies was negligible back then compared to other countries, such as Morocco and Algeria.
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