Egypt’s new constitution protects religion and ignores the rights of women

A DRAFT constitution approved by Egypt’s Constituent Assembly this week falls well short of protecting human rights and, in particular, ignores the rights of women, and – in order to safeguard religion – restricts freedom of expression.

The constitution, reportedly rushed through with undue haste, has been slammed by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and others over the past 24 hours.

The draft also allows for the military trial of civilians.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said:

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.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui

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”.

Sahraoui added:

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.

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 Freedom and Justice Party and the Nour Party. At the outset, the assembly only included seven women and their numbers have since dwindled.

Sahraoui pointed out:

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.

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.