Posts Tagged ‘human rights watch’

Morsi’s draft constitution will remove top female judge in Egypt from Constitutional Court; the dubious future of female judges under the government of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

It is important to understand Mohamed Morsi’s background in order to understand how the draft constitution now being submitted to a referendum beginning December 15 is likely to be applied if adopted.


Fiorello Provera, “Egypt’s Monster in the Making,” Project Syndicate: A World of Ideas, December 12, 2012. (Fiorello Provera is Vice-chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament.)

Eric Trager, “Why Won’t Morsi Back Down? Read His Resume,” The New Republic, November 30, 2012.

Eric Trager, “Shame on Anyone Who Ever Thought Mohammad Morsi Was a Moderate,”The New Republic, November 26, 2012.

Sometimes it is useful to zero in on one aspect of a complicated subject to fully understand what is involved and what is at stake.

The role of women as judges in Egypt under the new constitution sharply illuminates what is going on under the surface of the draft constitution’s articles.

Traditionally, women were barred from becoming judges in Egypt. One of the reforms led by Hosni Mubarak, who for all his sins also defended the secular nature of the Egyptian state, was the appointment of the first woman judge to the Constitutional Court in 2003. Subsequently, he appointed 31 female judges to the family courts, which had just been established.


Peter Kenyon, “Female Judges In Egypt Battle Against Old Ideas,” NPR, April 3, 2010.

Human Rights Watch (Beirut), “Egypt: Open All Judicial Positions to Women; Top Judicial Body Should Ensure Women’s Full Participation in the Judiciary,” Human Rights Watch, February 23, 2010.

Kenyon points out that Hosni Mubarak appointed Egypt’s first female judge in 2003. In 2010, there were only 42 women judges out of some 9,000 judges, according to Kenyon. In February, 2010, “the State Council for Administrative Judges voted overwhelmingly against admitting female judges.” However, “Egypt’s prime minister ordered a review of the decision, and the state’s Constitutional Court said there is no constitutional or legal restriction to women serving as judges.”

In February, 2010, Human Rights Watch reported,

In 2003, the only female judge in any court in Egypt was Tahani al-Gibali. She was appointed to the High Constitutional Court by presidential decree. In its 2005 report, “Divorced from Justice,” Human Rights Watch found that some judges and officials of the Justice Ministry were outspoken in their opposition to the inclusion of women on the bench.

In 2007, the Supreme Judicial Council selected 31 women to serve as judges in family courts, though some Muslim conservatives in Egypt criticized the decision. Mohamed El-Omda, a member of parliament, was quoted in a 2007 article in Al-Ahram daily as saying, “Women cannot succeed as judges because the burdens of the task are enormous.”

The first woman judge in Egypt was Tahani al-Gibali (el-Guébali), who as noted above was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 2003 by presidential decree.

See Hadeel al-Shalchi (AP), “Appointment of Female Judges in Egypt Stirs Up Debate About A Woman’s Role; Views about the traditional role of women run deep in Egypt,”, April 6, 2010.

“El-Gebali has long been a leader for women in the justice system. She was the first woman appointed to Egypt’s Lawyers Syndicate leadership in 1989. She and 24 other female lawyers applied for judges positions in 1998 — the first women to do so, and it took her five years to finally gain a post.”

Now, under Morsi’s draft constitution, the first female judge in Egypt and a leader of the movement to appoint women judges to the courts will be removed from the Constitutional Court as a result of Article 233, which provides:

Article 233
The first Supreme Constitutional Court, once this Constitution is applied, shall be formed of its current President and the 10 longest-serving judges among its members. The remaining members shall return to the posts they occupied before joining the court.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Morsi’s Putsch: Battle lines are drawn—Details in draft constitution reveal Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy to seize all power in Egypt, as democrats defend the rule of law,” December 2, 2012.

In an interview with Le Figaro (Paris), Justice Tahani El-Guébali (al Gibeli) described how her own job would end, and how Muslim Brotherhood thugs had made it impossible for the Constitutional Court to reach a decision on the constitutionality of the constitutent assembly elections. The intimidation included death threats she received on her mobile phone. She said,

Sunday, while the nineteen members of the High Court were to meet to discuss the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly, which is accused of failing to represent the country, we were blocked by a barrage of bearded pro-Morsi supporters which prevented us from entering the building. Since then, hundreds of people are camping on site. Whenever I go there, I must turn back under a deluge of insults. I even received death threats on my mobile phone. Since its constitutional coup of November 22, which prohibits any legal proceedings against his decisions and against the Constituent Assembly, the new president has taken over full powers. He-reigns above the law. He imposes his dictatorship.

Q:  Morsi’s supporters affirm that the decree is “temporary” and that it aims to accelerate reforms …

A:  This is false. The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to kidnap the revolution. They seek to control all institutions, especially the Supreme Constitutional Court. The new Constitution, which they want to submit to a referendum on December 15, limits its powers and jurisdiction, and seeks to to remove eight of its members, including myself. Meanwhile, the Sunni institution al-Azhar is itself granted the authority of interpreting the sharia (Muslim law)…

–See Delphine Minou, “Égypte: « Morsi a accaparé les pleins pouvoirs » (Interview avec Tahani El-Guébali, Vice-presidente de la Haut Cour Constitutionelle d’Egypte), Le Figaro, 5 decembre 2012 (Mis à jour le 06/12/2012 à 11:19).

–See The Trenchant Observer, “Egypt’s coming showdown: Boycott of December 15 referendum, opposition demonstrations, and the reactions of the armed forces,” December 9, 2012.

Of particular significance is the opaque manner in which Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are seeking to remove the top woman judge in the country from the Constitutional Court.  Provisions such as Article 233, couched in seemingly neutral terms, amount to time bombs that could go off in the future under the government of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Who knows how many similar, opaque provisions are embedded in Morsi’s draft constitution? There is hardly time before the referendum begins on December 15 to explore these issues, much less for the public to make an informed decision on the basis of any such analysis.

In any event, there are not likely to be many women judges in Egypt under Morsi’s draft constitution and the application of its provisions under a Muslim Brotherhood government.

Nonetheless, sexual discrimination against women judges in Egypt under the draft constitution may have significant consequences in Washington and the United States. President Obama may have to sign human rights waivers for Egypt under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 in order for the military to receive its $1.5 billion dollars a year in U.S. military aid. Such waivers could become hot political issues in the U.S. Congress. If, in effect, they give Morsi and the Brotherhood a green light for sexual discrimination against women in the judiciary, they are likely to exact a very high political price from Obama and the Democrats, particularly if the government of Mohamed Morsi icreasingly acquires the characteristics of an authoritarian or even totalitarian Islamic state.

It is appalling that the United States, and above all Hillary Clinton, should be tacitly supporting this move (and Morsi), failing to speak out forcefully–and with consequences–for a return to the rule of law in Egypt, including full and equal rights for all female citizens in that country.

The fact that Hillary Clinton, in particular, is supporting the current U.S. policy of silence on al-Gibali’s removal, and more generally on the rule of law in Egypt, is likely to come back to haunt her should she decide to run for the presidency in 2016. As for President Obama, as noted earlier, his silence is America’s shame.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Morsi’s coup in Egypt: Obama’s silence, America’s shame,” December 7, 2012

The Trenchant Observer

Security Council issues “presidential statement”; al-Assad’s military onslaught continues unabated—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #14 (March 22)

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

On March 21, 2012, the U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed the issuance of a “presidential statement” on Syria which was notable primarily for its support by Russia and China. The statement reiterated the proposals Kofi Annan took to Damascus and presented to Bashar al-Assad on his recent visit to Syria–which were not made public previously.

Al-Assad’s response was to continue shelling cities and towns, and to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity–today.


“UN peace push fails to halt Syria violence; Ten civilians fleeing to Turkey on a bus among dozens killed, as violence rages despite Security Council statement,” Al Jazeera, March 22, 2012 (20:02 h)

“Syria: Government Uses Homs Tactics on Border Town; Indiscriminate Shelling, Sniper Killings, Attacks on Fleeing Residents,” Human Rights Watch, March 22, 2012.

Alastair Beach, “UN finally agrees peace plan for Syria – but will it end bloodshed? Russia and China fall into line – but Ban Ki-moon admits fallout from conflict could spread through the region,” The Independent, March 22, 2012.

Ariel Zirulnick, “Syria thumbs its nose at the UN; Despite a UN statement yesterday calling for an end to the violence, which was backed even by Syria ally Russia, 82 people were killed yesterday in clashes around the country,” Christian Science Monitor, March 22, 2012.

“Bürgerkrieg in Syrien; Assad-Truppen rücken gegen Protesthochburgen vor; Alle Appelle der Uno verpuffen: In Syrien sind erneut heftige Kämpfe zwischen Aufständischen und der Assad-Armee ausgebrochen, unter anderem in Daraa, Sabadani und Hama. Nach Angaben von Aktivisten schießen die Regierungstruppen mit Panzern in Wohnviertel,” Der Spiegel, den 22 März 2012.

(Le avec AFP et Reuters), “Répression en Syrie: des roquettes tombent sur le Liban,” Le Monde, le 22 mars 2012 (mis à jour à 15h58).

The statement contains contradictory provisions, with one calling for an immediate ceasefire and another calling for a two-hour “pause” in the fighting to allow humanitarian relief through and the wounded to be evacuated from areas of fighting.

Unfortunately, although the Council’s peace plan contains many positive elements, it has no legal force, and even provisions that would have required a response from al-Assad within seven days were eliminated in order to get the Russians to sign on to the statement.

The text of the operative paragraphs of the March 21 Presidential Statement (U.N. Doc. S/PRST/2012/6) follow:

“To this aim, the Security Council fully supports the initial six-point proposal submitted to the Syrian authorities, as outlined by the Envoy to the Security Council on 16 March 2012, to:

(1) commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy;

(2) commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country. To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres. As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism. Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism;

(3) ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause and to coordinate exact time and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including at local level;

(4) intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities, provide without delay through appropriate channels a list of all places in which such persons are being detained, immediately begin organizing access to such locations and through appropriate channels respond promptly to all written requests for information, access or release regarding such persons;

(5) ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them;

(6) respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.

“The Security Council calls upon the Syrian government and opposition to work in good faith with the Envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis and to implement fully and immediately his initial six-point proposal.

“The Security Council requests the Envoy to update the Council regularly and in a timely manner on the progress of his mission. In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate.”

Delay is the enemy. Russia and China vetoed the Security Council resolution aimed at stopping the atrocities on February 4, 2012. Thousands have died as a result of the delay in concerted international action which has occurred to date. Today is March 22.

Thousands more will undoubtedly die before the Security Council authorizes action that can stop the killing by al-Assad, if indeed it can ever reach that point given Russia’s brazen support of the Syrian Dictator as government forces continue to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Syrian population.

What is needed is a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, period. Al-Assad’s promises are worthless. What counts is his and Syria’s actions on the ground in implementing the ceasefire.

What is llkely, however, is more delay, while al-Assad proceeds with his murderous onslaught against the oppostion to his reign of terror. Russia, by arguing for not making demands on al-Assad, not setting deadlines, continues its perfidious game of acting to maintain Bashar al-Assad in power and to protect its perceived interests with its last client state in the Middle East (and practically anywhere else). These interests include the maintainance of military-technical cooperation, the naval base at Tartus, and Russia’s communications and listening post for the region.

These are the hard realities.

Watch what is going on in Syria on the ground, not what the diplomats are saying. Words alone will not stop the tanks and artillery that are bombarding civilian population centers, apartment buildings and homes throughout Syria–today.

The sole priority for the Security Council–and all other actors–should be an immediate cessation of hostilities. This demand should not be linked in any way to other demands, such as that for the initiation of a political dialogue (listed as point 1 in the presidential statement!).

The demand for an immediate ceasefire should be contained in a legally binding Security Council resolution. Compliance should be measured by facts of the ground.

Western, Arab, and other civilized nations should–with the greatest urgency–prepare options for the use of military force to bring the killing to a halt.

See Michael O’Hanlon, “What Are Our Military Options in Syria?” The New Republic, March 19, 2012.

Delay is the enemy. Action is required. Leadership–from any quarter–is also required.

We should not forget the people of Syria “for a single day”. In the words of British Foreign Secretary William Hague,

Assad should step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people. One year after the regime first tried to stamp on dissent, allowing a genuine dialogue on transition would be the most fitting way to mark this tragic anniversary. Until it does, we will not forget the people of Syria for a single day (emphasis added).

–William Hague, “Op-ed: UK Foreign Secretary William Hague vows not to forget Syrian people for a single day,” Opinion, March 22, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

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