December 5th, 2012
11:53 AM ET

Egypt's deeply flawed draft constitution

By Isobel Coleman, CFR

Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Democracy in Development originally appeared here. The views expressed are her own.

Egypt’s constitutional assembly pulled an all-nighter last week to hastily approve a controversial draft of a new constitution. However, the constitutional battle is far from over. Yesterday, protests rocked the country, and a crowd of some 100,000 people staged a so-called “last warning” demonstration near the presidential palace against President Morsy’s heavy-handed tactics. In addition, hundreds of journalists marched on Tahrir and at least a dozen of the country’s independent newspapers did not publish to protest against Morsy’s “dictatorship.”

The battle now moves to December 15, when Egyptians are slated to vote on the constitution in a national referendum. Liberal and secular opponents of Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the draft constitution are urging widespread civil disobedience to derail the vote; on the other hand, the Brotherhood and its allies are portraying a “yes” vote as crucial for restoring stability to the country and moving forward. Given Egyptians’ weariness of nearly two years of political paralysis and economic dislocation, the Brotherhood’s arguments for stability could easily carry the day.

This would be an enormous lost opportunity for Egypt. While the poorly organized opposition, having lost repeatedly at the polls, is showing clear signs of obstructionism, the fact is that the constitution falls down on several critical issues, namely the protection of women’s rights, religious freedom, and freedom of the press.

More from GPS: Morsy's overreach

The role of women in society has been a contentious issue since the start of the transition. As I mentioned Thursday, the draft constitution does not proactively provide for equality, unlike a previous (though still controversial) clause in an earlier version of the draft. The draft doessay in the preamble that “Equality and equal opportunities are established for all citizens, men and women…” The emphasis in Article 10 however is on preserving and “the genuine character of the Egyptian family…” – not so subtle code for keeping women in a traditional role.

Advocates like Human Rights Watch have spoken out against this ambiguous language, noting that it could be implemented in a way that undermines women’s rights. It is also worth mentioning that only four women participated in the 85-strong constitutional assembly body that ultimately ratified the draft constitution.

With respect to religious freedom, the draft constitution says, “The State shall guarantee the freedom to practice religious rites and to establish places of worship for the divine religions [also translated as “monotheistic religions”], as regulated by law.” This is a step back from the 1971 constitution, which did not restrict religious freedom. Some fear that this article will further imperil already embattled religious minorities, such as Egypt’s Baha’is.

The draft constitution’s implications for freedom of speech are also worrisome. Of particular concern to journalists are provisions that ban blasphemy and certain forms of “insult,” articles that seem to give the government a heavy hand in editorial control; and potential, if still ambiguous, limitations on press freedom in accordance with the “requirements of national security” and “the basic principles of the State and society,” as explained in Article 48.

More from CFR: Morsy's mistake

Although the draft constitution does have laudable aspects – e.g., term limits for the president and protections against arbitrary detention and torture – it is a document with serious problems that should not be rushed through into law.

The silver lining of Morsy’s overreach could be that he has done what no opposition leader has been able to do: unite the fractious critics of the Muslim Brotherhood. This week, in the Financial Times, former International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei wrote that the National Salvation Front, a newly formed opposition umbrella group of which he is the co-coordinator, has brought together “almost all non-Islamist parties.” Indeed, most of the presidential contenders who ran and lost against Morsi – including Amr Moussa, Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, and Hamdeen Sabahi – have joined the Front. Whether the group can hold together remains to be seen, but for now it is the best hope for providing what Egypt desperately needs: a coherent, organized, and loyal opposition that can challenge the Islamist juggernaut.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Egypt • Middle East

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Hate Wins

    Islam is on a roll and only the Egyptian people can stop it. Religious control is the best way to maintain power. Make people believe that God will turn his back on them if they do not support the religious leadership. Women, freedom of speech and non-Islamic human’s loss every time this happens see Iran and the way the Taliban treats women who speak their mine. Just like when Pope turned his back on any king in the Middle Ages. I am afraid that Egypt will follow down the same path that Iran has.

    December 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • alf564

      Well since Egypt is primarily a Muslim country and the moderates are in prison the Islamists represenated by the Muslim Brotherhood can pretty much do as the please. And they will !!

      December 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  2. Henry

    Where the HELL is CNN Breaking News?? Why isnt CNN covering what is happening today in Egypt? Thousands of militia of Muslim Brotherhood took to the streets today with ONE goal; to commit any and all physical abuse one the peaceful protesters in the wake of the LARGEST demonstration that occurred against president Morsi. Muslim Brotherhood are nothing but a lawless, terrorist organization with complete disregard to Islam or any moral compass.

    December 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Dude

      This is not your country and you have no say in it. You as American has no place in Egypt. We decide not you. You are not welcome here.

      December 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
      • JD

        CNN is an American owned News corporation. You're not allowed to comment here. We don't want you here.... See what I did there Mohammed Jr.

        December 5, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
      • M. Nassar

        To the guy named 'Dude' (how mature btw), I'm an Egyptian and I'm studying in the U.S. and I have always been welcome here. Don't say Americans are not welcome in Egypt, everybody is welcome in Egypt. It's racist people like you who should leave Egypt to make it a better place !

        December 11, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  3. Religion will

    Religion will eventually be the down-fall of mankind. How sad.

    December 5, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Deeter

      "Our fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."

      Atheists kill and oppress too. Human selfishness and violence will be our downfall. Religion is just an excuse.

      December 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • TheTruth

      No, a deep and abiding faith in Christ is the only hope for mankind.

      December 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  4. quacknduck

    Stability was the rationale for justifying the Taliban in Afghanistan post USSR withdrawal.

    December 5, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Deeter

      Stability is always the main excuse for tyranny.

      December 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  5. asdf

    Democracy in a Muslim country is like t_ts on a bull.

    December 5, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  6. asdf

    Muslims account for over %20 the worlds population and less than %5 of its GDP.

    December 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Deeter

      Hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Egypt are taking to the streets to fight for rights you take for granted. They have had to do this twice now in as many years. They aren't all as backward as the MB Show a bit of respect won't you.

      December 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  7. GodlessOpera

    Once again, bronze age mythology will cause death and misery to so many because of the nescient fervor of a few who took power.

    December 5, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Deeter

      Iron Age.

      If you are going to dismiss an entire an religious tradition with such a clumsy statement, at least get your terminology correct.

      December 5, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  8. Dude

    This is an Egyptian consitution. Any American who does not like is free to leave Egypt and live in the US. So, the US say has no place or value here.

    December 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  9. flimflamman

    DEATH to all EGYPTIANS...CUT OFF all 2 billion of their heads!

    December 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Deeter

      Unsuccessful Troll is Unsuccessful. Don't quit your day job fool.

      December 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
      • flimflamman

        suck my di k u black a pe!

        December 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  10. flimflamman

    Every Arab in the universe needs DEATH by fire...burn them all to death and REJOICE! Merry Syphilis everyone!!!

    December 5, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  11. Mohammed

    I find that the present article is insightful, beside we must to think on how, e.g., the french revolution has been begining!

    December 5, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  12. j. von hettlingen

    the site is jammed!

    December 6, 2012 at 6:19 am |
    • j. von hettlingen

      The opposition has to get its act together on 15 December. The crisis has divided the judiciary. On the one hand, it's the judges' duty to supervise the referendum. Yet many decide to go on strike, until Morsi rescinds his decree.

      December 6, 2012 at 6:29 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        The last time Egypt's entire judiciary went on strike was in 1919, when judges joined an uprising against British colonial rule.

        December 6, 2012 at 6:29 am |
  13. 200 TON HAMMER

    Egypt will never have peace as long as the yahoodee hateing muslim brotherhood is around they are just like jim crow laws with out the pork.their days are number

    December 6, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  14. Hate Wins

    I pray that those who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood will prevail. If a Taliban mentality takes over this wonderful land so rich in history and beautiful will they destroy Egypt's treasures like what happened in Afghanistan? The world would and will be a sadder place if that happens.
    I feel we all need to as much as we can support those who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood not because of their religion but because of their need of absolute control of people’s lives and intolerance that it breeds. Freedom is not just a word but a need in each of us. Of course there are those who narcissisms can not allow others to have any freedom that could mean a lost of power and control. Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin just to name a few. The history of religion is crammed full of these typo of men/women.

    December 6, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  15. Mohammed

    The egyptiens citizens are kind, respectuous and smarts people, I argue this because I was there.

    December 6, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  16. Dave Rogers

    It's just as likely that the Egyptian military has been doing business with the US for decades.

    In order to do business with Washington, Egypt would be required to receive foreign aid and then kick some back to US politicians as campaign contributions. The whole process is kind of corrupt (though legal by US policy) and I've been thinking this is why we have ended up with such strange bed fellows... as international relations go.

    You pretty much have to be corrupt to work with the US politics. Campaign fund raising dominates our political process, and it's all our politicians do. If Egypt wasn't making their campaign contributions...and the US owns the military.. It's not like the US is too moral or too under control to foment international problems.

    July 8, 2013 at 10:41 am |

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