A “Papyrus” from Egyptian Human Rights NGOs: The protection of fundamental rights within the new constitution

In light of the ongoing debate on the “January 25th” Constitutional process and its core provisions, the Cairo Institute for Human Right Studies (CIHRS) and several Egyptian human rights organizations have submitted a set of basic principles which they believe will guarantee an Egyptian constitution based on the values of the January 25th Revolution and its most prominent slogan, “Freedom, dignity, social justice” These principles, formulated in six detailed articles and signed by more than 25 Egyptian rights organizations, are based on the sovereignty of the people as the source of all governmental authority.

The document containing these principles has been termed a “Papyrus”, in appreciation of ancient Egyptian civilization and the great heritage of cultural, social, ethnic, and religious diversity that has shaped Egyptians’ character and identity. The productive interplay of Pharaonic, Nubian, Coptic, Arabic, and Islamic civilizations constitutes a source of pride and respect for all Egyptians, the origin of Egyptian particularity, and the backbone of their national union.

Article 2 of the Papyrus defends this diversity, emphasizing the need to strengthen and protect the values of pluralism as a fundamental part of humanity and its value, such that no majority should be permitted to suppress and repress any minority by whatever means. Article 1 of the Papyrus stresses the need for the constitution to guarantee cultural rights to every Egyptian, in order to preserve the national heritage and the cultures of various ethnic, religious, and geographic groups throughout Egypt’s history.

Recognizing such diversity and pluralism the Papyrus advocates for the Constitution to take into account numerous sources of legislation as a supra-constitutional principle that reflects Egyptians’ religious, confessional, ethnic, and cultural diversity. Egyptian identity cannot be reduced to one dimension or group without destroying national unity. The Papyrus further upholds the independence of religious institutions and commits them to refrain from engaging in any political partisan activity.

The Papyrus refrains from elaborating in detail the rights to be enshrined in the constitution and legislation, choosing instead to emphasize that international human rights conventions should constitute the fundamental reference point for the elaboration of these rights. The Papyrus proposes to protect the fundamental rights of all Egyptian citizens against any efforts to undermine or weaken these rights within the constitutional formation process. To do so it proposes the formation of a Constitutional Council composed of the heads of the high courts and chaired by the president of the Supreme Judicial Council to oversee the drafting of the Constitution in order to ensure the basic rights of all Egyptians are respected throughout. Additionally, the Papyrus does not propose a particular system of governance (parliamentary, presidential, or mixed), but rather leaves this to the constitution. Instead, it advances a set of fundamental constitutional provisions that must be respected in any democratic system regardless of the specific mode of governance adopted by the constitution.

The Papyrus upholds the independence of the judiciary and limits the jurisdiction of the military judiciary to military crimes committed by military personnel. It also establishes the police as a civilian body, and makes the Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry subject to parliamentary oversight.

Prompted by a belief in the value of dialogue as a basic foundation for democracy, CIHRS has set up an independent email address to receive all comments, suggestions, and questions regarding the Papyrus. Several meetings and discussions will also be organized with various political parties, public figures, youth, and rights advocates in order to further develop this document.

Attached the Papyrus. Please direct all comments and inquiries about the document to: [email protected]

Egyptian Human Rights NGOs Papyrus

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