The first of October is the day the Egyptian leadership of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi decided to assign for celebrating the crucial role of the judiciary every year. This is also the day when women, for the first time, will be allowed to sit as judges at State Council and the Public Prosecution Authority.
The Egyptian judiciary has played a crucial role, along with its pretty long history, to support the coherence of the national state and help the Egyptian state navigate through major events of security threats and political turmoil. That includes hard times of corruption and political transitions that hit the executive authority of the state, more than once, in the past decades.
Today, Egypt is one of a handful number of countries, worldwide, wherein an independent judicial authority organizes the electoral processes, either pertaining to state bureaus or legislative authority, including the presidential elections. This crucial role enhanced the small and stumbling steps that Egypt has been trying to take for a while to build a democratic state, wherein elections fairly reflect the will of the people.
The judiciary was granted the right to supervise elections, with limited authority, in 2005. Under President El-Sisi, the role of the judiciary of supervising elections extended from a temporary limited role to establishing a judicial national authority responsible for managing the entire electoral process with no intervention from the executive authority.
The state of autonomy enjoyed by the Egyptian judiciary, since the 1919 revolution, is the main factor behind the judicial system’s success in playing that important role of preserving the nation-state and pushing the country forward towards democratization. For example, thanks to the judicial independence, it was easier for the Egyptian state to fix the mistakes committed following the 2011 revolution, and lead a smooth transition of power in 2013-2014, from the ousted regime of the Muslim Brotherhood to a new elected president and parliament, under a new constitution.
For about two centuries, before the 1923 constitution was written, the Egyptian judicial system evolved from religious authority in the hands of Islamic scholars hired by the Ottoman occupier, to a fully Egyptian secular system, that all citizens of all religious and social backgrounds can resort to. After reaching a state of maturity, the first-ever Egyptian constitution, drafted following the 1919 revolution, granted the established judicial system a state of complete autonomy.
All the Egyptian constitutions that have been adopted, since then, including those written in the post-Arab Spring era, preserved the same state of autonomy to the judicial system. The 2014 constitution, which is currently active, stipulates in Article 184 that “The judiciary is independent. It is vested in the courts of justice of different types and degrees, which issue their judgments in accordance with the law. Its powers are defined by law. Interference in judicial affairs or in proceedings is a crime to which no statute of limitations may be applied.”
Egyptian President, El-Sisi, reiterated his unconditional respect for the independence of the judiciary, in his speech at the National Day of Judiciary ceremony, on Saturday. He asserted that “judicial independence is a golden rule that we are determined not to change.” In fact, El-Sisi leadership has shown unprecedented mental and financial support to the judicial authority.
On June 2nd, President El-Sisi held a rare but important meeting with the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). During the meeting, a number of unprecedented decrees were made, including building a “Justice City” with advanced technological tools in the New Administrative Capital. That is crucial for improving the judicial infrastructure and allow easier citizens access to courts and other judiciary-related services. Yet, the most important decision announced in the President’s meeting with the SJC was, finally, setting October 1st as the date for women judges to officially start working at the State Council and Public Prosecution bureaus.
Empowering women within the hierarchy of the judicial system, and preserving the independence and autonomy of the judicial authority are crucial for the long-aspired process of democratization in Egypt.