CAIRO: Female graduates in law requested applications to apply for judicial position in the State Council on Jan 18. Although they were not given applications like their male counterparts, they were able to submit their documents, which is a first.
“Sexism and Intransigence”
“As long as applications are not handed out to applicants, they cannot be accepted. If the State Council denied women judicial positions at its courts because of their sex, it would be violating four constitutional articles,” administrative prosecutor Walaa el-Diehy told The Cairo Post Friday.
The State Council, one of Egypt’s judicial pillars, is an umbrella institution that includes the Supreme Administrative Court, the Administrative Justice Court, the Disciplinary Court, the Board of State Commissioners, the Legal Advice Department, and the Legislation Department.
Before the enactment of the 2014 constitution, female judges were barred from these sub-bodies but were allowed at all other courts, including the Constitutional Court which is the highest judicial body in Egypt.
Shaimaa Adel, a 2013 female top graduate of the Faculty of Law, Menoufia University, filed a lawsuit at the Administrative Court on Jan. 26 against the president, minister of justice and the head of the State Council because she was denied an application at the State Council.
Any appointment of the female graduates would depend upon the General Assembly of the council overturning its Feb. 14, 2010 ruling making women ineligible to serve in any state council judiciary positions, the Deputy Head of the State Council Magdy al-Agaty told Youm7 Jan. 19.
The State Council has not stated when the General Assembly is going to convene. The deadline for applying at the State Council is Feb. 6.
The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women ADEW called for reconsideration of the decision, adding “Egyptian women have proven their merits and efficiency in all positions, in addition to their highly effective role in the revolutions of January 25 and June 30,” in a Jan. 23 statement.
According to Diehy, when the issue of gender discrimination in the Judiciary came to the fore in 2010, the Prime Minister consulted the Constitutional Court on whether the State Council judges should be male only, and whether its General Assembly is entitled to reject applicants.
On March 14, 2010,the Constitutional Court stated that gender is not a determinant, and that accepting or rejecting applicants does not fall within the General Assembly’s jurisdiction.
Diehy said despite the Constitutional Court’s statement, no changes were made.
“I call on all international human rights and women’s rights organizations to support our cause if the State Council continues its sexism and intransigence,” Diehy said.
The new constitution
“The state shall ensure the right of women to hold public and senior management posts of the state and ensure the designation of women in the judicial bodies and authorities with no discrimination against them,” states article 11 of the 2014 constitution.
Thirty-nine members of the 50-member committee that drafted the 2014 constitution voted for the article, six voted against it and three abstained, according to Youm7.
Other articles in the constitution prohibit gender discrimination, and that any infringement on an individual’s rights is a crime for while affected parties may file criminal suits.
These articles, however, do not “oblige” the council to appoint women, said spokesperson for the State Council Judges Club Hassan Badrawy to the Sada al-Balad news site on Jan 23, adding that “current circumstances” prevent them from being judges. He added that the idea of female judges is unacceptable in Sharia Law.
The Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar, the highest religious institution in Sunni Islam, issued a fatwa on Sep. 25, 2013, on the official website of Dar Al-Iftaa stating women may assume judicial posts and senior state positions without prejudice to Sharia law.
The State Council’s decision “perpetuates exclusion and marginalization of women for being females,” according to a Jan. 21 statement by the National Council for Women.
“A parliamentary women’s quota, which could have been a good temporary measure until more women cadres are known to the public, was not approved for the constitution,” said Ghada Lotfi, a training and program adviser at the Egyptian Center for Women Rights ECWR.
“The text of article 11 was proposed to be ‘the state shall endeavor to take measures to ensure a fair representation of women in representative assemblies,’ but some male members of the predominantly liberal 50-member committee, which was predominantly liberal, pressured to change ‘fair’ to ‘adequate’ because fair might mean 50 percent,” she added.
Lotfi said 35 percent would be an “adequate” representation for women.
“The political and intellectual elite does not see women,” Lotfi said, adding that women have participated in all popular upheavals, but when it is time to assume positions, women are excluded by the right and the left.
“Women occupy a tiny percentage of positions at liberal parties, almost none of them senior,” Lotfi said.
She expressed hopes that all law provisions will be amended in compliance with the new constitution, so as to eliminate the loopholes that have resulted in the deteriorating condition of women socially, economically and politically.
“The law should provide for equal opportunities for all citizens by setting standards for job and training opportunities according to the concepts of citizenship because these opportunities are in many cases subject to personal judgments,” Lotfi said.
“I have learned that a meeting of the State Council’s Special Board will be held to decide on the acceptance or rejection of female applicants in your esteemed council… If this is true, please note that the 2014 constitution should be taken into account; violating the constitution would prompt legal action against the State Council,” read a letter by the director of NCW Mervat al-Talawy addressed to the State Council, and published in al-Wafd on Jan. 20.
The State Council responded the same day, saying that Talawy’s letter “lacked courtesy,” and that it would refer the matter to PresidentAdly Mansour, Youm7 reported.
According to al-Wafd, the State Council Judges Club sent a letter to the head of the State Council, calling on him to file a lawsuit against Talawy for interfering in the affairs of the council, as a “lesson” to anyone who considers interfering in the affairs of justice to avoid “the wrath of the State Council’s judges.”
Women as judges
“It not about being male or female, it is about how you impose your personality,” administrative prosecutor Nermeen el-Masry told The Cairo Post, adding that male defendants do not undermine her authority when she investigates them.
She said only one defendant, who “seemed to have Islamist orientations,” refused to look at her as he answered her questions.
“I demanded he raise his head and look at me when I ask him a question,” Masry said, adding women should be able to become judges at the State Council for they have already proven their full competence in other courts.
“I am expecting President Mansour to respond to the State Council by demanding that article 11 be implemented,” Diehy said.
Mansour was the head of the Constitutional Court before assuming the interim presidency, and served in the State Council for many years.