Egypt Women’s Groups, Secularists Attack New Election Rules

Egyptian secularists and rights groups criticized election laws approved by parliament that allow parties to use religious slogans in campaigns and drops a requirement to put women candidates high on their lists.

The Islamist-led Shura Council, the upper house of parliament and the only one functioning after courts shut down the lower chamber, yesterday approved a political rights law that dropped a ban on religious slogans. It was replaced by a clause that prohibits slogans involving “gender and religious discrimination.”

The council also gave initial approval for amendments to election laws that could give women lower positions on electoral lists. The assembly’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee agreed that each candidate list should include at least one woman, without stipulating how high she should be placed. The previous version required at least one female candidate in the top half of the list.

The changes may add ammunition to critics of President Mohamed Mursi who say he’s seeking to impose an Islamist agenda on Egypt and subject women to religiously motivated restrictions. Protests against Mursi, who is from the Muslim Brotherhood, have frequently turned violent in recent months, especially after he pushed an Islamist-drafted constitution through a referendum in December.

‘Disastrous Effects’

“Allowing religious slogans in campaigns will have disastrous effects and will deepen the current political polarization,” said Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer, in a phone interview. “This is a cheap attempt by the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood to take the political battle in a religious direction.”

The assembly is reviewing election rules after a court blocked Mursi’s plan to hold a vote this month, and said amendments to the laws require judicial scrutiny. The president has said October is a possible date.

“The constitution states Islam is the religion of the state, and at the same guarantee the freedom of beliefs,” Essam el-Erian, vice chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and a member of the Shura Council, said on April 2 during a session to debate the election rules.

“You can’t ban anyone from expressing their religious views,” El-Erian said. “If we’re going to ban religious slogans, then let’s ban all ideological slogans.”

The passage of the draft law triggered a walkout by liberal and leftist parties, which accused the legislative body of working in favor of Islamists, the state-run Ahram gate reported.

Mervat Tallawy, head of the National Council for Women, criticized the proposed change over female candidates. “The situation of women is going from bad to worse,” she said. “The president says he wants to protect women’s rights, but then when it comes to actual lawmaking, women are being set back.”

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