Women, Minorities and Marginalized Groups in Egypt (2011-2013) (IV) Constitutional Review Post-Morsi

2014-07-10    |   

Women, Minorities and Marginalized Groups in Egypt (2011-2013) (IV) Constitutional Review Post-Morsi

On June 30, 2013, mass protests took place in Egypt. Four days later, Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed President Mohamed Morsi. Adly Mansour, president of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), temporarily assumed the functions of acting President of the Republic. The 2012 Constitution was also suspended until a committee could be formed to amend it.


Women had actively participated in the June 30 demonstrations, as did some Coptic groups. After July 3, a new government was formed. Three women were appointed as ministers, and one as the president’s advisor for women’s affairs.[1] The Copts obtained similar representation, with three Copts appointed as ministers.[2] On December 3, 2013, the rough draft of amendments to the 2012 Constitution, the so-called “2013 Constitution”, was issued. The period extending from July 3 to December 3 may thus be seen as a phase subject to study in this part of the series.


Constitution Takes Precedence Over Mobilization


A climate of political tension dominated Egypt during this period. Many objected to Morsi’s removal and took part in protests and demonstrations calling for his reinstatement. There was also an increase in violent attacks in several governorates.


But a mere few weeks later, protests by political parties, coalitions and youth movements, in addition to Coptic and women’s rights groups, reemerged. Such protests opposed state procedures and measures described by protesters as a return to the “police state” to Egypt.


A considerable number of women were arrested during this period. Neither civil society organizations nor women’s rights movements took any action or organized any protests. Very few protests were held concerning the rights of Copts, Nubians, Sinai Bedouins and people with disabilities. Possible reasons for such a low level of mobilization may have been the desire not to be associated with protests held in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, or the conviction that the real battle lay in ratifying articles that would guarantee the rights of these groups in the constitution.


Minorities and Marginalized Groups Pay the Price for the Political Tug-of-War


After the June 30 protests and Morsi’s ouster on July 3, numerous attacks took place against Coptic churches and homes in several governorates. Following the forced dispersal of the Rabia al-Adawiya and Nahda Square protests, whose participants were calling for Morsi to be reinstated, the number of churches attacked reached that of 61.[3]


Syrian refugees paid a considerable price for the political struggle in Egypt. On July 8, the Egyptian government suddenly and surprisingly issued a decision requiring Syrians to obtain a visa before entering Egyptian soil. On the very day it was issued, the decision was enforced on the passengers of a commercial flight flying from the Syrian city of Latakia to Egypt.[4] By sending back those passengers, the Egyptian government violated the principle of non-refoulement as stated in Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention ratified by Egypt. The Egyptian government also went against Morsi’s decision to exempt Syrian refugees from residency procedures, cracking down on Syrians who did not hold residency permits and even deporting some of them.[5] Furthermore, a media campaign was launched adopting a discourse of discrimination and incitement against Syrian refugees, amid waves of random arrests targeting them, especially in the Alexandria Governorate.[6]


Meanwhile, there were renewed instances of preventing members of the Shiite community from practicing their religious rites on the commemoration of Ashura. Salafist groups objected to the declared intention of some Shiite leaders to commemorate their holy day in Cairo’s al-Hussein mosque, and threatened anyone who might do so.[7] The Ministry of Interior consequently closed down the al-Hussein shrine to prevent such celebrations, with the declared intent of arresting any Shiite who might enter the mosque.[8] In short, the Egyptian state did not change its treatment of Shiites as intruders or criminals rather than citizens.


The 2013 Constitution: Gains for Women, Minorities and Marginalized Groups


By virtue of the Constitutional Declaration issued on July 8, acting president Mansour formed a legal committee, the so-called “Committee of Ten”, comprised of ten legal experts to recommend needed amendments to the 2012 Constitution. After a rough draft of those amendments was submitted, Mansour formed another committee of fifty members to discuss the proposed amendments and draft others in order to produce the draft of a new constitution.


The Committee of Fifty included five women, three representatives of Egypt’s churches, one representative of the Nubians, one from the Sinai, and a single representative from the National Council of Disability Challengers on the condition that the latter is identified as someone with special needs. Some women’s rights groups objected to this level of women participation, requiring it be no less than 30%.[9]


The final draft of the 2013 Constitution states in its preamble that the Egyptian state should have a “civil government”. The preamble also stipulates that the rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) should be referred to when interpreting the principles of Islamic law (Sharia), with Article 219 of the 2012 Constitution having been revoked.[10]


In the chapter concerning rights and freedoms, Article 53 states that “citizens are equal before the law, possess equal rights and public duties, and may not be discriminated against on the basis of religion, belief, sex, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographical affiliation, or for any other reason”. By specifying the reasons for discrimination, this article met demands that had been raised back when the 2012 Constitution was being drafted.


Article 93 also affirmed the state’s commitment “to the agreements, covenants, and international conventions of human rights that were ratified by Egypt”. Those include agreements concerning women’s rights, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as well as agreements concerning people with disabilities, refugees and other groups.


Unlike the 2012 Constitution, the draft 2013 Constitution explicitly mentions equality between men and women in Article 11. This article met many of the demands raised by women’s rights groups, clearly stipulating that women should be appointed to judicial positions and empowered to reach high public office.[11] Such empowerment follows the fatwa issued by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, deeming it permissible for women to assume judicial positions and high public office. The same article also affirms the state’s commitment to “the protection of women against all forms of violence”. This would require issuing a law to criminalize violence against women – something women’s rights groups have long demanded.


Meanwhile, Article 6 constitutionalized women’s right to pass Egyptian citizenship on to their children, after fears that the 2004 law granting women such a right might be amended under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.


Like the 2012 Constitution, the draft 2013 Constitution did not specify a quota for women in parliament. On the other hand, Article 180 stipulates that one quarter of local council seats should be allocated to women, thereby encouraging women to enter the political fray and changing the stereotypical image of women in society.


Regarding the Copts, Article 3 of the 2012 Constitution was preserved. The article states that Christians can turn to their own religious laws [for personal status and religious issues]. Moreover, Article 64 states that “freedom of belief is absolute. The freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing places of worship for the followers of revealed religions is a right organized by law”.


In a positive step towards resolving the controversy over the laws governing houses of worship, Article 235 states that the first parliament to be elected after the ratification of this Constitution “in its first legislative term, (…) shall issue a law to organize building and renovating churches”. Article 244 also stipulates that the state should work to ensure that Copts are appropriately represented in this first parliament. Similarly, Article 180 stipulates that they should be represented in local councils as well.


The 2013 constitutional text is the first to mention the role of the state in carrying out development projects that would return the Nubians to their native lands, in addition to working on economic development and construction in border areas, including the Sinai and Nubia.




Upon analysis of the conditions of women, minorities and marginalized groups after 2011, it might be noted that these groups as a whole suffered major violations during all three phases. The way in which such violations were confronted, on the other hand, differed from one phase to another.


These groups did benefit from the 2011 Revolution to varying degrees. Their greatest gain was perhaps the very fact that they became visible in the public sphere and took part in public life, demanding their rights without fear.


There are some who consider women to have gained the most from the revolution. Women did achieve numerous gains during this period, not just by taking part in political life, but also by proving their ability to confront all violations and attempts to exclude them.


Coptic groups, on the other hand, set aside the indifference that had afflicted them throughout the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak. This represents a major gain both for Copts themselves and for political life in Egypt at large. Indeed, the Copts’ positive participation in society contributes directly to uplifting the principle of citizenship, whereby all groups abandon their “sectarian affiliation” to address the concerns of the people as a whole.


Action taken by the Nubians had a positive effect in terms of introducing many people to their cause, which had not been very well known among other segments of Egyptian society. It also contributed to having their rights recognized in the draft 2013 Constitution.


Yet, the greatest gain was that of putting forward the principle of citizenship in general, for Egyptian society to ponder and try to understand. While such a principle may not yet be clear or recognized among all segments of Egyptian society, the mere fact of putting it forward represents the key to its future recognition.


During this period, the Egyptian state’s approach to the problems and demands of the groups most exposed to marginalization was tested. The process revealed shortcomings that need to be remedied. This includes the absence of strategic thinking and proper action plans. It also revealed the discriminatory outlook that sometimes characterizes the Egyptian state.


The state’s response to these movements and demands varied from one phase to another, but its political approach did not. The state never adopted a rights-driven approach, based on the principle of citizenship, justice and equality for dealing with all of its citizens, especially those most exposed to marginalization. As a result, achieving the latter’s demands remains contingent on political considerations.

Stating these rights in the draft 2013 Constitution is no guarantee that the state will adopt such an approach for addressing the demands of those most marginalized, given it has not done so for many years. Yet, the constitutional articles ratified in this respect are considered a step forward towards ensuring these groups’ rights and achieving their demands. Civil society organizations, human rights advocates, or citizens whose rights were violated can use these articles to force the state to guarantee their rights and change its approach.


This article is an edited translation from Arabic.



[1] See: “Out of a Gunpowder Barrel”, report published by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) in January 2014.

[2] Published on the Sada al-Balad  TV website on July 16, 2013.

[3] See: Peter Magdy’s, “2013: The Worst Year for the Copts in Egypt’s Recent History”, published on the al-Tahrir website on January 7, 2014.

[4] Report issued by the Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC) on August 13, 2013.

[5] Statement issued by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) on August 3, 2013.

[6] See: Menna Omar’s, “The Egyptian State’s Failure to Provide Protection to Syrian Refugees: Will Syrians Pay the Price for Egypt’s Political Struggle?”, published on The Legal Agenda website on October 25, 2013.

[7] Published on the al-Masry al-Youm website on November 6, 2013.

[8] Published on the al-Youm al-Sabea website on November 14, 2013.

[9] Published on the al-Shorouk website on August 7, 2013.

[10] See: Menna Omar’s, “The Principles of Islamic Sharia in the New Draft Egyptian Constitution: The Rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court to be the Reference for Interpretation”, published on The Legal Agenda website on December 27, 2013.

[11] See: Menna Omar’s, “Women in the Egyptian Judiciary: Limited Steps Do Not Make a Spring”, published on The Legal Agenda website on July 31, 2013.


Share the article

Mapped through:

Articles, Egypt, Gender, Sexuality and Women Rights, Inequalities, Discrimination and Marginalisation

For Your Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *