Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood: Expanding Women’s Rights Would Be A ‘Cultural Invasion of Muslim Countries’

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Egyptian women protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2011 against violence against women. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

( – As the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women tries to finalize a document on violence against women by the end of its two-week session Friday, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is leading a pushback by governments that accuse it of trying to undermine religious or cultural values.

Egypt’s ruling Islamist party called on all Muslim countries to “reject and condemn” the draft document under discussion at the CSW session in New York, warning that it would undermine the family, subvert society, and “drag it to pre-Islamic ignorance.”

“This declaration, if ratified, would lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies,” it said in a statement.

The declaration would in fact be non-binding, although U.N. documents are typically cited in future negotiations as having set norms to be built upon.

Earlier, Libya’s grand mufti issued a fatwa (religious ruling) against the draft document.

Among elements in the CSW draft opposed by the Brotherhood are some that would resonate with many Western conservatives – including a reference to “safe abortion” where permitted by law and an allusion to same-sex relationships (couched as the right to decide without coercion on “matters related to their sexuality.”)

Others, however, touch on norms Westerners would generally not dispute but which the Brotherhood says are contrary to shari’a, such as those relating to early marriage, polygamy, and inheritance equality.

Where the CSW document calls for women to enjoy equality in “participation and decision-making in all spheres of life,” for instance, the Brotherhood sees a threat against the right of Muslim men to give or withhold consent for wives to travel or work.

Full equality in marriage, it said in the statement, would allow Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, abolish polygamy, and remove the authority of divorce from husbands.

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Egyptian women take part in demonstrations against the Mubarak regime in Cairo on Jan. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The Brotherhood was also unhappy that the document sought to promote “full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as: spending, child care and home chores.”

Egypt wants the draft amended to allow countries to sidestep those recommendations they view as clashing with religious or cultural values.

The document itself urges against such a provision, calling on states “to refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations” with respect to eliminating violence against women and girls.

The Brotherhood said every Muslim country should reject the document, and called on all Islamic bodies to condemn it, with Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, considered the top seat of learning in Sunni Islam, taking the lead.

It also called on “women’s organizations to commit to their religion and morals of their communities and the foundations of good social life and not be deceived with misleading calls to decadent modernization and paths of subversive immorality.”

Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) did not take up the request, however, disputing the Brotherhood’s charge that the document breaches shari’a.

“This misleading allegation abuses religion to taint the U.N. and stall women’s rights,” it said in a statement, disputing the Brotherhood’s interpretations of some elements in the document.

Egypt’s official delegation to the CSW is headed by Pakinam al-Sharkawi, a special assistant to President Mohammed Morsi. In an address to the session earlier, she praised Egypt’s controversial new constitution, saying that it “underlines the rights of women,” and enables them “to gain more political and intellectual independence.”

In contrast, NCW president Mervat Tallawy submitted a paper to the CSW stating that “the new constitution ignored the basic rights of women politically, socially and economically.”

Tallawy also reported that violence, including sexual violence, was being used against female protesters in Egypt to discourage them from taking part in anti-government demonstrations, calling the phenomenon “a new political weapon.” (Last month, Egypt’s Daily News quoted a Salafist lawmaker as saying that women demonstrators were sometimes raped “through putting themselves in a position which makes them subject to rape.”)

Other women’s non-governmental organizations also took issue with the government’s evaluation of women’s rights in Brotherhood-ruled Egypt. According to Daily News, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights denied that the constitution protects women’s rights while the Network for Egyptian Feminist Organizations said those rights were in fact in “decline.”

Ninety-three percent of the constituent assembly that drafted Egypt’s new constitution comprised men, and most of the few women represented Islamist parties.

In a recent World Economic Forum report on the gap between women and men in economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival, Egypt dropped to 126th place (out of 135 countries), from 123rd in 2011.

Egyptian women scored relatively well in the education and health areas, but poorly in economic participation and very poorly in political empowerment.

Source material can be found at this site.

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