Tensions rise over new law in Egypt

Police, protesters brace for clashes

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“But I believe it isn’t clear in [the Muslim Brotherhood‘s] mind,” Mr. Fahmy said. “My suspicion is that this is not about rule of law. It is about identity.

“The argument is that your legal system is inauthentic; it is borrowed for Western legal codes and we have to replace it with something derived from Shariah,” he said. “I dispute this, but for argument’s sake – what do you actually mean in practice? I don’t think they have an answer.”

Concerns and contradictions

After several groups withdrew from the Constituent Assembly, analysts said, women and religious minorities feared that the new government was pushing aside their interests.

Heba Morayef, Egypt director at Human Rights Watch, said she was initially encouraged by the scrapping of a provision from the old constitution that allowed equality between men and women only when it did not conflict with Shariah law.

But she added that it is worrying that the general clause against discrimination no longer specifies grounds such as gender or race.

“I actually think it’s problematic that they removed sex as one of the grounds,” Ms. Morayef said. “There is not a single provision that addresses women’s rights or gender.”

There are also concerns over the power of the military, which critics say the draft constitution does little to hold in check. In particular, the constitution continues to allow civilians to be tried by military courts.

“There has been zero push-back against the powers of the military in this respect, and I think that’s a huge missed opportunity and real lack of courage on the part of Constituent Assembly members,” Ms. Morayef said.

Analysts said this could indicate the Muslim Brotherhood’s desire to keep the military on the Brotherhood side.

“If you look at the way in which the Brotherhood appear to be bending over to accommodate the military, certainly [it’s] to keep the military on its side,” said David Hartwell, a Middle East analyst for Jane’s Defense Weekly in London. “Indeed, the very fact that the constitution is being rushed through to avoid judicial challenge, all of this looks like an attempt by the Brotherhood to solidify its rule on Egypt and dictate the path of the constitutional process going forward.”

Others say the draft constitution is contradictory. While one article guarantees freedom of expression, another forbids insulting the prophets or “any human being.”

In addition, the speed with which the constitution is being pushed through means that few Egyptians have read it.

The constitution will be put to a public vote that is expected to take place before the end of the year.

But there is concern that few in the electorate will be well-informed about what they are voting on.

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