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Constitutional Conundrum

Posted on the 16 November 2012 by Warigia

The process of drafting the Egyptian constitution is turning out to be difficult, to say the least. Court cases, threats, and a debate over human rights are common occurrences. Further, a polarizing debate about the role of religion in the new Egyptian state continues to make headlines. One important debate is Islamist representation in the Assembly. Further, observers feel that the conservative language of certain articles may violate the human rights of religious minorities, women and even children. Liberal and secular groups are protesting the recent draft.
Human Rights Watch argues that the draft of the constitution provides basic political and economic rights, yet it falls short on women's and children's rights, freedom of religion, as well as torture. HRW believes that several provisions of the September 27th draft are at odds with international human rights standards. HRW tells Egypt to fix draft constitution (October 8, 2012)
Nathan Brown, a law professor at George Washington University, notes that the Egyptian constitution is not a secular document, rather it puts Islam at the front and center. Most of the 100 members of the Constitutional Assembly are Islamists, however, but Brown argues that they are trying to defer some major issues to get national buy in. Sharia law governing marriage, divorce and inheritance--which gives men and women very different rights-- will continue, although it has some language supporting the status of women at the beginning. In the long run, he notes, those provisions may come into conflict.  Brown states that "[l]iberals, secularists, Islamists, leftists, people from all across the political spectrum are having to hammer out an agreement, and they're not used to having to do that," yet he is hopeful that they will make it work. Looking to Rebuild, Egypt Leans on New Constitution (October 21, 2012)
Meanwhile, President Morsy has threatened to form a new Constituent Assembly if this one does not complete its work within six months. He also accused members of the former Mubarak government of sowing dissent in the country. Morsy puts pressure on Constituent Assembly (October 28, 2012)
The New York Times suggests that the new Constitution will insert religion more deeply into Egypt's judicial and legislative processes. Yet, the document firmly seats power in the hands of Egypt's elected officials and civil courts, so their is little likelihood that the country will become a theocracy as is the case with Iran. Liberal delegates believe that the guidelines are vague enough to give the nation flexibility with regard to interpretation in crafting the future Egyptian state. Egypt is the first Arab state to attempt to meld Sharia with principles of democracy. Tunisia is using a more liberal constitutional approach.A Vague Role for Religion in Egyptian Constitution (November 9, 2012)
Constitutional Conundrum Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Morsy remains firm in his support for Hamas, as he attempts to negotiate the delicate space between supporting the Palestinians, and honoring his treaty obligations with Israel. Thousands of Egyptians rallied in squares and mosques to condemn Israel's air strikes on the Gaza Strip, and to urge the Egyptian state to support the Palestinians. The post reports that Morsy has taken the lead among Arab leaders in confronting Israel. Egyptians Rally in Support of Palestinians in the Gaza Conflict (November 16, 2012)

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