Nour party Posters in Cairo
Posters for the hardline Al-Nour party in Cairo Reuters

The new Egyptian Constitution has been evaluated and found wanting by Human Rights Watch, the activist organization which issued the Egyptian Constituent Assembly a stern letter warning them that the current draft needs to be amended or risk violating international laws.

“The draft constitution contains many loopholes that would allow future authorities to repress and limit basic rights and freedoms,” said Nadim Houry, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at HRW, in a statement.

“The Constituent Assembly has a landmark opportunity to lay the groundwork for respecting human rights in tomorrow’s Egypt, but its current draft fails to meet that standard because of vague language or limitations that destroy the essence of many rights.”

HRW's objections concern the lack of clear language against torture, freedom of religion, freedom of press, and women and children’s rights.

For example, HRW pointed out Article 5, which addresses what happens to a person when they are arrested, does not explicitly prohibit torture, saying instead that “anyone who is arrested … shall be treated in a manner to protect human dignity, and shall not be intimidated or coerced or harmed physically or psychologically.”

Article 9 does not allow for places of worship for non-Abrahamic religions, which could be interpreted to endanger Egypt’s Shiite Muslims. (Egypt is a Sunni-dominated nation).

The article currently reads, “The divine being is protected and any criticism thereof is prohibited as are the prophets of God … and the rightly guided caliphs.” One of the major points of contention between Sunnis and Shias is who the “rightly guided caliphs” are, HRW said.

HRW also said that Salafi members of the Assembly applied pressure to remove wording that would specifically outlaw the trafficking of women and children. In Egypt, many young girls from poor families are often sold into marriage. One of the members of a Salafist party Al-Nour, Younis Makhyoun, has said in an interview that, “in Egypt there is no trafficking of women and children,” and that including the provision would “tarnish Egypt’s image abroad.”

He also said that he believes that age nine or 10 is a completely appropriate age for a girl to get married.

In addition, Article 36 directly contradicts itself by prohibiting gender discrimination, but only as long as it does not “conflict with the rulings of Islamic Sharia.”

HRW did note that a provision in Article 47 that “prohibits the creation of exceptional courts and the trial of civilians before military courts” could put an end to the military trials of civilians, which HRW said was widespread during Hosni Mubarak’s administration, and which HRW called on the new president Mohammed Morsi to end last July.

The president of the assembly, Hassam Gheryany, told the Egyptian newspaper Akhbar Elyom that he expected the full constitution to be ready by early November.