• Women
  • February 20, 2010
  • 4 minutes read

Egypt: female judges not allowed on top court

Egypt: female judges not allowed on top court

CAIRO: The professor talks of the importance of literally setting the bar high for his students. He believes they can go far in their new profession and says that female judges are the “future of Egypt,” but Marwa Ahmed, 24, is not convinced. She said that reports of the government’s alleged ban on Monday of allowing women from joining an influential court that advises Cairo, has dampened her spirits, one semester before she graduates.

“What does this mean for all of us women who thought that by going into law we could get around all the problems being a woman in Egypt means, but now it looks like there are a many other issues we have to deal with,” said Ahmed, who sits toward the back of the classroom. “I want to be the top lawyer in the country and tell the government how to get rid of all these problems, but now they say no, you can’t.”

Human rights groups and activists have lashed out against the government’s ruling to bar women from the Council of State’s association – the body that advises the government. According to the official MENA news agency, the association voted with an overwhelming majority against appointing women as judges on the council.

“Three-hundred and eighty judges took part in the general assembly and voted, with 334 rejecting the appointment of females to judicial posts and 42 agreeing, with four abstentions,” MENA reported

It is a step backward for Egypt’s judiciary, which had recently pushed the envelope by appointing 31 women by presidential decree to join the country’s Supreme Judicial Council, which has jurisdiction over criminal and civil courts. The move was praised at the time as a means of increasing women’s participation into the judiciary.

For Ahmed, it was a turning point in her education. She said that when they appointed the female judges, she changed to law and has been working toward a career path to join the upper echelons of Egypt’s male-dominated field.

“I was excited, as were many of my friends, because we saw this as a chance for women to finally get to the top parts of government and for Egypt to let go of the stigma that has been around women for far too long,” she said.

Conservatives in the country were angered by the 2007 move and Monday’s decision to bar women from top judicial positions is likely to appease their sentiments.

The Hisham Mubarak Law Center told Bikya Masr on Wednesday that they are “disappointed” in the decision, but have yet to fully look into the details of the move.

“Certainly we are concerned, but we have to examine what occurred and why it did before we make a public complaint,” an official at the center said.

Before the 2007 appointments, only one woman served as a judge, and she had also been appointed by President Hosni Mubarak to the top constitutional court, must to the protest of her male colleagues.

Ahmed, however, is confident that this move will eventually be overturned. She points to the movement of women in the country who are combating a number of issues that affect women on a daily basis.

“There are women’s groups that are demanding change, ending sexual harassment and discrimination, so I believe that together, us new female lawyers can begin to put forward cases that will make these archaic and biased decisions a thing of the past. It will take time, sure, but together we can do it,” she said.

For now, Egypt’s top judicial advisory body is off-limits to women.