Egyptian Women Fear Regression on Rights
A cartoon recently published in an Egyptian daily shows an elderly bridegroom dragging by the hand a little girl in bridal garb clutching a teddy bear. “Okay,” he sighs, “I’ll take you to the amusement park but only after we’ve consummated our marriage.”
The joke, which is doing the rounds on Facebook, is part of an explosion of outrage in liberal circles provoked by Mohamed Saad al-Azhari, an ultraconservative Salafi cleric on the panel drafting Egypt’s new constitution. Along with some others on the panel, he wants to abolish laws setting 18 as the minimum age of marriage for girls.
Mr Azhari, who vehemently denies accusations that he advocates child marriage, also wants to remove a proposed clause banning the trafficking of women. He said he was concerned it would be used to prosecute parents who marry off their underage daughters. The text now under consideration by the panel only bans slavery and the sex trade.
To the dismay of rights activists, the Islamists who dominate the constitutional panel have also made it clear they favour diluting - or even withdrawing - Egypt’s commitment to international conventions upholding the rights of children and banning discrimination against women. Their argument is that provisions in the agreements breach Islamic law.