Egypt women face uncertain future as constitution draws near

Manar Ammar with Joseph Mayton – WNN Breaking

Woman speaks out in Tahrir Square, Cairo January 23, 2012
A woman speaks out with anger and conviction about those demonstrators who have died in Egypt’s democracy movement as she is surrounded by security officers in Tahrir Square, Cairo on January 23, 2012. Many progressive women in Egypt today feel the post-uprising era in Egypt has now turned their backs on women who are seeking equality and decision making power in the newly formed government. Image: Sarah Carr

(WNN) Cairo, EGYPT: Many have called women’s status in the currently drafted Egyptian constitution to be “disappointing and shocking” while others have dubbed it a “male-only” constitution. It is a work in progress, but for women here, it is all in the wrong direction to where women need to be in the post-uprising Egypt.

The article causing a fury is Article 36 of the new Egyptian constitution (under the duties and freedom section) that states that both genders are equal, but there is a caveat, as long as Sharia law is not affected.

It reads, “The state is obliged to take all legislative and executive measures to entrench the principle of women’s equality with men in the fields of political, cultural life, economic, social and other areas without violating Islamic law (Sharia).”

Feminists have come out in anger, saying no two people can have an agreement on Sharia, making such a statement worrisome and threatening to gender equality. Pessimists in Egypt argue it is the natural product of a religious state in the making.

“The seriousness of the matter is the reference in this article to the Islamic Sharia,” writes Nehad Abu Komsan, director of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) in a recent article on the topic.

“Article 36 mentioning Sharia laws as the reference opens the door to the imprisonment of women between conservative and liberal interpretations,” she added.

On one hand, the second article of the constitution states “principles” of Sharia as the reference to governing and on the other Sharia laws are inserted, like in the case of article 36, as a roof for women’s freedoms and potentials.

Qomsan says having two conflicting references of Sharia is “constitutionally flawed.”

Advocates argue there are many anti-women interpretations that have found their way into Sharia, such as battering women as a tool to “correct their behavior.” The ambiguity of the Sharia articles will allow, activists and women’s leaders argue, “wrongful practices to find its way into the law,” while contradicting other articles that protects the safety and dignity of all citizens.

Many women are expressing their worries over the preliminary drafting of the constitution, to be publicly put forward sometime in October. They find these articles a desired loop hole in the constitution to keep the status quo of oppressing women and imprisoning them in outdated social roles.

Amr Darrag, the Giza head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) highlighted this fact last year when discussing the constitution and the FJP’s role in the new Egypt as a major political player. He said that women should be a center for society and they should have access to jobs.

“But when they get married and begin having children, their role as mother should be most important and they should not be working,” he said at his home in Giza. For him, like many conservatives – the majority of whom make up the drafting committee of the constitution – women are equal, as long as they don’t disrupt the family.

“The family is the most important and women must be at home to raise their children,” he argued.

In mid-September, groups of political organizations and NGOs put forward their fears over article 36. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Popular Socialist Coalition, the Free Egyptians party, the Popular Current, the New Woman Organization, the Woman and Memory Organization, the Al-Nadeem Center and others issued a statement that condemned the use of Sharia to curtail women’s freedoms in the country.

The statement said that such unclear wording “endangers the democracy that everyone aspired for and sacrificed for,” adding that the struggle of Egyptian women throughout history, notably in recent years, “should guarantee them the rights they had already gained historically on the basis of equal citizenship. Such rights should not be reduced, [and] such a reduction would contradict Egypt’s commitments to international charters and agreements.”

As a result of drafting these articles, the Muslim male-dominated constitutional committee has come under fire. Not only does it have a small percentage of women involved in the actual writing process, it is also the embodiment of the lack of diversity and representation, reminding many of how women and Coptic Christians have been used as a front to beautify the last regime, but now some in the country say the new regime has a religious façade.

On September 24, activist Manal al-Tayibi resigned from the constitution committee in objection to what she called “a set will to produce a constitution that would be the cornerstone of a religious state, which will  preserve the principles of the fallen regime and ignore the pillars of the Egyptian uprising of freedom, dignity and social justice.”

Other committee members had resigned prior to al-Tayibi, only making the entire process worse and giving more freedom to the conservative elements to push their will, activists argue.

As the members of the committee left, the drafting of the new constitution has fallen to conservative powers that will have a greater power over passing their convictions without any real protest.

Advocates, rights groups and secular powers in Egypt came out and condemned the article, but without any real representation inside the committee, it is business as usual, leaving the country on what women believe is a highway to a feared state of being for those who suffer the most socially and economically: women.

Al-Tayibi said that Egypt is drafting the “worst Egyptian constitution ever,” but it seems that the opposition’s efforts to mend it have done little to succeed.

In order to get women rights back on track many steps are needed, Abu Komsan and others say, starting with a different drafting committee that is not dominated with Muslim men drafting what they “think is best for women.”

In many ways the committee, which to many activists has no legitimacy, is a microcosm of` what Egypt is becoming. Muslim men on top, while the rest of society battles to get heard or represented.


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