Monday, February 22, 2010

Meanwhile, in Egypt. But Better News From Saudi Arabia.

The traditional interpretation of Islamic law gives women and men unequal roles in the judicial system. The testimony of a woman carries less weight than the testimony of a man and women cannot be appointed as judges. This is what probably lies behind these events in Egypt:

Dozens of Egyptian women and human rights activists have staged a protest in Cairo against a recent decision that bars women from holding judicial positions.

Thursday's protest came after the Council of State's association voted on Monday by an overwhelming majority against the appointment of women as judges in the council, an influential court which advises Egypt's government.

Up to 80 women showed up at the protest with most of the activists holding up posters that read in Arabic: "This is a black day for Egypt's history."

"Three-hundred and eighty judges took part in the general assembly and voted, with 334 rejecting the appointment of females to judicial posts and 42 agreeing, with four abstentions," the Egyptian MENA news agency reported on Tuesday.

These news are discouraging, so let's quickly turn to the better news from Saudi Arabia and women's legal roles there:

Saudi Arabia is planning to bring in a new law to allow women lawyers to argue cases in court for the first time.

Justice Minister Mohammed al-Eissa said the law was part of King Abdullah's plan to develop the legal system.

The law - to be issued "in the coming days" - would allow women to appear in court on family-related cases, including divorce and child custody.

It looks like female lawyers would only be allowed for female clients. So the total improvement might be very slight indeed, limited as it is to certain types of cases and clients only. Still, it's a step forward.