Egyptian law graduates denounce class-based job discrimination

Lobna Monieb, Monday 20 Oct 2014

Judicial body ruled in September 2013 that law graduates can only become prosecutors if their parents graduated from university

Judges and prosecutors
A prosecutorial tenure is a prerequisite to a prestigious judicial appointment according to Egyptian law (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Tens of law school graduates whose parents do not hold university degrees have denounced a ruling by the Supreme Council of the Judiciary (SCJ) that limits applicants for jobs at the general-prosecution to the offspring of higher education recipients. They held their second press conference at the Journalists Syndicate on Saturday, which they say will not be their last protest against the ruling.

The issue stems from June 2013, when over 600 law school graduates were officially appointed as prosecutors by the SCJ, the highest judicial regulatory body in Egypt.

However, in September of that year, the council added new criteria to the appointments of prosecutors stipulating that parents of candidates to the job must be university graduates – thereby retroactively excluding 138 of those originally appointed in June 2013.

'Not fair to the poor, not legal'

Abdel-Karim Abu Al-Hassan, a 2011 law graduate who was one of the 138 rejected, said the ruling was discriminatory and "unconstitutional", and also against the ideals of the 2011 uprising, which was "fuelled by the poor".

Abu Al-Hassan refers 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.

Only 350,000 people out of a population of 90 million graduate universities annually, according to 2010-2011 figures from the government's statistics body CAPMAS.

A tenure for law school graduates as a prosecutor is a step towards the prestigious judge position.

The 138 graduates have since gone through every possible legal channel to have the problem solved, said Mohamed Kamal-Eddin, one of those excluded from the prosecution appointments.

Kamal-Eddin, a 2010 law graduate from Al-Azhar University's faculty of law and sharia, explained to Ahram Online that the rejected law graduates filed a complaint with an administrative court against the ''unfair condition'' and "discrimination" they've been subjected to, while also accusing the government of failing to act in the matter.

The administrative court ruled the case to be out of its jurisdiction and referred it to a jury at Cairo's Appellate Court – whose current chairman, Judge Mohamed Eid Mahgoub, was the second-in-command of the Supreme Council of Judiciary at the time the appointees were denied.

Kamal-Eddin says he approached Mahgoub – whose term ended in June 2014 – and was told that the jury "would never issue a verdict in [their] interest" and should look for a job with a judicial body other than the general prosecution.

Kamal-Eddin and his fellow graduates have now resorted to petitioning the president directly – but haven't heard back yet.

Solidarity from labour - and garbagemen

Saturday's press conference comes shortly after controversial statements from Judge Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, a former member of the same judicial council, who said on TV earlier this month that sons of garbage collectors can't be prosecutors.

''We have nothing against the job of garbage collectors, but their sons belong in other fields than the judiciary, because it's a sensitive job,'' the judge said to host Magdy El-Gallad on private satellite channel CBC.

The head of the Independent Union for Garbage Collectors, Shehata Meqaddes, attended Saturday's press conference to call out for "social justice", in solidarity with the young graduates.

''There must be a chance for the sons of farmers and workers to improve their living standards and to join higher classes," Meqaddes told Ahram Online, adding that he doesn't know any of the law graduates personally, but that he supports the cause for the interest of the "whole generation and the ones to come".

Meqaddes said that such discriminatory measures will lead to a "revolution of the hungry", and he called onto President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to interfere in the matter – "otherwise it will backfire" at society, he insists.

Checks on a person's social background are not limited to prosecution candidates. Background checks are also a requirement of those applying for diplomatic jobs along with police and military colleges.

However, sometimes the highest jobs in the country are exempt. For example, the parents of three Egyptian presidents – Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Anwar Sadat and El-Sisi – didn't go to university.

Kamal Abu Eita, former minister of manpower, also spoke at Saturday's press conference. He said that Egypt has signed an International Labour Organisation convention banning discrimination in all fields of employment, which applies to state institutions as well.

Kamal-Eddin, the law graduate, called the council's decision "a disaster to social justice".

''This condition is a punishment to the parents for not having received university education," he said. "Judges are supposed to be the guards of justice, it is absurd that they decide such a condition.''

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