Comments made by Justice Minister Mahfouz Saber on the inability of garbage collectors’ sons to occupy the position of a judge have received a wide wave of criticism.
Saber appeared Sunday night on the daily TV show aired on privately owned TEN satellite channel. When asked whether the son of a garbage collector can be appointed as a judge, the minister answered that the profession of the judge should be occupied by members of a more suitable class.
“A judge has his own special position, hence he should be coming from a more respectful environment, financially and mentally,” he added.
“With all due respect to the garbage man, but if he works in the judiciary he will be depressed, and won’t be able to continue,” Saber said, eventually adding that the garbage collector should work in another “suitable” job.
After the show’s footage went viral on social media and local news outlets, angry reactions described the minister’s statements as “flawed” and “classist”.
Head of the garbage collectors’ syndicate Shehata Muqadas said that Saber’s comments were “shocking”. Muqadas added that “the government should remember that the country’s law entails that all citizens have the right to occupy different professions, without any differentiation”.
Muqadas added: “A son of a garbage collector can be more successful than that of the Justice Minister. Our profession is legitimate and respectable.”
The syndicate leader said he, amongst others of the syndicate’s members, will look into all possibilities to respond “legally” to the minister’s comments.
The Ministry of Justice was contacted for comment, but a spokesperson was not available to comment on the matter.
Social media users responded angrily to the comments, with the majority dubbing them “classist”. Such was the extent of the reaction that a Twitter hashtag calling for the “ouster of the Justice Minister” became one of the most used in the last 24 hours.
Other critical responses came from the revolutionary 6 April group, which condemned the statements by the minister, saying they “contradict all work ethics that exists in the Egyptian constitution”.
The group also demanded the minister’s removal from his position, as his comments “were based on unacceptably discriminative and classist policies”.
Similarly, Mohamed Samy, head of the leftist Al-Karamah party, said: “The minister should be punished as this is a crime. Such comments are unacceptable, especially after two revolutions which called for equality.”
The party added that the statements incite discrimination and hatred between people.
Moataz El–Shenawy, a member of the Socialist Popular Alliance party, said that “it is not strange that the current Justice Minister says so, as he was the head of the judicial committee that oversaw the much-criticised 2010 parliamentary elections”.
The 2010 parliamentary elections were said by many observers and human rights organisations to have witnessed mass fraud by government officials in the favour of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
However, Article 53 of the 2014 constitution entails that “all citizens are equal in front of the law, in terms of rights, freedoms, and duties, and should not be discriminated between on bases of religion, sex, colour, language, disability, social class, or political opinions”.
Egypt’s judiciary is considered one of the main pillars of the state. On a social level, judges are highly respected, and looked upon as “community leaders”.
The budget of Egypt’s judiciary, alongside that of the army and the police, are considered “state secrets”. Last year, the Justice Minister refused to have the budget discussed publicly, and considered the proposal an “insult to judges”.
A considerable part of Egypt’s nationalist and anti-colonialist heritage and literature considers judges as part of the establishment of the modern Egyptian state, and the leaders of modernisation and enlightenment in the country.
In a recent development, Al–Haqanya Law Centre filed a lawsuit to the Prosecutor General accusing the Justice Ministry, arguing that the minister “favoured a group over another”, which contradicts the Egyptian constitution. Among the accusations listed were those saying they incite “discrimination and hatred”.
Maat for Peace, Development and Human Right also filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the minister, calling for his resignation for violating different articles of the Egyptian constitution.
After the 3 July 2013 ouster of former president Morsi, the Egyptian judiciary has been widely accused by democracy activists and human rights organisations of being close to the current regime.
On Sunday, Judge Moataz Khafaga survived an attempt on his life, after a car bomb exploded in front of his house in Helwan.
There were no reported injuries. Three cars were destroyed, in addition to damages to the façade of the building.
A man was arrested as a suspect in the crime, who state-run media said was a pharmacist. Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat ordered investigations into the incident.
Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and protesters have received death and life sentences, with many accusing the verdicts of being politicised.
Although the Egyptian judiciary has been one of the main pressure groups against former president Hosni Mubarak, after the 25 January Revolution the democratic forces, including activists and parties, began to raise concerns over the extent to which judges can be considered independent.