Recently, nearly 100 women were sworn to the Egyptian judicial bench. The unprecedented event comes at a moment when the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi made calls earlier this year in March for women to join the State Council and the office of public prosecution, notoriously male-dominated offices. The move has sent many human rights activists applauding El-Sisi's stance.
Could it be a new era for women or an unstoppable wave forcing cracks to the old ceiling? In 2020, Egyptians voted in a referendum that saw 88.8% endorse constitutional changes that could allow the Egyptian leader to rule until 2030, the AFP reported. The female population is around 50.63 % in the country which might assist in explaining el-Sisi’s motives in the move to be more inclusive towards women. Certainly, the female vote may as well be crucial and decisive in the next elections to be held in 2024.
The swearing-in of 98 women to Egypt's State Council, one of the nation's main judicial bodies was welcomed by the council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el. Din. One of the sworn-in judges, Rwada Helmy could not hide her excitement and joy over the appointment. She described the event as a memorable day. “It's a dream come true for us and past generations as well. Being a woman in one of the chief judiciary institutions in Egypt and the Arab world was a dream”, she said.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2014 was cited in a lawsuit by a female lawyer, Shaimaa Adel who had been prevented from applying for a judicial function with the state council. States council judges spokesman, judge Hassan Badrawy drew to his defence sharia law and said that the constitution did not oblige the judicial body to appoint women.
Perhaps the events clear out the mist of misconception that has existed regarding sharia law’s stance on the appointment of women to the judiciary. For instance, Aisha Rateb applied for a position in 1949 in the state council and was rejected based on her gender. She filed a suit against government alleged discrimination, a fact that Abdel-Razek al-Sanhouri, then-head of the State council conceded to. He however said that Egypt and Sharia law are not against the appointment of women as judges.
The Grand Mufti, Egypt's highest religious authority issued several orders asserting that appointing women as judges was not a violation of sharia law. Whilst the constitution of Egypt under Article 11, provides that the state should guarantee the appointment of women in judicial bodies and authorities without discrimination, it was not until 2003 that a woman was appointed a judge.
Regardless of these constitutional guarantees against discrimination, women have largely been secluded from judicial positions chiefly due to gender.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) rejected women's applications, at times openly admitting that gender was the reason. Generally, the view has been that sharia law has been used to thwart any attempts that liberate women from the throes of oppressive cultural and religious beliefs. The main purpose of the State Council, established in 1946 is to mainly handle administrative disputes, disciplinary cases, review laws, and advise the government on contracts to which the nation is a party to. It also handles appeals.
The council has notoriously rejected female applicants to posts in the judicial wing of the government. The events have certainly been unprecedented given the context of judicial appointments to the body.