Egypt’s State Council Increases By 98: The Conflicting Reactions Surrounding the Recent Appointments of Female Judges

    Written by Associate Editor: Delaney Root       

 In an attempt to honor International Women’s Day on March 8th, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi coordinated with Egypt’s judiciary to announce that future appointments of women to judicial positions should be accepted. Following that, in early June of 2021, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Judicial Bodies announced their decision to officially approve future appointments of women to these positions of higher authority. Finally, as recently as October 20, 2021, 98 women were officially sworn in to serve on the State Council as judges and prosecutors.

            Prior to following the directive of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the several bodies constituting the Egyptian judiciary have consistently been male-dominated. One of the bodies exhibiting the most resistance against women acting as judges and prosecutors has been the State Council, an independent judicial body established in 1946 which operates on a hierarchy system.

            Though Egypt’s recent decision to appoint more women to judiciary positions has been described as both “historic” and “progressive” by some, other individuals have taken the position that Egypt is operating on a system of exceptionalism rather than all-inclusiveness towards women in positions of judicial authority. Put differently, many women – even some women’s rights activists – are hesitant to applaud the State Council’s decision and fear that it is not enough to end the prevailing institutional discrimination against women in Egypt.

            The foundation for the argument for stronger female representation in the Egyptian judicial system is supported by the 2014 Egyptian post-revolutionary constitution, which explicitly “grants women the right to . . . appointment in judicial bodies and entities without discrimination.” Given this compelling constitutional basis, it is argued that the State Council essentially conceded by deciding to approve the appointments of women to judicial positions in order to avoid being labeled as “hypocrites,” as they would have been if they continued to go against the revised constitution by excluding women from positions of authority. 

            The State Council’s decision is not as progressive as it may seem on the surface, though.  Rather than accepting an appreciable number of new female applicants – ideally recent female law school graduates – the majority of the recently appointed judges consist of women who already held different positions at the judiciary prior to the State Council’s decision to “promote” and “relocate” them to positions as sitting judges on the Council. Furthermore, even with the 98 newly appointed female judges, the percentage of women on the Council continues to sit at around less than half a percent.

            The State Council remains primarily male-dominated despite this attempt at opening its doors to women. Nonetheless, the acceptance of 98 women on the Council could prove to be the “historical” push that the Egyptian judicial system needed to end institutional gender discrimination in the country; only time will tell.  

Sources:

ABC News – What the appointment of 98 female judges to Egypt’s State Council means for women’s rights, Oct. 22, 2021, available at https://abcnews.go.com/International/appointment-98-female-judges-egypts-state-council-means/story?id=80685728.

The New York Times – ‘No Girls’: Women in Egypt Fight to Get Judgeships, Oct. 20, 2021, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/20/world/middleeast/egypt-judges-women.html.

Constitute Project – Egypt’s Constitution of 2014, available at https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Egypt_2014.pdf.

Open Democracy – Egypt will finally appoint women judges. But is the move really progress? – June 28, 2021, available at https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/north-africa-west-asia/egypt-will-finally-appoint-women-judges-move-really-progress/.

Wilson Center – Egypt: Making Exceptions Doesn’t End Discrimination Against Women Judges, Mar. 25, 2021, available at https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/egypt-making-exceptions-doesnt-end-discrimination-against-women-judges.