Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Egyptian Islamists rush draft of charter

CAIRO, Egypt — An Islamist-dominated panel is voting on Egypt's draft constitution, the country's first charter after the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

The draft largely reflects the conservative vision of the Islamists, with articles that rights activists, liberals and Christians fear will lead to restrictions on the rights of women and minorities and civil liberties in general.

Omissions of certain articles, such as bans on slavery or promises to adhere to international rights treaties, were equally worrying to critics of the new draft, who pulled out from the panel before the vote.

Here are some of the disputed articles:

• As in past constitutions, the new draft says that the "principles of Islamic law" will be the basis of law. Previously, the term "principles" allowed wide leeway in interpreting Shariah. But in the draft, a separate new article is added that seeks to define "principles" by pointing to particular theological doctrines and their rules. That could give Islamists the tool for insisting on stricter implementation of rulings of Shariah.

• A new article states that Egypt's most respected Islamic institution, Al-Azhar, must be consulted on any matters related to Shariah, a measure critics fear will lead to oversight of legislation by clerics.

• An article underlines that the state will protect "the true nature of the Egyptian family . . . and promote its morals and values," phrasing that is vague and suggests state control over the contents of such arts forms as books and films.

• The draft contains no article specifically establishing equality between men and women because of disputes over the phrasing.

However, it maintains that a woman must balance her duties toward family and outside work, suggesting that she can be held accountable if her public role conflicts with her family duties. No such article is mentioned for men.

• An article bans insulting or defaming the prophet and messengers, but is vague about what constitutes an insult, raising concerns of restrictions to freedom of expression.

• An article seeking to ensure people's dignity bans "insulting humans", a vague phrasing that rights activists say contradicts freedom of expression.

• An article maintains that the state supports the arts, science and literature and works to implement them in a way that serves society. That has raised concerns that some arts deemed not in the service of society may be restricted or censored.

• An article preserves the right of the military to try civilians before military tribunals in cases for crimes that harm the armed forces without restrictions, despite an outcry from activists who were calling for the abolishing of such tribunals. More than 11,000 civilians were tried before military tribunals during the post-Mubarak transition overseen by the military.

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