The 1971 Egyptian Constitution, currently suspended, includes articles that ostensibly ensure equality and outlaw discrimination based on gender, ethnic origin, language, religion or belief. But according to Egyptian gender experts, the situation is far more complicated -- and discriminatory -- than a quick reading of the old constitution suggests.
And if women’s rights are to be guaranteed in post-Mubarak Egypt, the new version, written by a committee selected by the parliament elected in September 2011, will require substantial changes on laws regulating gender.
According to Douaa Hussein, a human rights and gender consultant, the misinterpretation of sharia law is the main factor leading to discrimination against women and minority groups, specifically when it comes to personal status law, which determines women's rights to ownership, inheritance, education, employment and criminal law. Hussein and some other rights advocates support the abolition of Article 2 in the forthcoming constitution.
Marwa Sharafeldin, co-founder of the Network for Women's Rights Organizations in Egypt, would prefer to see religion as a force supporting equality by adopting Islamic jurisprudence that promotes equality, as family law does in Morocco.
“We need to do the same, to build on already existing egalitarian Islamic jurisprudence and develop it ourselves too,” said Sharafeldin. “Doing otherwise is like using Islam to justify inequality and discrimination, which is far from reality and does not do justice to Islam.”
This kind of discrimination affects other legal frameworks beyond the constitution, as well. Women are not allowed to occupy positions in State Council.
“Last year, on 15 February, 334 male judges voted against the appointment of females to judicial posts during a State Council General Assembly meeting,” Al Aswad said.
There are currently 30 female judges in Egypt, all appointed by presidential decree in 2007. But Al Aswad argues that the formal law does not allow women to apply normally nor be promoted to become judges, as their male colleagues are.
Women are also prohibited from working in public prosecution.