Cairo: Egypt's Constitutional Court has backed the right of women judges to sit on the bench in the state's administrative courts, despite opposition from conservatives.

The ruling on Sunday follows a dispute within the State Council, the top administrative court, over whether women should be appointed.

The body's general assembly voted overwhelmingly against women judges, re-igniting a debate within the country over women holding senior government posts, particularly in the judiciary.

Although heartened by a top court's backing for women, Nawal Chaker, a pro-women activist, is still uncertain about the final outcome of the debate on whether women should sit on the bench of the State Council, an influential court advising the government in this conservative country.

"The decision by the Supreme Constitutional Court, asserting the right of women to be judges, is definitely encouraging, but it is not final," Chaker told Gulf News. "The final decision has to be made by the Special Commission of the State Council. In fact, we, the Egyptian women, need all sorts of discrimination on the basis of gender to be eliminated in all fields."

In response to a request from Prime Minister Ahmad Nadeef for interpretation of relevant articles in the constitution, the Supreme Constitutional Court said on Sunday that men and women are equal before the law and that every Egyptian has the right to become judges so long as he/she meets terms of eligibility.

The court said that the Special Commission, not the General Assembly of the State Council, is entitled to make the decision on appointing women judges. Weeks ago, the State Council's General Assembly angered pro-women activists when it voted by overwhelming majority against appointing women judges. Earlier this month, the Council's Special Commission, which comprises the council's oldest six judges and chief, overturned the decision, thereby triggering a constitutional dispute.


The commission is due to meet on March 22 to mull over the top court's ruling and make a decision on the issue. Whatever its decision, the dispute between the top bodies would escalate, say observers.

"The decision or the interpretation made by the Supreme Council Court is not binding to us," said an official source inside the State Council, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media. "The Council's General Assembly has even the authority to dismiss members of the Special Commission."