Egypt's first woman judge says responsibility is great
Egypt, Culture, 1/29/2003
Tahany el-Gebaly, Egypt's first-ever woman judge, says that, though she has already achieved a historic breakthrough for local women, she still dreams of the day when an Egyptian becomes a provincial governor or a municipality head.
El-Gebaly, a veteran lawyer and prominent member of the Union of Arab Lawyers (UAL), cannot describe how she felt when she was informed of her appointment to Egypt's highest court.
"I was in Tripoli, Libya, at the time, participating in a meeting of the UAL, when I was given the unexpected news," she recalls.
"I experienced all sorts of contradictory feelings: extreme happiness, nervousness and fear. My heart started beating at an alarming rate."
She realised that she was taking on an awesome responsibility so she cut short her visit to Libya and returned to Cairo to meet the head of the Constitutional Court.
Her new job means that el-Gebaly must 'hang up her ordinary legal boots', at least temporarily. "I've had to close down my legal office and stop receiving my clients," she explains.
El-Gebaly has already achieved two other firsts: she was the first woman elected to the board of Egypt's Bar Association and the first woman elected to the permanent office of the UAL.
El-Gebaly admits that she has no idea which official(s) nominated her for one of the big posts in Egypt's judiciary.
"But I think the National Women's Council and the Association of Arab Women separately played a key role," she says.
However, her nomination ran into opposition when it was submitted to the General Assembly of the Constitutional Court.
She comments: "This is not surprising. The idea [of appointing women to sit on the bench] is still in the making. " After careful consideration, her appointment was unanimously approved.
"Our respected judges eventually realised how vital it is to have a woman judge in our society," she stresses, adding that it reflects the fact that Egyptian women are suffering far less discrimination these days.
The newly appointed judge denies her appointment has anything to do with the increasing pressure from women's groups and NGOs. "I don't see things this way," she explains. "This latest victory for women simply means that everyone's beginning to appreciate women's rights and their potential.
Egyptian women recently got 1 million people to sign a document urging a greater say for women in society.
The signatures were then sent to the Egyptian leadership. El-Gebaly continues: "The Conference of Arab Women Judges in Cairo also did a lot to boost the role of Egyptian women in society."
She acknowledges the broad support she and her female colleagues have received from the country's leadership. "But Egypt still lags behind many other Arab countries when it comes to appointing women judges," she regrets, explaining that 11 Arab countries and at least 40 Muslim countries in total have women working in senior judicial posts.
"Women in some Arab and Muslim countries have become heads of their respective Supreme courts," el-Gebaly says.
Dismissing claims that the Egyptian public won't be able to get along with women judges, el-Gebaly stresses that the decision of the Egyptian leadership to appoint them reflects public expectations.
She notes that, although she is a Nasserite (a member of the opposition Nasserist Party), the Egyptian leadership was determined to get her onto the bench of the Constitutional Court.
"This means that the Egyptian leadership isn't influenced by people's political affiliations or opinions," she comments.
"My appointment shows that our leadership respects people for what they are." El-Gebaly is optimistic that Egyptian society will soon start witnessing more and more support for women's rights.
"Of course there are still a very few people who are totally opposed," she says. "But things are bound to improve in the near future because Egyptian men appreciate and respect the role of women."
She accepts that a lot depends on how she herself performs as a judge. "We [women judges] must live up to this new responsibility. One indication that I have succeeded will be if I manage to encourage Egyptian women to demand more rights."
ΚΚΚ In an interview with Al-Mossawer magazine last week, the first Egyptian woman judge paid special tribute to Chief Justice Fathi Naguib, head of the Constitutional Court.
"He has done so much to promote the status of the Egyptian woman. He is the 21st century's great supporter of women's issues."
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