CAIRO: There are already a few tanks stationed near the presidential palace in Cairo as protesters continue to demonstrate against President Mohamed Morsi over the draft constitution that is to go to referendum on December 15.
Now, as Morsi orders the military onto the streets to “protect state institutions” ahead of the vote, activists and average citizens are fearful it could mean a return to military rule. And they are not happy.
“We disagree and people protest. Is that not part of democracy?” asked Yussif Hamdy, 32, a shopkeeper on Qasr el-Aini street.
He told Bikyamasr.com that if the two sides would not resort to violence, “the military would not be coming into the street. We don’t want the military because we know what they want to do and that is not good for the people.”
The move is likely to heighten an already tense situation, which saw the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) on Sunday say no to the referendum and call for a potential boycott and widespread protests to ensure the country does not head toward the ultra-conservative direction Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood want.
The leaders, led by Mohamed ElBaradei rejected the move and called for protests on Tuesday.
Making matters even more tense and worrisome, Islamist groups also said they would hold counter demonstrations, which could lead to further bloody clashes.
The NSF said the body that drafted the constitution was dominated by Morsi’s Islamist allies.
In a statement after talks on Sunday, the opposition National Salvation Front said it would not recognise the draft constitution “because it does not represent the Egyptian people.”
“We reject the referendum which will certainly lead to more division and sedition,” spokesman Sameh Ashour said.
After two weeks of near constant protests, sporadic violence that saw angry Muslim Brotherhood supporters block the Supreme Constitutional Court and attack peaceful protesters near the presidential palace on Wednesday, Egypt is facing continued deadlock over the future of the country.
Supporters of Morsi claim that as the democratically elected president of Egypt he has the right, even the duty, to push forward the draft constitution for referendum on December 15.
Critics of the president argue that the document was written by a largely Islamist front of ultra-conservatives and threatens the very future of freedom and rights in the country.
It’s a stalemate, even as Morsi rescinded the presidential decree that made his decisions above judicial review on Saturday night.
He, however, refused to budge on the constitutional referendum, which has sparked more anger and more protests scheduled for Sunday across the country.
The constitution, drafted by predominantly conservative Islamists, is the issue at hand in Egypt. Critics say that even though Morsi was democratically elected, he does not represent the majority and cannot implement his will through the constitution.
They argue that the drafting process was not representative of the country, especially after numerous groups, including women’s rights organizations, Coptic Christians and liberal leaders withdrew after saying the Islamists would not compromise on any issue.
Adding fuel to the protest movement now gripping the country is the first-round of election votes, which saw Morsi garner only 25 percent of the electorate. Anti-Morsi critics say this is proof that he does not have a mandate to rule with an iron fist and force down the throats a constitution that eliminates women’s rights, equality and freedom of religion.
“This is the problem we are facing right now,” 27-year-old Mohamed Mahmoud, an unemployed recent university graduate, told Bikyamasr.com on Friday at the presidential palace as hundreds of thousands had gathered. “We are not represented and we have no time to campaign and make people aware. It is not fair and it is not democracy,” he added.
At the heart of the matter for more than half of Egypt’s 90 million population, are women’s rights and how they are represented, or not represented, in the draft constitution.
The Egyptian Association for the Assistance of Juveniles and Human Rights added that Article 70 also does not prohibit child trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The NGO decried the assembly’s failure to specify the age of children in the charter, particularly when Egypt was one of the first signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which clearly declares anyone below the age of 18 as a minor.
The minimum age for marriage set by the Personal Status Code in 2008 was 18, which is not the case under the new constitution.
According to Amnesty International, Egypt’s draft constitution does not shield minors from early marriage and permits child labor.
Ultra-conservative Salafists – Islamic puritans – have been calling for the marriage age to be reduced, and under the new constitution, it could very well see the gross exploitation of the country’s young girls.
“It is permissible for the girl at the age of 9 or 10 to marry,” Yassir Barhami said in discussing a woman’s sexual reproduction and his interpretation of Islam during a September interview.
The Salafist preacher claimed that under Islam when a girl begins to ovulate she is ready for marriage.
He added during a television debate on Dream TV that “marriage of a girl would not be a supplement for education,” but added that it “was better” to marry a girl young “than falling into sin with customary marriage.”
He is a member of the constituent assembly that was tasked with drafting the constitution.
The cleric cited the Qur’an in arguing that any girl who is menstruating should be married and begin having children.
At the same time of advocating the marriage age be dropped to 14-years-old, he argued that the Salafist Constituent Assembly is also pushing for a law that denies “slavery against women” in the new constitution.
And he and the Islamists seem to have won.
Manal al-Taibi, a now resigned member of the Constituent Assembly, said that this call is the promotion of child marriage and is akin to rape.
She has resigned her position on the assembly in protest to the overuse of Sharia law, or Islamic law, permeating the drafting process.
On top of the marriage issue, women’s rights as a whole have been removed, and the clause on equality has been left out.
The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) said in a statement that the cancellation of a number of women’s rights clauses is “planned aggression against Egyptian women” and demanded that women and their rights are protected in the new constitution.
“In the light of intimidating the Egyptian women and seeking to attack their rights by some dominant mainstream in the constituent assembly of the constitution, the Egyptian society was shocked due to the announcement, on behalf of some members of the committee, on the cancellation of article 68 from what is known as the draft of constitution,” ECWR said in their statement.
Article 68 had guaranteed the rights and equality of women and men in all sectors of society, including political, cultural, economic and social life “and all other fields without prejudice to the provisions of Islamic Shari’a.
“The State provides the services of motherhood and childhood for free. The state ensures the women’s health care, social and economic rights and the right of inheritance and reconcile with her duties towards the family and her work in the society. The state provides protection and special attention of household, divorced, and widowed women and others of women who most in need,” read Article 68.
The rights group urged the constituent assembly to abide by the understanding that men and women are equal under Egyptian law.
“The need to include specific references aiming at establishing the principle of equality between women and men, addressed ‘women and men’, instead of the signals or ambiguous and general words such as ‘personals and citizens or individuals’. The reference of women or men in the preamble reinforces the idea that says women and men are equal in the constitution and both of them have the same rights and duties, and they are treated equally without any discrimination,” ECWR continued.
Women’s rights have become a major focal point in the new constitution, with a number of conservatives on the assembly pushing to revoke many of the gains achieved in the years leading up to the Egyptian uprising, including divorce rights, economic rights and the age of marriage.
First published on BikyaMasr