Egypt’s new constitution limits freedoms and ignores rights of women

By staff writers
2 Dec 2012

The draft constitution approved by Egypt’s Constituent Assembly poses serious human rights problems, a number of NGOs have said.

Criticism has come from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and others over the past 24 hours.

The draft falls well short of protecting human rights and, in particular, ignores the rights of women, restricts freedom of expression in the name of protecting religion, and allows for the military trial of civilians, Amnesty said on 30 November 2012.

“This document, and the manner in which it has been adopted, will come as an enormous disappointment to many of the Egyptians who took to the streets to oust Hosni Mubarak and demand their rights,” commented Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

Freedom of religion is limited to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, potentially excluding the right to worship to other religious minorities such as Baha’is and Shi’a Muslims.

The constitution fails to provide for the supremacy of international law over national law, raising concerns about Egypt’s commitment to human rights treaties to which it is a state party.

Furthermore, the document fails to fully guarantee economic, social and cultural rights, such as protection against forced evictions - it also tolerates child labour.

Paradoxically demands for dignity and social justice were at the heart of the '25 January Revolution'.

“The process of drafting the constitution was flawed from the outset, and has become increasingly unrepresentative. We urge President Morsi to put the drafting and referendum process back on the right path, one that includes all sectors of society, which respects the rule of law – including the vital role of an independent judiciary – and results in a constitution that enshrines human rights, equality and dignity for all,” said Hadj Sahraoui.

Amnesty has expressed concern that the assembly - widely boycotted by opposition political parties and Christian churches - is not truly representative of Egyptian society. The body is dominated by the Freedom and Justice Party and the Nour Party. At the outset, the assembly only included seven women and their numbers have since dwindled.

Opposition political parties have withdrawn their members from the assembly, as have Christian churches, in protest at the assembly’s make-up and decisions.

They have voiced a number of concerns, including the lack of representation of young people, of a variety political parties, and the role Shari’a law has played – including in respect of women’s rights.

The assembly also faced criticism for not doing enough to enshrine the right to adequate housing – a key concern for the estimated 12 million Egyptians living in slums.

A decree issued last week by President Morsi gave the Constituent Assembly an additional two months to complete its work. However on Wednesday the body announced that it would finalise the text in a day. Yesterday, the draft was rushed through a plenary session of the assembly, with no time for real debate or objections from the members.

“The new constitution will guide all Egyptian institutions and it should set out the vision for the new Egypt – one based on human rights and the rule of law: a document which is the ultimate guarantor against abuse. The constitution must guarantee the rights of all Egyptians, not just the majority.” said Hadj Sahraoui.

“But the approved draft comes nowhere near this. Provisions that purport to protect rights mask new restrictions, including on criticism of religion. Women, who were barely represented in the assembly, have the most to lose from a constitution which ignores their aspirations, and blocks the path to equality between men and women. It is appalling that virtually the only references to women relate to the home and family.”

When asked about the lack of women’s rights in the draft constitution yesterday in a state television interview, President Morsi said women were citizens like all others. The President’s position mirrors the approach of the Constituent Assembly in ignoring the rights of women.

The vote to approve the constitution came ahead of a 2 December ruling on the assembly’s legitimacy by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which was widely expected to order the body’s dissolution.

President Morsi’s decree, which was announced on 22 November, prevents any judicial body from dissolving the assembly.

The decree, which also removed the Public Prosecutor, granted the president sweeping powers and stopped the courts from challenging his decisions, has sparked widespread anger and protests in Egypt.

Opposition groups plan to march to the presidential palace today (Friday), while the Muslim Brotherhood has called for a protest to support the President on Saturday.

The draft constitution now passes to a national referendum which must take place within 15 days. Any such referendum would require supervision by judges but Egypt’s Judges Club, an independent network of judges numbering some 9,500 members, has announced that its members will not take part.

Judges throughout the country are striking in protest at President Morsi’s decree, which they see as a threat to their independence.

“Instead of marking a return to order and the rule of law, the adopted text of the constitution has plunged Egypt into even greater chaos and deadlock,” said Amnesty's Hadj Sahraoui.

[Ekk/3]

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