CAIRO: In response to a government inquiry regarding the constitutionality of denying female judges seats in the State Council, the Supreme Constitutional Court stressed that the law grants both men and women equal rights to assume judicial positions in administrative courts.
The decision came after Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif requested a clarification of the legislation governing the appointment of members to the State Council, which had voted with an overwhelming majority against the appointment of female judges.
The current legislation stipulates that members of the State Council must be “Egyptian, a word which in Arabic is specific to the male gender. However, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that in this context the word means “citizen, which includes both genders.
Furthermore, the Court said that the State Council’s general assembly does not have final word on the issue of whether or not female judges can be appointed, but that the decision is in the hands of the Special Council for Administrative Affairs, which oversees the State Council.
Sally El-Seidy, a judge in the Criminal Court, said: “We have learned throughout our work in the judicial field to never give up and to prove to those who reject us that we are more than qualified for the position.
“Even if the Supreme Constitutional Court hadn’t ruled in our favor, they would have come looking for us seeking our experience, she added.
“I don’t know what was being debated when the law and the constitution clearly give the right to women to be appointed in the State Council and other administrative courts, said Judge Amal Ammar.
The State Council, established in 1946, hears cases brought by individuals against the state.
Last month, 380 judges took part in a general assembly vote, with 334 rejecting the appointment of women in judicial posts in the State Council, 42 accepting the motion and four abstaining.
The decision, which sparked controversy and was slammed by human rights activists, could have been overruled by the Special Council, which oversees the State Council, which was, however, still divided on the issue.
When the seven-member Special Council voted days after the general assembly vote, four rejected the appointment of female judges while three accepted it. But despite the majority’s rejection, Mohamed El-Husseini, head of Egypt’s State Council, said that public interest dictates that procedures to appoint female judges in the Council continue.
El-Husseini explained that nothing in the Egyptian constitution or in Islamic law prevents a woman from occupying an administrative judicial post, and that women are employed in high ranking judicial positions in the more conservative Gulf States.