Amid leaks of draft constitution, activists fear for women’s rights

Scores of political and human rights activists gathered in central Cairo to demand that women's rights be protected in the new constitution, with leaks of parts of the proposed text causing alarm for some.

The protest, which included members of several political parties and NGOs, opposed adding the phrase "to be consistent with the provisions of Sharia" to articles regarding to women's rights.

Protesters, who gathered outside the Shura Council where the Constituent Assembly drafting the charter meets, said that the reference to compatibility with "Sharia rulings," would allow for different interpretations by Islamic scholars that may curtail rights of women. 

Article 36 has been of particular concern for women's rights activists. Excerpts of draft text reveal that it seeks to lower the marriage age, legalize female genital mutilation and use Islamic jurisprudence in a way that could limit women's rights to work and education.

Critics say that such phrasing of Article 36 would open the door to violations of women’s rights by extremist views and interpretations of Sharia.

"This constitution, especially Article 36 … is dangerous for women's rights," said political activist Inas Mekkawi, one of the organizers of Tuesday's demonstration.

Sabah Fawwaz Ibrahim joined the protest but says she does not belong to any organized party or group.

"All the leaked articles are terrifying. There is no basis for equal citizenship rights for men and women,” she said. "The constitution is being written behind closed doors. They will write it and then go to the mosques and tell people to vote ‘yes’" in a referendum on the constitution, she told AFP.

Protesters also criticized the latest version of the article, in which the phrase “banning trafficking of women” was removed.

The protesters held a banner with the slogan, "A woman's voice is revolution, not Awrah [parts of the body that should not be exposed]", and demanded that the Constituent Assembly be reformed to ensure fair representation of women.

Nehad Aboul Komsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, and former MP Amr Hamzawy were among those who attended the demonstration.

The process of drafting a new constitution following the revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak last year has been widely criticized for being shrouded in secrecy.

But proposed articles have been leaked to the press which point to a struggle between Islamists, who dominate the panel, and secularists over how great a role religion would play in the charter.

The 100-strong panel, which was picked in June, is headed by senior judge Hossam Gheriany. Its constitutionality is currently being examined by a court.

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