The Egyptian Minister of Justice, Mahfouz Saber, heeded to public opinion and decided to resign after making elitist remarks that caused public uproar. In a TV interview, Saber said that the children of garbage men could not grow up to become judges, as they were not raised in the proper environment. These comments were made after the interviewer asked Saber whether there was favoritism in the appointment of judges. He responded by saying that the process was governed by objective standards. However, when the interviewer pushed Saber further and asked him whether “the son of a sanitation worker could be made a judge?”, his response was
“Let’s not go too far. 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.”
In response to his comments, the Egyptian public responded in a frenzy, denouncing them as contrary to the fundamental principles of justice. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former Vice President, noted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights claims that everyone has “the right to equal access to public service in his country”. Moreover, many have pointed to the fact that Egypt’s constitution states that no one can be discriminated against based on class or gender.
While on the one hand, there is no doubt that his comments are normatively unjust and that a person who holds such views is not qualified to hold the position of the Minister of Justice, some found his comments to be painful for being a realistic depiction of the way the system works in Egypt. While we may not agree with Saber from a normative perspective, it is true that the son of a garbage man in Egypt cannot become a judge. Therefore the issue is a structural one and it cannot be solved simply by replacing the face of the Minister of Justice. True change will only be achieved if structural changes are achieved and the classist system in Egypt is eroded. This means that everyone must be granted the right to equality of opportunity in all elements of society and career paths must be government by meritocratic rather than patrimonial principles.