Report Warns of Constitutional Backsliding of Women’s Rights in Post-Revolution Egypt
A new brief published by the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center details the grim prospects for women’s rights under the country’s constitution, adopted by public referendum in December. The author, Moushira Khattab, a former Egyptian ambassador and Minister of Family and Population, outlines the threat posed to the country’s women by the charter in Women’s Rights Under Egypt’s Constitutional Disarray.
Among the most alarming aspects concerning the rights of women addressed by the report is the absence of any clause specifically prohibiting gender-based discrimination in the new constitution ”The post-revolution constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender, sex, religion, origin, or any other grounds…It does not establish any rights for women, let alone guarantee their implementation.” Except for the chapter regarding human rights, the only language pertaining to women in the charter is recognition of their domestic role, “founded on religion, morality, and patriotism.”
While the report recognizes the expansion of the constitution’s definition of human rights since its previous 1971 iteration, it raises criticism of the charter’s ability to ensure respect for basic human rights. ”Generally speaking, the constitution does not provide a foundation that is conducive to the realization of human rights.” Citing the document’s reliance on subjective phrases such as “principles” and “provisions of sharia” to provide guidance on legislation, it risks reversing women’s rights in Egypt, such as the right to unilateral divorce, child marriage, and protection from female genital mutilation. Furthermore, the report warns that such a broad interpretation could both embolden the discretion of judges to interpret the law and radicalize sources of moderate Islamic guidance in the country, granting ” non-elected, non-judicial individuals authority over the elected legislature and other democratically-elected bodies.” It adds, “This naturally poses a threat to women’s rights given political Islam’s notoriety for being against these rights.”
This brief is a part of the 15th Edition of the Middle East Program’s Viewpoints series.