Egypt’s draft constitution, which is being voted on in a referendum on Saturday, is made up of an introduction, an 11-part preamble and 236 articles. Critics have raised concerns over issues including Islamic law and women’s rights:
Shariah (Islamic) law
Like a previous constitution, the draft states, “Principles of Islamic Shariah are the principal source of legislation.” For the first time, the draft defines those principles, rooting them in “general evidence, foundational rules” and other rules from the long tradition of Islamic jurisprudence. Both critics and ultraconservative supporters of the charter say that opens the doors for stricter imposition of Islamic law.
Role of clerics
The draft gives Islamic clerics unprecedented powers with an article stating, “Al—Azhar senior scholars are to be consulted in matters pertaining to Islamic law,” referring to the most respected center of scholarship and rulings in Sunni Islam.
An article commits “the state and society” to “entrenching and protecting the moral values” of “the authentic Egyptian family.” Critics worry the broad phrasing will allow not only the government but also individuals to intervene in personal rights.
The draft mentions women in the framework of the traditional Muslim family, adding, “The state shall ensure maternal and child health services free of charge and ensure reconciliation between the duties of a woman toward her family and her work.” The preamble underlines equality “for all citizens, men and women, without discrimination or nepotism or preferential treatment, in both rights and duties.” But opponents charge that the document does not protect women from discrimination.
The draft guarantees freedom of expression, creativity, assembly and other rights. It also has a direct ban on torture and stricter provisions limiting detentions and searches by police. But it says the rights “must be practiced in a manner not conflicting with” principles of Shariah or the morals of the family. There is also a ban on insulting “religious messengers and prophets,” opening the door to arrests of bloggers and other activists.
Independent publications closed for a day to protest the lack of an article banning arrest of journalists for what they write. The draft has this- “Freedom of the press, printing, publication and mass media shall be guaranteed. The media shall be free and independent...”
The draft guarantees the freedom of Christians and Jews to practice their rites, live by their religions’ rule on marriage, inheritance and personal status and establish places of worship. But it hedges those rights on the condition they do not “violate public order” and that they will be “regulated by law.” In the past, the building of churches has been limited by law because of claims it disturbs public order. The draft guarantees those rights for “the divine religions,” meaning Christianity and Judaism, but not others, raising concerns of persecution of smaller sects.
The charter ensures an independent status for the powerful military. The president is the head of the national security council, but the defence minister is the commander in chief of the armed forces and “appointed from among its officers.” Control of the military budget is not mentioned. It also allows civilians to be tried before military courts in some cases.