Voting with an inky finger (Photo: AP)
When it comes to the rights of non-Muslims in Egypt, is the glass half full or half empty? Is Egypt’s new constitution better or worse for them than the previous one?
While Judaism and Christianity are protected as long as they do not ‘violate public order’, other sects, like Baha’ism, are not. Key passages are highlighted in bold :(With thanks: Lily)
Egypt’s draft constitution, which is being voted on in a referendum
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
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 centre 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
Role of Islam
Both constitutions designate Islam as Egypt’s official religion and
Islamic law, or Sharia, as the main source of legislation. They also
obligate the state to “preserve” traditional family values based on
But in a key difference, the 2012 charter defines the principles of
Sharia for the first time. It says those principles include “evidence,
rules, jurisprudence and sources” accepted by Sunni Islam, Egypt’s
majority religious sect.
The new document also gives unprecedented powers to Al-Azhar, Sunni
Islam’s most respected religious school, by saying its scholars must be
consulted on all matters relating to Sharia. The 1971 charter did not
Both documents say detainees must not be subjected to any “physical or
moral harm,” and must have their dignity preserved by the state.
In a new protection of rights, the 2012 charter bans all forms of human exploitation and the sex trade.
Both documents commit the state to helping women with the financial
costs of motherhood and the balancing of family and work
responsibilities. But they differ on the issue of equality between men
The preamble of the 2012 constitution says Egypt adheres to the
principle of equality “for all citizens, men and women, without
discrimination or nepotism or preferential treatment, in both rights and
The new document’s main section also contains two articles barring the
state from denying equal rights and opportunities to citizens. But those
provisions do not explicitly bar discrimination against women.
The 1971 constitution included one article that required the state to
treat women and men equally in the “political, social, cultural and
economic spheres,” provided that such treatment did not violate Sharia.
Another article explicitly prohibited gender discrimination.
Freedom of expression
Both charters guarantee the freedom to express opinions orally, in
writing or through images, and the freedom of the press to own news
organizations and publish material independently.
In a major change, the 2012 document guarantees the freedom of belief
for the “divine/monotheist religions” – a reference to Islam,
Christianity and Judaism.
It says followers of those faiths have the right to perform religious
rituals and establish places of worship “as regulated by law.” The
previous constitution made no mention of the rights of any religions
other than Islam.
In another difference, the new document contains an unprecedented ban on “insults” toward the prophets of Islam.