Tahani Al-Gebali: A legal trail-blazer (1950-2022)

Tuesday 11 Jan 2022

Tahani Al-Gebali:  A legal trail-blazer (1950-2022)

Former vice president of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) judge Tahani Al-Gebali passed away on the morning of 9 January at the age of 72 after suffering Covid-19 complications. Al-Gebali was admitted to Agouza Hospital 10 days ago and subsequently transferred to the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Among many tributes, Minister of Culture Ines Abdel-Dayem described Al-Gebali as “one of the most important guardians of the law”, while chairperson of the Egyptian National Council of Women Maya Morsy said “Egypt has lost an iconic person in the judicial authority.”

Al-Gebali was born in Gharbiya governorate in 1950. She graduated from the Faculty of Law, Mansoura University in 1973 and went on to obtain postgraduate degrees in constitutional and Islamic law.

In the course of a career that extended over 30 years, Al-Gebali was the first female lawyer to be elected for two terms as a board member of the Bar Association. She gained nationwide prominence in a series of high-profile cases, inspiring many women to take up legal careers. In 1992, she became the first woman to chair a permanent bureau of the Arab Lawyers Union, assuming the presidency of the Committee for the Advancement of Arab Women. She spoke at many international and local conferences and seminars on women’s rights and often argued that the theological evidence used by conservatives does not exclude women from holding public office, including that of the presidency.

Al-Gebali published several books and research papers on women’s rights and in 2003 was ranked the 23rd most powerful Arab women by Arabian Business Weekly magazine.

Al-Gebali made headlines on 22 January 2003 when President Hosni Mubarak appointed her vice president of the SCC. At the time of her appointment, not only was she the first woman in Egypt’s history to hold such a senior judicial post, she was the only woman judge out of 9,300 on the bench. She occupied the post until 2012.

Al-Gebali was one of the most vocal opponents of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood group to power and it was said she advised the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces not to hand over power until a constitution was written. She had publicly warned of the dangers of Muslim Brotherhood rule, and was removed from the SCC when the Brotherhood government reduced the number of SCC judges.

Al-Gebali served as a legal expert at the UN, an international commercial arbitrator and a lecturer at the Arab Institute for Human Rights in Tunisia. She was a strong advocate of women’s rights, joining committees affiliated to the United Nations and the Arab League.

Al-Gebali received more than 30 awards from, among others, the United Nations, the Foreign Ministry, the Arab Lawyers Union in 1999, the Progressive Women’s Union and the Arab Women’s Organisation.

The funeral of Al-Gebali was held on Sunday in her hometown of Tanta.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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