Women’s Gains in the Egyptian Constitution of 2014

2014-02-03    |   

Women’s Gains in the Egyptian Constitution of 2014

The new Egyptian draft Constitution was approved following the public referendum on January 14 and 15 of 2014. One thing that stood out was the large influx of women who turned out at polling stations in numbers far exceeding those of men. This was attributed by some to the Constitution’s full endorsement of women’s rights. But was this endorsement in line with women's aspirations?


Positive Steps Towards Endorsement of Citizenship and Women’s Rights


The 2013 Constitution included articles that endorsed the concepts of citizenship and equality among Egyptians and criminalized discrimination, a clear gain for Egyptian women. Article 1 of the Constitution stipulates that the state’s political system rests on the “basis of citizenship”, and Article 9 mandates the state to apply the principle of equal opportunity among citizens without favouritism. Furthermore, “the inculcation of the concepts of citizenship, tolerance, and non-discrimination” became, for the first time, one of the objectives of education[1]. As a result, human rights was declared a mandatory subject in universities[2], setting the stage for raising a new generation of Egyptians that respects women rights, equality, and genuine citizenship.


Article 53 defines discrimination, which was criminalized in many articles of the Constitution, as discrimination resulting from “religion, creed, gender, origin, ethnicity, color, language, disability, geographical location, social class, political affiliation, or any other reason”. The inclusion of gender in the former constitution was demanded by a number of women’s organizations but their demand failed to materialize.


In another response to demands by women organizations, Article 93 of the Constitution stipulates that “the state shall commit to international agreements, conventions, and charters that Egypt ratifies, and they shall have the power of law after their publication, according to set situations”.  


This article guarantees Egypt's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and other international agreements related to women issues that Egypt ratified with some reservations. The existence of such a constitutional text paves the way for bringing these matters before Egypt’s administrative, constitutional, and judicial courts.


One potential shortcoming of the article is that it places international conventions and charters on an equal footing with Egyptian law rather than granting the former a higher status. For it is customary in most countries of the world to give international conventions and charters greater compared to legislative or even constitutional texts. Treating them in par with the law means that they are subject to the principle of “the subsequent legislation amends its predecessor”. As such, should a law amending the rights and freedoms stipulated in these agreements or charters be enacted, the judge will implement the new law and consider anything that preceded it null and void.


Declaring Equality Between Men and Women:  Will Women Enter the Judiciary?


While the Constitution of 2012 did not stipulate equality between men and women, the 2013 Constitution explicitly states this equality. The new constitution declared that “the state guarantees the achievement of equality between men and women in all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution”.[3]


This article is considered a great victory for Egyptian women after their roles were marginalized in the 2012 Constitution. Significantly, the provision “guarantees” the right of women to assume high positions in the state including judicial ones, without prejudice to gender. This article came after years of demanding access to public and judicial positions. Women were previously prohibited from assuming public and judicial positions in judicial and public prosecution agencies, and without any legal basis.[4]


Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam had issued an Islamic edict during the constitutional debates, effectively declaring that it is permissible for women to assume positions in the judiciary and the state according to Islamic Law.[5] His fatwa had paved the way for ratifying this article of the Constitution.


The article in question also affirmed the “state's commitment to protect women against all forms of violence”. Rates of harassment and rape as well as violations carried out by the state against women have increased since the outbreak of the revolution. Examples include virginity tests carried out by the Military Council during 2011, debate in the former parliament to de-criminalize female circumcision, as well as other arrangements that fall under the category of “violence against women”.


Women's Right to Give Citizenship to her Children:  A Constitutional Right


In a move to implement the principle of equality, Article 6 of the Egyptian Constitution stipulates that “citizenship is the right of any child born to an Egyptian father or an Egyptian mother; that the child shall have the right, which is protected and regulated by law, to be legally recognized and given official papers indicating his personal information; and that the law shall specify the terms for acquiring the citizenship”. This article entrenched a woman's right to pass on her citizenship to her children, a right which women were given in the Citizenship Law of 2004. The new article affirmed, without equivocation, that the right of the children of an Egyptian mother to citizenship is identical to that of children of an Egyptian father. It is an “authentic” not acquired one based on bloodline. As such, the acquisition of citizenship is [automatically] approved at birth, and not a procedural matter requiring the approval of the Ministry of Interior.[6]


Earlier during the term in office of the previous parliament, there were rumours that the Citizenship Law would be amended to strike down women's right to pass on citizenship to their children. It was equally rumoured that all laws granting women certain rights acquired during the reign of former President Mubarak were to be stricken down due to their alleged violation of Islamic Law. The constitutional guarantee under Article 6 will preempt similar attempts from materializing.


The Quota:  Prohibited in the House of Representatives, Guaranteed in Local Councils


In spite of demands by many women’s organizations to assign a “quota” for women in parliament, the 50-Member Committee refused to approve a quota for any societal group or religious sect in parliament. The Committee settled for stipulating the following in Article 11:  “The state shall seek to take necessary measures to guarantee adequate women representation in parliamentary bodies, along the lines identified by the law”.


Based on that, the constitution compelled the state “to commit to exert an effort” when drafting the election law, without necessarily being obligated to realize this representation. Hence, the law could state that women should be listed on election slates, or listed on the top third of the slate if the elections were conducted on the basis of a slate system. Hence, the law will work on representing women, without guaranteeing this representation and without determining a quota.


However, the Egyptian Constitution assigned a quota of “one quarter of the seats”[7] for women in the elected local councils. This was considered a positive step on the road to achieving women representation in parliament, and changing the stereotype about women in society.


The inadequate representation of women in the House of Representatives may be due to the fact that some sectors of Egyptian society object to women representing them. It may also be due to the small number of women known to voters in electoral districts. Furthermore, since local councils are normally in direct contact with citizens, women representation will result in the building of a popular base and political history in the “electoral district” to which they belong. This will further result, later on, in an increase in the number of women elected to the House of Representatives.




The rights approved by the new Egyptian Constitution for women are unprecedented compared to those in previous Egyptian constitutions. However, they cannot be considered, thus far, anything but ink on paper, until they are implemented through pending legislation, and through arrangements by the state to guarantee these rights. The upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections might be the first test for implementing these rights. Only time will tell.


This article is an edited translation from Arabic.





[1] Article 18 of the Egyptian Constitution.

[2] Article 20 of the Egyptian Constitution.

[3] Article 11 of the Egyptian Constitution.

[4] See Menna Omar’s: “Women in the Egyptian Judiciary: Limited steps that do not make a spring”, published in Issue Number 4 of The Legal Agenda on July 31, 2013.

[5] See Menna Omar’s: “Fatwa by the Grand Mufti of the Egyptian Lands Permitting Women to Assume Judicial Positions: Have the Religious Authorities Become Keener on Women's Rights than the State?”, published on the website of The Legal Agenda on October 23, 2013.

[6] See Fatwa by Al-Shazhili “Awaiting the Decision of the Draft Egyptian Constitution 2013:  Citizenship of the Children of Egyptian Women Married to Foreigners in the 2014 Law and its Application,  published on the website of The Legal Agenda on November 29,  2013.

[7] Article 180 of the Egyptian Constitution.

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