Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A poor concept of justice

The minister of justice has resigned after making comments that suggested that garbage collectors are not “respectable”, reports Reem Leila

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Minister of Justice Mahfouz Saber resigned on 11 May after saying the sons of garbage collectors could not be judges because they would be unfit for the post. The remark, said on live TV, caused an uproar, after which Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb accepted Saber’s resignation.

Transitional Justice Minister Ibrahim Al-Heneidi will lead the justice minister until the appointment of a new minister.

“I cannot talk to people and convince them that I am at their service while one of my ministers is talking in a discriminatory manner,” Mehleb said.

During a live interview on the satellite TV channel Ten, Saber said, in reply to one of the host’s questions, “Sons of garbage collectors should not be judges.”

He continued, “I deeply appreciate any garbage collector who raised his son to graduate from the Faculty of Law.” But, he added, “I believe if a son of a garbage collector becomes a judge he would be very depressed and wouldn’t be able to continue in his post.

“The post of a judge is very high and, therefore, he must come from a respectable family, both financially and morally. The judge should come from a middle social class that is neither too high nor too low.”

Former vice-president Mohamed Al-Baradei condemned Saber’s remarks, saying that they showed “a poor concept of justice.” Al-Baradei tweeted on his account: “When the concept of justice is absent from a nation, nothing remains.”

Al-Baradei also referred in his tweet to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which preserves a citizen’s right to public work. He also noted that the newly approved Egyptian constitution does not differentiate between citizens and that all Egyptians are equal and have the same rights and duties.

“Egypt’s constitution prohibits discrimination based on class or gender,” Al-Baradei said.

Shehata Al-Meqaddes, head of the Garbage Collectors Syndicate, expressed his anger over Saber’s statement. “We are not garbage. We clean up so you can live in a clean place. The son of a garbage collector can be cleverer than your son, Mr Minister,” said Al-Meqaddes.

“There is no social justice in what the minister said,” he added. “How can he deprive any Egyptian citizen of his right, which is given to him by the constitution? There must be a chance for the sons of farmers and workers to improve their living standards and to join higher classes.”

Al-Meqaddes added that he does not personally know any law graduates, but that he supports the cause for the interest of the “whole generation and the ones to come.”

Al-Meqaddes said that such discriminatory attitudes will lead to a “revolution of the hungry.” He called on President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to intervene, “otherwise it will backfire” on society.

Immediately after the statement, there were angry reactions posted on social media networks, including Facebook. On Twitter, someone created the hashtag “#dismiss_the_justice_minister.”

“Egypt’s minister of justice discriminatory statement is yet another proof that justice in Egypt is just a farce,” wrote blogger Mina Fayek on Twitter.

“The son of a garbage collector can’t work in the judiciary, but he can die in Sinai defending you,” wrote Khaled Hesham, referring to the military campaign against an Islamist insurgency in the peninsula.

Mahmoud Salmani said, “According to the constitution, the minister of justice committed a crime that is punishable by law.”

But activist Nasser Gabr said on Twitter that while “logically speaking, Saber’s statement is unacceptable, practically, that’s the reality of the situation in Egypt. The minister told the truth, so let’s not fool ourselves.”

The vice-president of the People’s Socialist Alliance Party, Medhat Al-Zahed, pointed out that Saber’s statement contradicts with the rights given to citizens by the Egyptian constitution.

He referred to Article 53 of Egypt’s 2014 constitution which states that all citizens are equal before the law — in terms of social class, among other criteria — and mandates the government to take necessary measures to eliminate discrimination.

“How can a minister release a statement that is against the constitution? He must be tried in court,” said Medhat.

Meanwhile, Al-Haqqaniya Centre lodged an official complaint with Prosecutor-General Hesham Barakat, accusing Saber of “humiliating a certain sector of the society,” which is against the Egyptian constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Former judge Magdi Matar, currently working as a lawyer, said that in Egypt, background checks on a person’s family are conducted if they want to work for the general prosecution, the judiciary or the diplomatic corps, or want to study at police and military colleges.

“The constitution is applied selectively when it comes to rights and freedoms in Egypt,” said Matar. The justice minister’s statement is not just a personal opinion. It’s an example of the systematic behaviour of all state institutions to exclude certain sectors from positions of power.”

Last year, the deputy head of Egypt’s Court of Cassation told a reporter that the son of a sanitation worker had “no place in the prosecution.”

The judiciary has come under increasing criticism for its recent harsh verdicts against members of political opposition parties. Last year, the Supreme Judicial Council, a body responsible for appointing prosecutors and judges, ruled that only the children of university graduates could apply to work for the general prosecution.

According to the ruling, more than 135 applicants for jobs at the general prosecution were turned down because their parents did not hold a university degree.

Saber’s resignation could be the start of a larger ministerial reshuffle. There are reports that at least ten ministers are to be replaced soon. Among them are the ministers of industry, trade, electricity, supply, culture, irrigation, transport, housing and transitional justice.

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