After hearing held by Constituent Assembly, rights groups in Egypt express fears about the lack of genuine inclusive debate on the post-revolutionary constitution

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Having taken part in a hearing organized by the Proposals, Debates, and Social Communications Committee of the Constituent Assembly on the morning of July 22, the undersigned organizations are concerned by the lack of serious social debate carried out by the Constituent Assembly regarding the new constitution. Attendees came away with the impression that dialogue has been a largely formal gesture undertaken by this committee, as one of the public relations bodies tasked with communicating with various social groups, including civil society, in order to canvass opinions and demonstrate the inclusive nature of the Constituent Assembly.

This impression was reinforced by reports currently circulating that most of the constitution has already been finalized and that the final document will be presented to the public and put to a referendum within six weeks. The undersigned organizations fear that the sole objective of the formal hearings and meetings called by the committee is to improve the image of the Constituent Assembly and give the impression that all segments of society, including human rights groups, participated in drafting Egypt’s new constitution. This was seen clearly in the agenda for the meeting proposed by the committee members, as it was overly general and did not focus on rights and liberties. The agenda included questions concerning the system of governance, the status of the Shura Council in the new constitution, civilian-military relations, and the status of the president vis-à-vis the military establishment, reserving questions on rights and liberties as a final point of discussion in the meeting. This confused attendees, as it was not clear if they were invited to discuss economic and social rights in the post-revolution constitution or whether they were invited in their capacity as representatives of Egyptian civil society to offer their opinions on various issues, which turned out to be primarily political rather than rights-related. This question remained unanswered throughout the hearing, but if the impressions of the organizations indeed reflect the reality, the situation is extremely serious and represents a continuation of the same flawed political dialogue and social debate of late, in which all attention has been focused on political issues related to the system of governance and the shape of the state at the expense of rights-related issues.

The interventions offered by the undersigned advocacy groups during the hearing addressed various types of rights. Some focused on civil and political rights, while others dealt with economic and social rights. The interventions presented several proposed constitutional provisions to the Proposals, Dialogues, and Social Communications Committee for the purpose of submitting them to the Constituent Assembly’s Core Components Committee for review.

In terms of civil and political rights, the undersigned organizations stressed the need to respect the basic rights and liberties of citizens, including the freedom of association and assembly and trade-union freedoms, to criminalize discrimination, and to guarantee equality before the law, as well as to include guarantees for freedom of opinion and expression, the right to issue newspapers and a ban on all administrative censorship, and the right to information. Some attendees submitted proposed constitutional articles that would guarantee these liberties and make restrictions on them the exception. The undersigned organizations also noted that the constitutional text should be absolute and refrain from referring to extra-constitutional restraints such as “the public order” or leave the regulation of liberties up to the law. These kinds of formulations, which were used liberally in the 1971 constitution, emptied the constitutional text of any meaning, as it allowed the legislator to place all manner of restrictions on the exercise of liberties. Some attendees also presented proposals for women’s rights, which were completely ignored by the 1971 constitution. The interventions focused on the need to clearly and explicitly refer to Egypt’s international commitments in this regard and for some articles to explicitly refer to both men and women, as do other constitutions that uphold equality and proscribe discrimination based on gender.

The undersigned groups noted the need for the new constitution to include the principle of judicial autonomy, particularly for the Supreme Constitutional Court, by prohibiting executive interference in the judicial authorities’ operations, including in its formation, and giving the authority to vet its members to the Supreme Judicial Council, which is responsible for all judicial affairs independently of the executive and legislative authorities. The undersigned organizations reiterated the right of citizens to be tried before their natural judge, the need to abolish military trials of civilians, and the right of defendants to compensation for miscarriages of justice. They also pointed to the need for restrictions on the declaration of a state of emergency and the executive’s deployment of the emergency law, with oversight over emergency procedures and cases by elected representative councils. The undersigned groups stated that Egypt’s next constitution should provide for the independence and neutrality of religious institutions from the political authorities, with neither intervening in the affairs of the other.

Regarding economic and social rights, the undersigned groups noted the lack of concern with these rights among the political elite and in the Constituent Assembly, which has largely focused on the system of governance and the shape of the state without addressing citizens’ rights to food, housing, work, health care, and a clean environment—all needs that were given voice in the slogans and demands of the January 25 Revolution.

The undersigned organizations stressed the need for the constitution to provide for the rights of various groups, such as women, minorities, and the disabled, and to focus on economic and social rights. The undersigned agree on two major points. First, the articles of the 1971 constitution on economic and social rights are insufficient, as they use vague, unclear language and fail to cite rights established in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, such as the right to housing, which was not mention in the now-abolished constitution. In addition, a new generation of economic and social rights has been affirmed in the last 30 years, such as the rights to water, land, and food sovereignty, as well as other rights that were not addressed at all in the 1971 constitution.

A constitution being written by a country following a social revolution like that seen in Egypt in January 2011 should reflect these aspirations. Furthermore, the interventions discussed the need to change the articles on economic and social rights to take into consideration the constitutional experiences of countries such as South Africa, Brazil, and Bolivia.

Secondly, the undersigned organizations agree that constitutional provisions on economic and social rights should be detailed at length to clearly cite Egypt’s international commitments to its citizens, thus enabling them to refer to these articles when petitioning the state to respect their rights. The undersigned organizations referred to the constitutions of various countries that specifically mention their citizens’ economic and social rights and define these rights in detail, devoting entire sections to each right.

 

Undersigned organizations

  • Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
  • Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
  • Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.
  • Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
  • Center to Support Development.
  • New Woman Foundation.
  • Habitat International Coalition- Housing and land Rights Network.

This post is also available in: العربية

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