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No to constitution establishing political and theocratic tyranny; Egyptian rights groups reject draft constitution

The undersigned human rights organizations express their rejection of the content and philosophy of the draft constitution proposed by the Constituent Assembly and scheduled to be voted on in a referendum within the coming month. The undersigned organizations emphasize that this draft constitution does not represent the cultural, religious, ethnic, and political diversity of Egyptian society. Furthermore, this draft constitution fails to uphold the objectives of the January 25th Revolution and undermines the values of citizenship, equality, freedom, and human rights.

The Constituent Assembly has turned its back on the January 25th Revolution and made light of the sacrifices made by thousands of Egyptians to achieve freedom, social justice, and democratization. In its draft of the constitution, the Assembly supports the cornerstones of political tyranny by adopting a system which enshrines massive powers for the presidency, as was the case prior to January 25, 2011. It also leaves the door wide open to the creation of a religious state, which poses severe challenges to rights and freedoms.

The Assembly has also exhibited hostility towards the values of human rights, refusing to mention the relevant international conventions signed by Egypt in its draft. These acts reveal an evident desire to evade Egypt’s international obligations to protect human rights. Rather than explicitly providing for the non-derogable nature of rights and freedoms of citizens as stipulated by international human rights conventions, the draft constitution restricts such rights and freedoms under the so-called “fundamental provisions of the state and society” section of the constitution. This section consists of a series of vague articles that allow for the establishment of groups with the aim of restricting freedoms and abusing human rights under the banner of “protecting the ethics, values and customs of the community” similar to the groups known in the region as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and prevention of vice.

The undersigned organizations note with concern attempts by the dominant parties within the Constituent Assembly to undermine the concept of the modern state and to import the Iranian model of the theocratic authoritarian regime in a “Sunni mold” through the politicization of Al-Azhar. This is evidenced by the fact that Al-Azhar has been provided with a status above the elected parliament as well as through the wording of Article 220, which interprets the principles of Islamic Sharia. Their interpretation does not provide a solution to the dilemma of the relationship between religion and state in Egypt. Instead, it exacerbates the crisis and jeopardizes rule of law in favor of juristic religious opinions issued to provide remedies for legal problems of various societies in different eras. This state of affairs subordinates citizens’ rights and fundamental freedoms to the whims of those who possess the parliamentary majority or those in control of Al-Azhar.

The undersigned organizations stress that this was an expected outcome of the present situation in which particular political parties insist on excluding other actors from the drafting and deliberation processes and treat them with condescension. These same parties impose, on behalf of “the will of the majority,” their own interpretation of the post-January 25th Revolution draft constitution of Egypt. During this process, the Assembly has resorted to a combination of political, legal and institutional circumventions that threaten the future legitimacy of the constitution in Egypt and could pave the way for further chaos and instability.

In this context, we have followed how the Assembly overlooked the fact that its fate is contingent upon the pending decision of the Constitutional Court and proceeded with its work in order to present the draft constitution for referendum and approval as a means of preempting the Court’s anticipated ruling on the matter.

The parties with a parliamentary majority have dealt with the constitution as their “private property” and have ignored the fact that the composition of the Constituent Assembly should not only be based on considerations of political representation, but rather to ensure representation of all segments of society. It is noteworthy that these parties have excluded the majority of the most prominent experts in constitutional law and divided the seats in the Constituent Assembly among their own representatives, despite the fact that most of them do not possess any expertise or qualifications to participate in the drafting of a constitution. In the meantime, the Assembly did not seek to include members representing civil society and human rights organizations, trade unions, or racial and religious minorities. Furthermore, the Assembly has shown no interest in observing the geographical representation of border provinces, including Sinai and Nubia, which have suffered from political and societal marginalization for decades.

The draft constitution will soon be submitted to a general referendum, despite the fact that the Constituent Assembly itself has not reached a consensus on it. Dissenting voices expressing reservations about this draft are increasing within the Assembly. This is primarily due to the lack of transparency between the Assembly leadership and the various sub-committees established by the Assembly, as well as the fact that modifications to the proposed text often occur behind closed doors.

The withdrawal of representatives of the Egyptian churches two days ago from the Constituent Assembly corroborates the absence of political will among the political forces in control of the Constituent Assembly to reach the necessary societal consensus to prepare the draft constitution. These churches’ withdrawal also emphasizes the fact that this Assembly lacks the required legitimacy to proceed with its tasks, given its composition, track record, and output. It is worth mentioning here that the three Egyptian churches withdrew following the announcement by several Assembly members, including members on reserve lists s well as experts serving on the advisory committee, that they would suspend their membership and completely withdraw from the Assembly due to such circumstances.

The undersigned organizations note that Islamist parties are using the same propaganda approach used before the March 2011 referendum to promote their version of the draft constitution, including by claiming that supporting them is consequently protecting Islam. However, the aforementioned organizations confirm to the Egyptian people that the fight against tyranny and the promotion of the values of human rights and democracy are at the heart of all religions. The undersigned organizations reiterate their rejection of this draft constitution, which does not represent the Egyptian people and which has been crafted by an assembly lacking societal, political and cultural legitimacy and whose members are seeking to preserve narrow partisan interests, even if such interests go against the interests of society as a whole.

The undersigned organizations

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
Appropriate Communications Techniques for Developments (ACT)
Arab Foundation for Civil Society and Human Rights Support
Arab Network for Human Rights Information
Arab Penal Reform Organization
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Association for Human Rights Legal Aid
Center for Egyptian Woman’s Legal Assistance
Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
Egyptian Coalition for Child’s Rights.
Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of the Childhood Conditions.
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination
Habi Center for Environmental Rights
Land Center for Human Rights
Nazra for Feminist Studies
New Woman Foundation
The Center for Trade Union & Workers’ Services
The Egyptian Center for Human Rights
United Group, attorneys at law, legal researchers, and human rights advocates

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