26 Dec 2012

Egypt endorses controversial constitution

Two thirds of Egyptians back a controversial constitution but opponents argue the bill betrays the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak with some female protesters cutting off their hair.

As Cairo protests go, it wasn’t the biggest. It wasn’t the loudest either and the weapon of choice were rather unusual: a simple pair of scissors.

A handful of female protestors chose to cut off locks of their hair. It is symbolic, they say, of a constitution they believe will cut back their rights.

The women were a mixed crowd – some older, some younger, some wearing headscarves, others with heads uncovered. Among them was 21-year-old Fatma El-Sherif who said; “it’s not our hair, which crowns us women – our freedom does.”

Ms El Sherif says that since the revolution began in Egypt, women have been subjected to opression including being subjected to violence and virginity tests as they tried to peacefully protest. She now fears the new constitution will mean women’s rights will be curtailed.

The controversial new constitution took effect today and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood drafted document say it will bring much needed stability to the country. But for weeks, opponents have argued it undermines civil liberties.

They are particularly concerned about articles in the constitution which state that “Islamic sharia” according to “Sunni doctrines” will be the “principal source of legislation” and that while the constitution outlines equality, there is no explicit guarantee of the rights of women and minority groups.

Constitution backed by public

But today the constitution was signed into law, after 64 per cent of voters approved it in a referendum held over two weekends, although only about a third of Egyptians turned out to vote. In a televised address to the nation, President Mohammad Mursi called for all sides to come together in a national dialogue.

Of course, underpinning Egypt‘s political problems is the economic crisis. This may well be top of the agenda for the Shura Council (Egypt’s upper house or senate), which is now responsible for law making until the elections in February.

Just days ago, Egypt’s credit rating was downgraded to B- by ratings agency Standard and Poor.

For his part, President Mursi has promised new packages of economic support and incentive for investment. But Egypt’s political outlook may well be determined, by the state of the economy.