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Forum Post: If you want to restrict women’s rights & enforce YOUR morals, here’s a constitution even Santorum & Pat Robertson might approve

Posted 5 years ago on Dec. 16, 2012, 11:10 a.m. EST by mideast (506)
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Mark Colvin with the __Egypt director at Human Rights Watch, Heba Morayef, from Cairo:
Dec 10, 2012 9:05pm AEDT Human rights advocates have applauded Egypt's President Morsi's reversal of a decision to take sweeping new powers, but they're worried about the referendum he's called on a new constitution. Human Rights Watch's Egypt director Heba Morayef says the new constitution contains few protections for religious minorities and little protection for free speech.

MARK COLVIN: Egypt's president Morsi has averted one crisis by reversing his decision to take sweeping new powers which would have put him beyond the reach of the courts. But he's prolonged another by insisting on pressing ahead with a referendum on a new constitution - which he announced with just two weeks notice. Heba Morayef is the Egypt director at Human Rights Watch. I asked her about people's worries about the draft constitution. HEBYA MORAYEF: It provides less protection for women's rights, it has a lot of vague language which can be used to undermine rights which says, for example, that the state shall have a role in preserving morals and shall have a role in preserving the true nature of the Egyptian family. And then giving those provisions priority over the rights chapter.

MARK COLVIN: Is there solid protection for some of the groups that are really afraid of an Islamist majority, like the Coptic Christians? HEBYA MORAYEF: Well the Coptic Christians are mentioned in a provision on freedom of religion. The problem there is that the freedom of religion provision only recognises Islam, Christianity and Judaism. So it provides not protection to other religious minorities in Egypt; Egypt has a small Baha'i community for example. And I think that is my deepest concern – they have NO protection. There also isn't a strong non-discrimination clause. The state deciding what appropriate morals are and what the appropriate ethics that the society must have, very vague language, that can be used to undermine the rights, either of the Christian minority should the Muslim majority be in charge of the government.

MARK COLVIN: So the blasphemy laws and the laws against insulting individuals could be used to - against different religious groups? HEBYA MORAYEF: yes, and that was historically the case under Mubarak. The bigger problem is that they've actually built a prohibition of insulting the prophets into the constitution. So there again no protection for the essence of freedom of expression.

MARK COLVIN: I've read that the Muslim Brotherhood has got a very good get out the vote system and that the opposition has virtually none. HEBYA MORAYEF: The Muslim Brotherhood has historically always had an extremely efficient elections machine, which they mobilise to their advantage; first in the parliamentary elections and then in the first round of the presidential elections. The interesting thing this time is that the opposition is united for the first time in Egypt in the last two years. You have both supporters of the former regime, be that Mubarak or the deep state, or people who were against the revolution in the first place, united with all the new political opposition parties, the pro-revolution activists. And that is significant because the presidential elections was a very close vote, President Morsi only won by 52 per cent. Had the call gone out for a no vote there might have been a chance of a concentrated campaign that would actually challenge the Muslim Brotherhood selection.

MARK COLVIN: But instead? HEBYA MORAYEF: But instead, yesterday at 7pm the coalition of opposition groups, called the National Salvation Front, announced that they would boycott the elections. Now I think it will be interesting to see to what extent they can even implement that decision among their supporters because I've already seen calls issued last night for a no vote.
But the problem there is that you have a divided opposition, different messages going out. And for a no campaign to actually be effective you need to have one solid message, so I'm not sure what will happen.

MARK COLVIN: So it is likely that the referendum will pass by default. Is it then there for eternity? HEBYA MORAYEF: Well the constitution has built into it a mechanism for ammending some provisions. But every provision has to be approved by both houses of parliament, the president and then has to be put to referendum. So the likelihood of actually changing some of these provisions is actually very low and I think we're stuck with this constitution for the foreseeable future. MARK COLVIN: So is it possible that Morsi's backdown on his own powers was actually tactical and his long-term aim was to get this constitution through? HEBYA MORAYEF: Absolutely correct. I think it was actually a very smart move by him because in a sense he took away one of the main sources of anger without actually addressing the problematic situation we're in right now. So he did nothing to diffuse the crisis but at the same time he has made it much more difficult for the opposition to argue against the constitution.



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