Supreme Administrative Court to Set Precedent in Niqab Cases

Press Release

29 January 2006

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) today welcomed the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court (the Court) to refer the issue of women's freedom to don the niqab (face veil) in public places to the Court's Chamber of Uniform Principles.

The Court has been considering two niqab-related cases over the past five years: one against the American University in Cairo (AUC) and others (Case number 3219/48) and the other against the Judges' Club in Alexandria and others (Case number 6572/45). On 28 January 2006 the Court decided to refer the AUC case to the Chamber of Uniform Principles to resolve the conflict between previous judicial rulings regarding the freedom to wear the niqab in public and to set a morally-binding precedent on the matter. The Chamber will hear the case on 11 February 2006.

At the same session the Court also decided to postpone the pronouncement of its ruling in the case against the Judges' Club until 29 April 2006, pending the Chamber of Uniform Principles' decision on the general matter.

"Setting a judicial precedent regarding women's right to choose their dress code freely and the power of public or private institutions in restricting this right is a positive and much-needed step," said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. "We are hopeful that the Court will rule to support women's rights to privacy, freedom of belief and non-discrimination, as guaranteed by Egypt's Constitution and international human rights law."

Lawyers of the EIPR's Right to Privacy Program had intervened before the Supreme Administrative Court on behalf of a member of the Judge's Club in Alexandria who was denied access to the social club because she dons a niqab.  On 12 February 2005 EIPR lawyers submitted a brief to the Court on the Egyptian government's legal obligations under international law to protect women's freedom to wear the niqab.  The brief summarized the government's obligations under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to protect the applicant's right to privacy, freedom of belief and non-discrimination. These obligations apply, the EIPR argued, even when violations are committed by a non-state party.