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Egyptian Constitution Provides Little Protection

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A secular Egyptian woman outlines the disappointments written into the country's new constitution, passed in late December. Women have had only one legal advance since the revolution: prosecuting sex harassment.

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A secular Egyptian woman outlines the disappointments written into the country's new constitution, passed in late December. Women have had only one legal advance since the revolution: prosecuting sex harassment.





 

 

Demonstration in Cairo against the draft constitution, Dec. 4, 2012
Demonstration in Cairo against the draft constitution, Dec. 4, 2012

 

 

Credit: Moud Barthez on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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(WOMENSENEWS)--Egypt's new constitution leaves Dooa Abdallah feeling left out.

"I don't see myself as an Egyptian citizen in this constitution. I don't see my future in this constitution," she said.

Abdallah voted against the proposed constitution and now says it must not be left in its current version. It won't be easy to change, she says, but she hopes to see the text challenged through "legal ways and on the streets."

Abdallah is the Middle East and North Africa regional coordinator for the (iKnow Politics) and a board member of an international solidarity network called . She spoke with Women's eNews in a recent Skype interview from Cairo, where she is based.

Like many Egyptian critics of the ruling Islamist party, she says the new constitution drafted by the Muslim Brotherhood was too rushed and resulted in a document that neither represents Egyptian society nor challenges the status quo that gripped the country for decades under former-President Hosni Mubarak.

"The text should be reflecting the notions of equality and freedom, but the constitution is now only reflecting the conservative philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood . . . If we keep the same economic system, if we keep the same political system, if we don't give people their rights, why then was there a revolution and people lost their lives?" she asked.

The Egyptian constitution drafted by the Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood, was approved by a two-round referendum on Dec. 22 and signed into law by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi a few days later. The final text removed a clause that specifically guaranteed equality for women in the country and refers only to citizens, saying they are "equal before the law and equal in rights and obligations without discrimination."

Confirmed to Family Sphere

The approved constitution states that honoring women is essential to a dignified nation. However, the text only refers to women as sisters and mothers, speaking of them purely within the framework of family and not offering room for women in the political and societal spheres.

Article 10, which states that family is the basis of society, and is founded on religion, ethics (morality) and patriotism, says the state will provide mother and child services for free and guarantees women access to health, social, economic care, inheritance rights and harmony between her family duties and public life.

Abdallah said that the Arabic version of the constitution is full of contradictions regarding the notion of equality and freedom, which are emphasized in the English version.

For example in the Arabic version, article 43 guarantees freedom of belief and article 45 guarantees freedom of thought and opinion, but article 44 prohibits insulting prophets. This blasphemy clause is inherently contradictory to the rights guaranteed by its adjacent articles, important to the secularists.

Article 44 has sparked concern as the number of trials for blasphemy has been on the rise in Egypt over the last few months.

Abdallah said the constitution is also dangerous because it maintains the right of military courts to judge civilians and the misuse of Islamic laws. When religion enters into the political sphere, she said, "you can easily manipulate people and that's why it's important to remove the religious dimension from the formula. That's not the duty of the government to tell us how to worship God or how to pray."

"I have seen in many places around the world where Islam and religion are being used to abuse women and minorities' rights," she added.

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A Significant Gain

But while the constitution has spread widespread disappointment, women do have one significant legal gain to celebrate. Since the revolution, Egyptian women have begun daring to bring cases of sexual harassment to court.

Samira Ibrahim paved the way after soldiers detained her on March 2011 and subjected her and other female protesters to forced "virginity tests" for protesting in Cairo's Tahrir Square against Mubarak's regime. The 25-year-old marketing manager sued the military, and last year a civilian judge ruled the humiliating practice illegal. However, in March, a military tribunal acquitted the doctor who allegedly performed the "virginity tests." Ibrahim has sworn to pursue the case using international law.

On Nov. 13, an Egyptian man was sentenced to two years in prison and fined a further 2,000 Egyptian pound ($328) for sexually assaulting a woman in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo, in July of last year. The verdict was seen as a small victory for women.

Harassment of women is legendary in Egypt, but silence has been the rule as women feared to bring "dishonor" and "shame" upon their families. With the revolution, the underreported phenomenon has come under the international spotlight as women, including many foreign female reporters, were sexually attacked in Tahrir Square.

The National Council of Women Chief Mervat Tallawy said recently that Egyptian women are harassed on average seven times every 200 meters (656 feet).

Hajer Naili is a New-York based reporter for Women's eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa.

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