Egypt’s Justice Minister has resigned after saying in a TV interview that the children of rubbish collectors workers are too lowly to become judges.
The comments on Sunday, 10 May 2015, by Mahfouz Saber brought a heavy backlash on social media from many Egyptians denouncing elitism and what some saw as the arrogance of Egypt’s judiciary, already under criticism for harsh sentences against government opponents.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said in a statement on Monday that Saber resigned out of “respect for public opinion”.
In an interview late on Sunday with the private TV channel 10, Saber was asked about charges of favouritism in the appointment of judges.
When he said appointments are made according to objective standards, the interviewer said: “So the son of a sanitation worker could be made a judge?”
“Let’s not go too far,” Saber replied. “With all due respect to cleaners and those above or beneath them, a judge must hail from an appropriate environment… Thanks are due to a cleaner who raises and educates his children, but there are other jobs that they can take.”
He said if the children of rubbish collectors became judges they would face problems and eventually suffer from depression and leave.
On Monday, May 11, 2015, Shahata Muqdis, the head of Cairo’s rubbish collectors, told the Youm Al-Sabea newspaper: “The son of a garbage man can be smarter than your son. And the son of a garbage man won’t be ashamed of his father.”
There have been several calls for Saber’s resignation. A group of activist lawyers, called Haqaniyah, has demanded that prosecutors investigate Saber on criminal charges of inciting hatred and violating the constitution.
Saber’s comments were particularly embarrassing to the government since they ran against the image that President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi seeks to promote of himself as a leader championing the cause of the poor and marginalised.
It was Egypt’s 1952 “revolution” – a coup by young army officers which toppled Egypt’s Turkish monarchy – that first tried to bring a more egalitarian society.
The coup ended a feudal system and introduced socialist policies. Egypt’s subsequent presidents came from relatively humble origins – for example, the father of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who was in office in the 1950s and 1960s, was a postman.
But it never came close to achieving equality or a meritocracy in the country. To this day, the judiciary, the diplomatic service and the officer classes of the armed forces and police are still considered to be off-limits to the poor.
During Mubarak’s 29 years in power, inequality spiraled, with senior government officials and wealthy businessmen forging an alliance that ignored the needs of the country’s poor.