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Charter enshrining Shariah at core of Egypt crisis
Constitution » Draft features a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

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But "it is like a bombshell," says Mohammed Hassanein Abdel-Al, constitutional law professor at Cairo’s Ain Shams University.

The article means that laws passed by parliament must adhere to specific tenets of Shariah that the four main schools of Sunni Islam agree on. That could include banning interest on loans, forbidding mixing of genders, requiring women to wear headscarves and allowing girls to marry when they reach puberty.

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"The doors are wide open to restrict individuals’ freedoms," Abdel-Al said.

Another new article says clerics from Al-Azhar, Egypt’s most prominent Islamic institution, are "to be consulted on any matters related to Shariah," implicitly giving them oversight in legislation.

Other articles give sweeping powers for implementing Shariah, without directly mentioning it, often through subtle additions introduced by Islamists.

Article 10, for example, commits both the state and "society" to protecting "the moral values" of the "true Egyptian family."

The vague language empowers private citizens to enforce Islamic morals, Abdel-Al said. It could even give a constitutional justification for the creation of religious police, known as commissions "for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice."

"If I’m walking with my wife and her face is not covered or she’s not wearing a headscarf, a man can come up and order me to cover her. I can’t protest or object because the constitution instructs him to do so," Abdel-Al said.

Borhami pointed to Article 76, which he called "amazing." Originally the text said the only crimes and punishments can be those set by law. But Islamists amended the phase to "by law or by virtue of constitutional text."

As a result, punishments could be implemented based on the constitution’s Shariah clauses even if they are not passed into law by parliament, such as bans on adultery and bank interest, Borhami said. Abdel-Al agreed on the article’s effect.

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The charter includes a section on personal rights, including guarantees of freedom of belief, creative and political expression and the press. The section also bans arrests and searches without court order and explicitly forbids torture for the first time. Many of the rights are more firmly worded than past constitutions under Mubarak and his predecessors.

But the section’s final article says those rights cannot be implemented in a way contradicting the charter’s articles on Shariah and protection of morals — giving a tool for Islamists to limit the freedoms. "These human rights are now restricted by Article 2," Borhami said.

The charter has a broad clause saying all citizens are equal, but an article specifying women have equal rights to men was dropped amid squabbles over the wording, and the article on children’s rights is vague, experts say.

Overall, the draft leaves it unclear who is "the final authority in law and its interpretation — the elected parliament, the senior clerics or the judiciary," economist and former lawmaker Ziad Baha el-Din wrote in the independent El-Shorouk newspaper Wednesday.

The charter also limits the mandate of the Supreme Constitutional Court, which is seen as one of the strongest opponents of Islamists. Islamists also wrote in a last-minute article shrinking the court to 11 judges, from 18, eliminating its younger members.

That removes some of the fiercest anti-Islamist judges on the body, such as the court’s only female judge, Tahani el-Gibali.

Youth activist Mahmoud Salem warned in his blog that "if this constitution is passed, Cairo will truly become Kandahar, with the blessing of the Egyptian president and the Muslim Brotherhood" —referring to the home city of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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