Justice Minister in hot water for saying garbage collectors cannot be judges

Zeinab El-Gundy , Monday 11 May 2015

Egyptians call for the minister's dismissal on social media

Minister of Justice Mahfouz Saber
Minister of Justice Mahfouz Saber (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Egypt's Justice Minister Mahfouz Saber has stirred wide criticism, after he told a TV host on Sunday that "sons of garbage collectors" should not be judges.

Commentators slammed what they described as "classist comments", with some even calling for the minister's dismissal.

"A judge should come from a social class suited to the job, with all due respect to garbage collectors,” the minister said during a live interview on TV channel Ten on Sunday night, after he was asked if, in his opinion, the "son of a garbage collector" should be appointed as a judge.

"A judge should come from a social class that is neither too high nor too low", he added. 

The minister said he appreciated any garbage collector who had raised a son to graduate with a law degree, but argued that he believed that if the son became a judge he would "become depressed" and wouldn't be able to continue in the position.

Egyptians responded with anger to the statements on social media.

Tweeps launched the hashtag“ #dismiss_the_justice_minister”, which was in the top trending hashtags in Egypt on Monday. 

“I invite the president to revise the articles in the Egyptian constitution that stipulate that every citizen has the right to get a job, regardless of religion or social class,” Shehata Meqaddes, head of the Independent Union for Garbage Collectors, told the Ahram Arabic news website on Monday.

The constitution’s article 53 stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law. They are equal in rights, freedoms and general duties, without discrimination based on religion, belief, sex, origin, race, colour, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.

“I will not comment on the justice minister's shocking statements on banning the sons of garbage collectors from the judiciary, because we have long become used to judges and their sons being privileged in everything,” he said.

In the autumn 2014, Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council, a body responsible for appointing prosecutors and judges, issued a ruling that only the children of university graduates could apply to work for the general prosecution.

According to the ruling, up to 138 applicants for jobs at the general prosecution were turned down. 

At the time, a former member of the Supreme Judicial Council caused controversy , when he said during a TV interview that the "sons of garbage collectors" should not be prosecutors "because it is a sensitive job". 

Former vice-president Mohamed ElBaradei slammed the justice minister's statements on his official Twitter account late on Sunday night.

“According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to equal access to public service in their country,” he said, in one of the rare times he has commented on an Egyptian event directly in Arabic on the social website. 

ElBaradei resigned in August 2013 in objection to the violent dispersal of a pro-Morsi sit-in in Cairo's Rabaa El-Adawiya. He currently lives in Europe.

Former presidential candidate and leftist labour rights lawyer Khaled Ali also slammed the justice minister's statement. 

“The justice minister's statement is not just a personal opinion," Ali wrote on his official Twitter account on Monday afternoon. "It's an example of all state institutions' systematic behaviour of excluding all children from the poor classes from positions of power.”

Certain Egyptian public institutions mandate background checks on the social and legal status of the families of applicants to general prosecution positions, the judiciary and diplomatic core, and police and military colleges.

Ali added that the constitution is applied selectively when it comes to rights and freedoms in Egypt.

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