CAIRO (Reuters) - Thirty Egyptian women took the oath of office as judges on Tuesday, the largest such group to be appointed since 2003 when President Hosni Mubarak first named a woman judge despite opposition from conservatives.
The appointment of Tahany el-Gibali to the Constitutional Court had stirred a media debate in the male-dominated society, and conservative judges had campaigned to stop what they regarded as an exception from becoming a trend.
Some argued that Islamic laws do not allow female judges, others said appointing women would create family problems.
Members of the new group, the majority of them wearing Islamic headscarves, took the oath at the High Court building in central Cairo in front of television cameras and photographers.
“I swear by God Almighty that I shall adjudicate between people according to justice and respect the laws,” each judge said, standing behind Egypt’s national flag and facing the members of the Supreme Judicial Council.
“Congratulations,” Moqbil Shaker, head of the council, replied quietly to each of them.
“Every nation has a defining moment and this is a defining moment in the history of Egypt,” Shaker said in a speech.
Several Arab countries already have women sitting as judges, a breakthrough for women’s rights in the Middle East, where many men still regard women as inferior because of age-old traditions reinforced by a literal interpretation of the Koran.
Critics of the appointments cite Muslim jurists who say two women are equal to one man as witnesses before any court. Therefore, they say, women cannot sit as judges.
Mahmoud al-Khodeiry, a senior judge, said Tuesday’s ceremony was just a government display to show the West Egypt was becoming more liberal.
“I think this will create problems when they (women) move, when they mix (with men) and problems regarding the type of cases they can handle as women,” he told Reuters. “It would have been better if those appointed were men.”
But one of the new judges, 35-year-old Eman el-Imam, said women judges were now “an established fact” that critics needed to deal with.
“I am so happy and proud. God willing, women will be able to show they deserve this,” said Imam, who wore a dark suit and covered her hair with a white-and-pink headscarf.