CAIRO: "Discussing whether women have the right to be appointed judges or not is proof that Egypt is lacking a strong political participation environment," argued Law Professor Yahya El-Gamal in a roundtable discussion organized by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and New Women Movement last week.
The discussion, titled "Democratic Rights and Appointing Female Judges," tackled the ongoing debate that started last year when the European Commission raised concerns regarding Egyptian women’s role in the judiciary system. This pushed women’s rights activists and female judges to further fight for their presence in the judiciary system.
Twenty-five women were to become judges in the state council, but were opposed by the body’s general assembly that voted against it last February.
The decision which caused uproar by women’s rights activists was backed by a request by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif in February 2010 to issue a final verdict by the Egyptian Supreme Court in this case.
In mid-March, the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled that the general assembly does not have the authority to issue a verdict on women’s status, instead it should be decided by the administrative committee of the judges’ general assembly.
The court also ruled that female judges have the right to be appointed to the State Council.
Female judges vs culture and religion
Moreover, El-Gamal denied any link between appointing female judges and religion. "There is nothing in the constitution, Islam and Christianity against women being judges," explained El-Gamal.
Accordingly, Egypt’s former top Islamic cleric Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi issued a statement saying that nothing in the Quran bars women from becoming judges.
"If people are using the argument that in Islamic sharia a witness can be one man and two females, then maybe we can have one male judge and two female judges on the panel," argued Counselor Ashraf El Baroudi from Alexandria’s Appeals Court during the roundtable discussion.
Counselor Yehia Ragheb Dakrory, chairman of the Judges’ Club, argued that appointing female judges is impeded by Article 2 in the constitution which states that Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.
"Article 2 must be changed," explained Amal Abdul Hady, a women’s rights activist, during the discussion. She explained further that this particular article disregards the rights of many segments of the Egyptian society, including women.
The Supreme constitutional court had built its verdict on the argument that all Egyptian citizens are equal before the law.
According to the executive director of CIHRS Moataz El-Fegiery, the government agreed on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which called for women’s appointment; however it later argued that the Egyptian society is a conservative one that will not accept the appointment of female judges.
At the time, the general public’s reaction was not in favor of appointing female judges, with most arguing that women are too fragile, and cannot handle making life-changing rulings.