Thursday, March 18, 2010

Women Judges in Egypt: The Debate


Egypt has several different types of judges and courts. The Council of States is an an influential court which advises the Egyptian government.  The Supreme Judicial Council  has jurisdiction over criminal and civil courts. The Constitutional Court interprets the law and settles disputes between the judicial and the administrative courts. The most important thing for mainstreaming women in the judiciary is to have them get into the system from the very beginning and then get their career on as judges, not just being appointed.

 The controversy began last February, when a number of males judges called an emergency council session to discuss the issue. They had reservations regarding 300 employment applications by recent female law graduates. On Monday, Febuary 15, 2010, The Council of State's general assembly voted by an overwhelming majority against appointing women as judges in the Council. The court's supervisory body, however, is headed by a moderate and overruled the assembly, saying women should be considered for the job. Following a request for clarification by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, The Constitutional Court ruled that all citizens were equal under the law and left the final matter to be decided by its administrative committee. The matter is supposed to go up for a final vote on March 22; however, Egyptians everywhere have been abuzz about the issue.

 Up until 2007, Egypt had only one woman serving as a judge, appointed by the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to the Constitutional Court. In 2007, 31 Egyptian women were appointed as judges to the Supreme Judicial Court, selected from a pool of state prosecutors who had passed a test for the positions. The debate between conservative and progressive Muslims in Egypt raged on then and continues to do so today. Here are some highlights of the arguments:

Con: Judging in Egypt makes it necessary for the judges to visit crime scenes and participate in investigations in order to rule on cases. Also, the judge is required to work in districts far away from their hometown, residence, and that of family and spouse in order to garauntee objectivity. Council Adel Farghaly, president of The Administrative Courts of Justice said: "The judicial work in Egypt is not suitable for women, as they cannot pay attention to their family and social duties based on their nature and on the social traditions, unlike men....they can’t send them to regions other than Cairo,” he said. “It’s not a matter of the quality of the work... It’s a matter of suitability.”  One of the new women judges, Doaa Emadeddin, a cairo resident,submitted her resignation when the Ministry of Justice asked her to work in Kafr Al-Sheikh.

Pro: The Egyptian Center for Women's Rights  urged that it is inappropriate to violate women's rights "out of pity for them," said the statement, which added that female medical graduates accept jobs far from where they live, at a time when women are excluded from judicial positions for unclear reasons. 

Con:  Abdel-Fattah El-Sheikh, argued that women should not be criminal prosecutors or judges. "The nature of criminal prosecution, which paves the way to criminal court work, is exhausting and does not suit women because they have to investigate crimes such as murder and rape," El-Sheikh said. "No one can imagine women playing this role. When the culture of the people changes, maybe they'll accept it." El-Sheikh added that women are emotional and very sentimental by nature, thus hindering them from taking competent decisions.

Pro: ECWR sees that pretending women have failed in the judiciary or are not suitable for such positions based on women's role in society is a real step back because they did not evaluate them based on the a criteria that measures their qualifications, experience, and expertise.

Con:  El-Shiekh: "The refusal to appoint women to senior judicial positions has always been based on the fact that Egyptian women don’t perform the military service and pay their blood as a price like men do. And women occupy judicial functions in Western countries because they perform military service, and run all the jobs held by men, including acts of physical labor." All women judges thus far have become judges through special government appointments.  None have worked their way up through the ranks of the judiciary.

Pro: Tahani El Gabali, 1st female judge:  "The most important thing for mainstreaming women in the judiciary is to have them get into the system from the very beginning and then get their career on as judges, not just being appointed. Women getting into the different arenas of life is very important for the concept of equality.  It’s not just enough to have this article in the Constitution, that all Egyptians are equal in front of the Constitution or the law.  It’s not enough to have texts.  We want it  to be practiced."

Con: Council Mohammed Hammed Elgamal, former president of the State Council, criticized all human and women rights organizations for their support for female judges, asking them to pay more attention to the real problems of the poor and rural women, instead of agitating for what is important to only a “few of the intellect women.”

Pro: Eman Hashim, Blogger: "How can a poor, illiterate woman be liberated when a Ph.D. supreme lawyer can’t take her full rights in the fair opportunity of a job promotion? How do we expect a nation to categorize rights? the fact the one segment of the highly educated and fully privileged women are not yet able to gain their full rights is nothing but a serious sign that there’s an even bigger problem with women with less empowerment."

Con: The Hanafi school of jurisprudence approves women judges in civil, personal status and financial courts but disapproves of them in criminal courts.Most schools of Islamic jurisprudence are totally against women judges

Pro: Egypt's Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa has said the appointment of women to judicial positions does not contradict Islamic precepts. "The job of a judge is merely to know the law well and to implement it fairly. The inclusion of women is a right owed to society as a whole."

As a non-Egyptians and non-Muslim, my opinion has not been sought nor completely welcomed on this topic. However, it is interesting to view this debate as an outsider while a very similar debate rages in in the U.S. about gays in the military. My female language professor calls herself a liberal but its completely opposed to the idea of female judges. As an educated, professional women, she sites the very same arguments as the men do to argue that women would not make good judges in Egypt. As the debate rages on, stay tuned for the final deciding vote next week! 

Should women in Egypt be judges/ weigh in...

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