March 7, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3646

Egyptian Feminist Writer Calls to Not Exclude Youth and Women from Constitution Committee

March 7, 2011
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 3646

Dr. Nawal Al-Sa'dawi, a prominent Egyptian writer and women's rights activist, criticized the absence of youth and women in the judiciary committee formed to draft changes to Egypt's constitution. In an editorial that appeared in the English-language online edition of the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, she wrote that those who had participated in the uprising and risked their lives to ensure its success have earned the right to be represented in the committee. She denied that the right to amend the constitution is the exclusive privilege of lawmakers, pointing out that "there are hundreds of thinkers among the ranks [of the youth] who are qualified in every sector, including the law." She also noted that the committee includes representatives from various sectors that make up a far smaller percentage of Egypt's population than its women, such as the Coptic community and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al-Sa'dawi called for the reinstitution of the Egyptian Women's Union, which was dissolved by the regime following Hosni Mubarak's rise to power in the 1980s.

It should be noted that the U.S. has also expressed concern over the lack of women on the constitution committee.[1]

Following are excerpts from the article, in the original English:[2]

The Committee Does Not Represent the People Who Staged the Revolution

Al-Sa'dawi wrote that she had been surprised by the composition of the committee formed to draft amendments to the Egyptian constitution, as it does not seem to represent the revolution: "I was surprised when I read about the new committee for constitutional amendments, headed by [Egyptian judge and writer] Tareq Al-Bishri [as well as other] lawmakers, a representative for Copts, and another from the Muslim Brotherhood. I thought that after the glorious popular revolution, which raised the banners of freedom, justice, and dignity... a committee would be formed to rewrite the entire constitution (and not just to amend it), in order for it to correspond [to] the goals and demands of the revolution. But, unfortunately, the composition of the committee has nothing whatsoever to do with what millions of Egyptian revolutionaries – youth, men, women, and children – had called for.

"The committee should have included honorable intellectuals, who combine both the qualities of aptitude and integrity, [people] from across the political, legal, economic, social, intellectual, and cultural spectrum. It should also include representatives from all strata of society, including the youth, women, Copts, and Muslims. Amending the constitution is not the exclusive [right] of men of law, but [of] the entire population – all [its] sectors, and [especially] progressive, advanced thinkers who are in step with the Egyptian people's revolution, which demanded the ouster of the regime – not just the removal of the president and a rearrangement of members of his regime.

"I don’t know what the criteria were for choosing the committee's members; how can it not include the youth, after they triggered this revolution, and stood their ground, and sacrificed their blood, in order for it to succeed? There are hundreds of thinkers among their ranks who are qualified in every sector, including the law."

How Can Women Be Excluded from Building the New Society and Regime?

Al-Sa'dawi proceeded to focus specifically on the absence of women from the committee, questioning how they could be excluded despite their role in the revolution: "Nor did the committee include one single woman from [among] the intellectuals in political, social, and other fields, or even one female law professor, counsel, or judge, although Egypt has hundreds of them. The Great Revolution was undertaken by men and women, not only men, and based on freedom and justice. How is it, then, that women are [denied] their right to participate in drafting a new civic constitution which does not discriminate between citizens on the basis of their gender, religion, ethnicity, creed, class, or any other criterion?

"Women constitute half of society (a much higher percentage than the Muslim Brotherhood or Copts), they participated in the popular revolution side by side with men, their blood was also spilled, and they spent 20 cold nights in the rain in Tahrir Square since 25 January, until Mubarak was ousted... So how is it that they are denied the right to participate in building society and the new regime? Is this the justice the revolution demanded?"

Al-Sa'dawi attributed the revolution's success to its effective organization, calling upon women to take this as a lesson in how to advance their own cause: "The success of Egypt's popular revolution of [the] 25[th of] January relied on unity, awareness, and organization. The power of millions of organized and conscientious people overpowered all the weapons of the regime, including a brutal police and a deceptive media maligning the men and women of the revolution by labeling them as traitors and enemy agents...

"Accordingly, the [re-]establishment of the Egyptian Women's Union is necessary to unite and organize women, in order for them to become an enlightened political force capable of imposing their rights and presence on all institutions, from the top to the bottom. It will represent women in a just way in all the new committees, including the one for amending the constitution, in order to draft a new civic constitution treating all citizens as equal, without discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, or any other criterion."

Al-Sa'dawi concluded by cautioning Egyptians against hurrying the constitutional reform process, and stressing that this process must involve all the sectors who had effected the revolution: "Today, we demand that qualified and honorable Egyptian women join the committee for constitutional amendments... Why should [the amendment process] only last for ten days? Why the hurry? Amending the constitution is the most important step at this stage, and it must be done with diligence and the contribution of representatives [on behalf of] all the revolutionaries."[3]





[1] State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley wrote on his twitter page, "Women in Egypt protested for change. It is a concern that women are excluded from the constitutional committee that must ensure all rights." AFP (France), February 20, 2011.

[2] The text has been lightly edited for purposes of clarity.

[3], February 21, 2011.

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