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Friday, November 30, 2012

Reading Egypt\'s Draft Constitution

As my colleagues Kareem Fahim and David Kirkpatrick report from Cairo, Tahrir Square was filled with protesters again on Friday as opponents of President Mohamed Morsi, “galvanized and angered by his unexpected and hurried effort to pass Egypt's new constitution,” returned to the streets.

The Cairene blogger who writes as The Big Pharaoh observed that the square was full, if not as jammed as it had been three days ago, when Egyptians rallied in numbers that recalled the 18 days of protest that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

Video of Tuesday's rally, posted on YouTube by activists from the Mosireen collective, testified to the size and passion of the new protest movement against the Islamist president and the draft constitution app roved by his allies in a constituent assembly packed with his supporters.

Video of Tuesday's protests in Cairo, from the activist film collective Mosireen.

Since the new constitution has to be approved in a referendum, that document is now the focus of intense scrutiny. Hours after it was approved, The Egypt Independent published an English translation of the Arabic text prepared by Nariman Youssef. Ms. Youssef, who describes herself as “a literary translator, wannabe cultural historian and sometimes poet” on her blog, Multivalence, voiced some criticism of the text as she worked.

The BBC produced a very useful side-by-side comparison of important parts of the new document to those in Egypt's previous constitution. Issandr El Amrani, the Cairo-based journalist who blogs as The Arabist, suggested that the comparison was not flattering to the new text.

As the constituent assembly raced to pass the document on Thursday and Friday, in the absence of non-Islamist members who boycotted the proceedings, Heba Morayef, the Human Rights Watch Egypt director, provided a running and quite frequently lacerating commentary on Twitter.

Several of Ms. Morayef's objections were incorporated into an analysis of the draft constitution published by Human Rights Watch on Friday.

The rights group welcomed some parts of the text, but expressed concern about seve ral others.

Human Rights Watch has reviewed Chapter II of the final draft, entitled Rights and Freedoms, and followed the televised session in which the constituent assembly voted on each of these provisions. The rights chapter provides for strong protection against arbitrary detention in article 35 and torture and inhumane treatment in article 36, and for freedom of movement in article 42, privacy of communication in article 38, freedom of assembly in article 50, and of association in article 51. But the latest draft, unlike the earlier version, defers to objections from the country's military leadership and has removed the clear prohibition of trials of civilians before military courts.

Human Rights Watch also identified and explained in detail its concerns over limited guarantees of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and women's rights in the new framework for Egyptian law.

Gehad El-Haddad, a senior adviser to the Muslim Brotherhood and the group's political party, which nominated Mr. Morsi for the presidency earlier this year, sparred with critics, including Ms. Morayef on Twitter.

The author Rawah Badrawi, who lives outside Cairo, observed that the referendum campaign was already underway, at least for Mr. Morsi's allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, and the opposition might need to develop a “ground game” to defeat the draft constitution rather than just focus on street demonstrations.

Evidence that the campaign in favor of the draft constitution has begun was posted online by Egyptian blogger - a photograph of a Muslim Brotherhood flyer, reportedly being passed out in Alexandria, Egypt's second-largest city.

The flyer seeks to undermine a series of objections to the draft constitution, with the help of clip art and answers to what are presented as common misconceptions.

The first panel of the flyer is a response to a voter who says, “I heard that non-Muslims won't be able to take their rights in this country!” The response reads:

What did I hear? Instead of listening to other people, see for yourself. You haven't got the draft - so come here. What is it you are saying? This constitution gave everyone rights that were not there before. Like Article 3, which says that non-Muslims - Christians and Jews - have the right to be governed by their own laws in regards to personal status. And article 27 says that freedom of thought is protected and that the state ensures freedom to establish houses of worship within the confines of the law.

But, as Human Rights Watch notes, “Article 43 on freedom of religion limits the right to practice religion and to establish places of worship to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Previous drafts had provided for a general right to practice religion but limited the establishment of places of worship to adherents of these three Abrahamic religions. Article 43 discriminates against and excludes followers of other religions, including Egyptian Bahais.”