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Egypt draft constitution fails to protect key human rights: HRW

Human Right Watch warns Egypt's constitution threatens basic human rights of freedom of speech and religion, allows torture, turns back the clock on women's rights

AFP, Monday 8 Oct 2012
Egypt draft constitution
Abd Elrahman Elbar (L) and Saeed Abd Elazeem, members of the committee drafting Egypt’s new constitution, speak at the Shura Council in Cairo, September 2012 (Photo: Reuters)
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A draft Egyptian constitution heavily influenced by Islamist conservatives contains articles that could pose a serious threat to basic human rights in post-Mubarak Egypt, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

A 100-strong panel picked in June and headed by senior judge Hossam al-Ghariani has been tasked with drafting the new constitution, after the old charter was suspended following the 2011 uprising which toppled Hosni Mubarak.

"The constituent assembly has a landmark opportunity to lay the groundwork for respecting human rights in tomorrow's Egypt," said Nadim Houry, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"But its current draft fails to meet that standard because of vague language or limitations that destroy the essence of many rights."

While the draft upholds some civil, political, social and economic rights, "other key provisions are inconsistent with international human rights standards and would pose a serious threat to the future of human rights in Egypt," the New York-based rights group said in a statement.

It said Article 5 of the draft failed to ban torture, Article 36 threatened equality between men and women, while Article 9 -- still under negotiation -- "would amount to a serious threat to freedom of speech and religion."

The 2011 uprising that ousted Mubarak and changed the course of the Arab world's most populous nation was largely driven by popular anger at police impunity.

"The failure to fully prohibit torture is especially surprising given the fact that anger against police abuse played a central role in the January 2011 uprising," HRW said.

Another cause for concern was Article 36 which has already prompted several demonstrations by women's rights activists.

The article says the state will ensure equality between men and women as long is it does not contradict the "rulings of Islamic Sharia."

It also says that a woman will "reconcile between her duties toward the family and her work in society," according to the draft reviewed by HRW.

"This provision is inconsistent with the provision in the same chapter that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex," the rights watchdog said.

Salafist pressure 

An article that explicitly bans trafficking of women and children was removed after pressure from the Salafist members of the assembly, HRW said.

Some members of the constituent assembly have also discussed lowering the legal age of marriage, which is currently 18 in Egypt, "to 16 or even 9", it said.

"It is particularly reprehensible that committee members should bow to pressure to exclude language criminalising trafficking of women and children when this is not only a serious crime under international law but also under Egyptian law, and is clearly happening," Houri said.

Another article proposes to limit the construction of places of worship to followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, "thereby excluding followers of non-Abrahamic religions, particularly Bahais," HRW said.

Article 9 that deals with blasphemy and which has not yet been included in the draft states that: "The divine being is protected and any criticism thereof is prohibited, as are the prophets of God and all of his messengers, the mothers of the faithful and the rightly guided caliphs."

"Such a provision would in particular endanger Egypt's Shiites, Muslims who hold different interpretations than the majority Sunnis regarding the 'rightly guided caliphs'," HRW said.

Ghariani has said that the constitution was expected to be ready by November, after which it will be put to a national referendum.

But rights groups and secular political activists say they fear the Islamists, who dominate the constituent assembly, will use their grassroots influence and organisational skills to push for a yes vote.

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A.K.
09-10-2012 02:42pm
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2+
Is a New Constituent Assembly needed ??
If the High Constitutional Court declared that the People's Assembly is unconstitutional, and the People's Assembly was the one who appointed the 100-members of the Constituent Assembly, then logically the Constituent Assembly lacks legitimacy. One can only hope that the Administrative Court will come to that conclusion. One wonders how the Constitutions of other democracies were written and by who (may be judges or lawyers)? What was wrong with the last Egyptian Constitution? It might have been easier to amend some of its Articles instead of writing the whole document. Why the President has to review, amend or authorise the Constitution? This is supposed to be a document written by the people's representatives and authorised by the people in a referendum.
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4



Yasin Abdullah
09-10-2012 12:52am
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6+
No religion or military in Politics
It must be stated clearly. Shareah lws (45 of them so far) are applied in Egypt since the Mamlukes and before. Growup and go back to work to earn livings. Thanks AO.
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3



Hector M.
09-10-2012 12:51am
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HRW has no credibility
What is wrong with these statements. The article says the state will ensure equality between men and women as long is it does not contradict the "rulings of Islamic Sharia." HRW has no business in Muslim countries Islamic law is and was tested good for the whole society in hundreds of years of Muslim Rule around know world. HRW should look into abuses of women, chilren, and poors in the US and all western societies. Child abuse, child pronography, women abuse is rampant in these societies. HRW you should move out to where you are needed. Why dont you operate in Palestine and rebule Israel on its actrocities. It also says that a woman will "reconcile between her duties toward the family and her work in society," according to the draft reviewed by HRW.
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2



Jon
09-10-2012 12:04am
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3+
The president should edit the draft
In principle, one could envisage several competing constitutions put up for referendum. This being highly impractical, there will only be two: If the new one is not approved, the present constitution will stand. The old constitution could still be amended by parliament. As the constituent assembly was appointed by a parliament since dissolved by the supreme court, it's authority is weak. The president could rightly consider it a work group which proposals he should approve before putting them to referendum. Hopefully this would involve removing paragraphs at odds with the universal human rights. The draft is also generally too detailed, encroaching on the area of lawmaking normally the privilege of the parliament.
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Hejazi
08-10-2012 09:55pm
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Sharia vs.human rights
The Sharia of Islam overrides so-called human rights principles. If the West were truly serious about human rights, it would have supported the Palestinians, the starkest example of western hypocrisy and moral duplicity.The west is usually talkative about human rights in the Muslim world, but quite silent on Israeli repression of Palestinians.
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