CAIRO, Egypt: Egypt's judiciary chief has named the country's first female judges despite opposition from conservative Muslims, according to a decree published Wednesday. Mukbil Shakir, the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, gave 31 women judge or chief judge positions in Egypt's courts, the official Middle East News Agency said, quoting Shakir's decree. The move is expected to give a boost to President Hosni Mubarak's political and social reforms that have been widely criticized as too restricted. But others said the announcement still falls short of providing women equal opportunities.There has been a rather depressing debate about why women are unfit to be judges, notably among judges themselves -- turns out they are not the guardians of liberalism some thought they were. But that is the point, isn't it, as Baheyya pointed out in her last post:
The third strategy portrays the regime as the progressive, courageous champion of women’s rights valiantly resisting sexist, exclusionary judges who preach democracy and reform but refuse to allow women entry into the judiciary. Women’s accession to the judiciary in Egypt has been a hot button issue among judges for at least 10 years, eliciting very strong feelings, with a minority of ardent supporters and a majority of variously motivated detractors. Marei has already selected 124 women legal officers for qualifying exams and training in the National Center for Judicial Studies in preparation for their admission into the profession. By playing the woman card, the regime burnishes its own reputation, casts doubt on the integrity of its judicial critics, and drives a wedge between pro- and anti-women judges within the judicial reform movement that the regime hopes will block further collective action.This brings us back to another missed opportunity in the current constitutional reform process (it hardly deserves such an august title, mind you), to get rid of the reference to Sharia in the constitution which gives judges like the one quoted in the above AP story an opportunity to say naming women judges is against Sharia law, which is currently enshrined about the constitution. There was a brief flirting with changing Article 2 to either remove the reference to Sharia or make the text say Sharia is a source of legislation rather than the source of legislation. In today's papers the government confirmed what's been known for days -- that there would be no change to Article 2 -- but not before a populist storm was brewed up about the regime attacking Islam itself. One independent MP, in fact, says he is starting a "Popular Movement Against Secularism" to combat the ruling party's notions of "citizenship" and the ban on religious parties. You can thank Anwar al-Sadat's 1980 amendment to introduce Sharia as the source of legislation in the constitution and years of state Islamism under Mubarak for that kind of attitude in the political elite and society at large.