The controversial women’s rights article the Constituent Assembly proposed for the new constitution references Islamic Shari’a in order to prevent gay marriage and gender equality in inheritance laws.
In an interview with the Saudi Arabian Al-Arabiya website, Constituent Assembly member and legal adviser to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, Sobhy Saleh, said the reason the phrase “according to the provisions of Islamic law” was included was so that Egypt can get around international treaties it signed that include provisions that go against Islamic law.
Saleh specifically mentioned the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) treaty to which Egypt is signatory. According to Saleh, this treaty would force Egypt to accept and legalise gay marriage, outlaw polygamy and allow women to inherit in the same way as men.
“The reason we included the phrase [according to the provisions of Islamic law] is that Egypt has signed several international treaties like CEDAW which has several articles that go against Shari’a, such as gay marriage and equality between men and women in inheritance and marriage,” said Saleh.
“So if we did not add that phrase Egypt will be forced to accept and even legislate for things that go against Shari’a such as gay marriage or outlawing polygamy,” he added.
Egypt signed the treaty in 1980 and ratified it in 1981. The government noted several reservations over the treaty before signing, however, as per the standard practice of some governments of Muslim countries when it comes to international treaties that go against Islamic laws.
The leaked constitutional articles so far have not included any that affirm Egypt’s commitment to upholding international laws and treaties to which it is party.
The controversial Article 36 of the freedoms and rights section of the constitutional draft deals with the rights of women and their place in society. It reads:
“The state is committed to take all legislative and executive measures to entrench the principle of the equality of men and women in the areas of political, cultural, economic and social life without prejudice, according to the provisions of Islamic law.
The state shall provide free maternal and child health services and ensure the protection and care of women’s social and economic welfare and her right to inheritance, and reconcile her duties toward the family and work in the community.”
It has generated public outcry by women’s organisations and progressive political parties and groups. The National Council for Women released a statement denouncing it as did the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP).
“We also call on all concerned members of the constituent assembly to immediately withdraw if voting within the assembly allows Article 36 to pass. They should consider it violation of justice and equality on our road to modern Egypt and join national forces to resume our revolution for human dignity and social justice, which is well deserved by Egyptians without discrimination,” the ESDP statement read.
Saleh said the article passed in the Constituent Assembly without any objections or debate and that all 100 members approved it. There are currently eight members of the assembly who do not attend meetings, having withdrawn for various reasons.
The Constituent Assembly, tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution, is composed of 100 members, of which six are women. At least 60 members of the assembly belong to Islamist groups or parties.