Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2014, 14:40 GMT

Egypt: Transition in the turmoil - Risk of civil conflict amid constitutional crisis

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 6 December 2012
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Egypt: Transition in the turmoil - Risk of civil conflict amid constitutional crisis, 6 December 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/50cb1b24c.html [accessed 18 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Last Update 6 December 2012

FIDH strongly condemns the violent attacks on peaceful protesters outside the Presidential Palace in Cairo on December 5 and 6, 2012. Deadly clashes have continued into the early hours of Thursday morning between supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, leading to the death of 5 protesters and injury of 672 according to the Ministry of Health. Clashes started after a peaceful sit-in by Morsy's opponents was violently dispersed by armed supporters of the President, mainly Islamists.

The peaceful sit in started after tens of thousands of protesters marched on December 4th to the presidential palace demanding an end to the constitutional declaration, dismissal of the referendum on the constitution supposed to be held on December 15, and the reformation of a constituent assembly that is representative of all segments of Egyptian society. The protests on December 4th were largely peaceful, with only brief clashes erupting between police and protesters. Police then withdrew from the vicinity and protesters encircled the presidential palace, chanting against the constitution and spraying graffiti on the walls of the palace. Tens of protesters decided to stage a sit-in; no violence was reported and the President was allowed to enter the palace the following day.

On December 5th, during the attack on the sit-in, journalists reported that anyone with a camera was targeted, beaten, and had their belongings confiscated. A peaceful march of elderly women was also violently attacked. Hours later, opponents of Morsy gathered again at Roxy square and headed in a march to the presidential palace. Immediately after, violent clashes erupted. Doctors have reported injuries due to stone throwing, bird-shot pellets, and live ammunition.

Security forces fired tear gas canisters occasionally at the opponents of President Morsy. However, they failed to intervene to stop the clashes. Later in the night, many eyewitnesses reported that supporters of Morsy were heavily armed with rifles and bird-shot guns and FIDH witnessed tear gas canisters being thrown by some of them.

The violence comes as a result of the constitutional declaration announced on November 22nd, 2012 by Mohamed Morsy, by which he's assumed all State powers. The declaration prevents any judicial body from challenging all decisions issued by Morsy since his election in June 2012. It also gives immunity to the Shura Council and the Constituent Assembly from judicial orders and dismissed the former public prosecutor and appointed a new one for a four year term.

Since November 22nd, major uproar had gripped the streets of Egypt as protests erupted, often violently, resulting in the death of at least three protesters in Cairo and Damanhour. In an attempt to curtail public pressure, Morsy announced on December 1st, that the constitutional declaration will be annulled once the new constitution is adopted by referendum on December 15. FIDH recalls with concern that the draft of the new constitution was hastily finalized and voted on by the Constituent Assembly on December 29th after most of the secular forces had previously withdrawn from the Assembly in protest that their views were not taken into account and the Islamists largely dominated the dialogue.

The final draft constitution fails to ensure equality between men and women, in addition to the lack of prohibition of discrimination based on gender. Furthermore, the final draft constitution has regressed in enforcing equality between men and women vis-a-vis the 1971 Constitution. Article 11 of the 1971 Constitution ensured women's "equal status with man in the fields of political, social, cultural, and economic life", while the final draft constitution is completely silent on equality between men and women, and resorts to mention women only in the context of the family, and vaguely states that the State will "enable the reconciliation between the duties of a woman toward her family and her work".

Regarding freedom of expression, the draft constitution fails to protect citizens against repression as it provides criminal prosecution for "insulting or showing contempt toward any human being". Yet, this is not the only provision limiting freedom of expression, as article 44 prohibits any "Insult or abuse of all religious messengers and prophets". There has been a number of reported cases of arrest and trials of Egyptians who have been accused of "defaming religion". Criminal prosecutions on charges of "insulting the president" or "insulting the judiciary" have increased since Morsy took office. The vague language of this article sends worrisome signals as it could pave the way for a series of misuse of the law in order to curtail freedom of expression.

FIDH remains extremely preoccupied by the fact that the final draft fails to protect Egyptians of non-Abrahamic religions as Article 43 guarantees the establishment of places of worship for only the three religions. Egyptian Bahis have been widely discriminated against during the Mubarak era due to their beliefs; the constitution yet again fails to protect and guarantee their right to freedom of religion.

Other than the lacking rights and freedoms, the draft constitution does not provide guarantees for the independence of the Judiciary, the separation of powers or transparency. The draft has also been criticized by the liberal opposition and civil society for maintaining too much power in the hands of the executive, and tailor-fitting the legislative branches according the self-interest of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Leaving Egyptians with the choice between a dictatorial constitutional declaration and a constitution that is severely flawed, makes President Morsy's intentions for democratic rule highly questionable", added Souhayr Belhassen.

Finally, FIDH is highly concerned by the latest statements made by Vice-President Mahmoud Mekki according to which "the only legitimacy is from the ballot box, otherwise, may the strongest win". This statement, made in a press conference on December 5th, as protesters were surrounding the presidential palace, can be seen as incitement to further violence. Further incitement came from members of the Freedom and Justice Party who called "ten of thousands of Egyptians" to "go down to the palace and encircle the thugs and defend the president's legitimacy and the Revolution".

"The prime responsibility for this new bloody episode of the Egyptian transition lies in the hands of President Morsy" declared Mrs Belhassen. "We support the great work of our Egyptian member and partner organizations in promoting and protecting fundamental rights and universal values in these difficult times. Like them, we fear an escalation of violence between civilians as a result of Morsy's refusal to overturn his latest decisions" concluded Souhayr Belhassen.

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