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Brotherhood slams UN women's document

14 March 2013, 10:32

Cairo - Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood sharply criticised an anticipated UN document on combatting violence against women, saying on Wednesday that it was "deceitful," clashed with Islamic principles and undermined family values.

The text or details of the document have not been published yet, but it may be issued at the end of a meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women this week in New York. Negotiations have been bogged down in debate.

According to the Brotherhood, which has emerged as the most powerful political faction in Egypt since the 2011 uprising, the draft under discussion advocates sexual freedoms for women and the right to abortion "under the guise of sexual and reproductive rights".

In its strongly worded statement, the Brotherhood also decried the document's defence of homosexual rights, which are not recognised in Islam, and the equating between children born in and out of wedlock.

It said the title of the document addressing violence is "deceitful".

"It contains articles that clash with Islamic principles and its basics mentioned in the Qu'ran [Islam's holy book] and in Islamic traditions," the Brotherhood statement said. "It eliminates Islamic values, and seeks to destroy the family ... which would lead to social disintegration."

Robust action needed

The Brotherhood, which won Egypt's presidency and controls parliament, called on other Muslim nations, women's groups and Islamic organisations to reject the document. It called it an infringement on the thought, culture and uniqueness of Islamic societies.

The Brotherhood urged women's rights groups not to be "lured by phony calls for civilised behaviour and by misleading and destructive processes".

Libya's supreme religious cleric also raised similar concerns, rejecting the document for violating Islamic teachings.

In particular, he rejected equality between men and women in matters of inheritance, which Islamic jurisprudence does not accept, and criticised wording on sexual freedoms and rights of children born out of wedlock.

The Commission meeting, which opened on 4 March, focused on combatting violence against women. Cabinet ministers and ambassadors as well as representatives of civil society from 193 UN member states are attending.

The head of the UN women's agency, Michelle Bachelet, said she hoped the meeting would produce a document that becomes a tool to improve the fight against violence against women.

She called for more robust action and commitments to ensure the protection of the rights of women and girls to live in dignity, free of violence and discrimination.

Regression in freedoms

The debate over the document is still ongoing in New York, particularly over reproductive and sexual health and rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights.

UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations are private, said Egypt proposed an amendment saying that each country is sovereign and can implement the document in accordance with its own laws and customs, a clause the West strongly opposes.

Such a document was unattainable a decade ago when the commission took up the issue, because governments were unable to reach agreement. Differences over sex education, a woman's right to reproductive health, and demands for an exception for traditional, cultural and religious practices stymied an accord.

The Brotherhood's statement appeared to reflect those persistent differences, saying that religious traditions and values are threatened by such a universal document.

Debates on women's issues in Egypt, and in the Muslim world at large, are traditionally buried in debates over Islamic laws and whether their interpretations are compatible with demands for more personal freedoms.

With the rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups to power in the region following the past two years of protests against autocratic rulers, many women rights groups fear a regression in women's freedoms with a stricter interpretation of Islamic laws.

Already, Egypt's speech at the opening of the commission meeting has set off a storm in the women's rights community.

Islamist slant

The speech was delivered on 4 March by Pakinam el-Sharqawi, an aide to President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood. In her speech, el-Sharqawi praised Egypt's new constitution as protective of women's rights, to the dismay of members of the delegation who have been sharply critical of the charter.

Her speech caused some in the delegation to walk out.

Leading women's rights activist Nehad Abu el-Qumsan called it "shocking".

Opposition activists say Egypt's new charter has an Islamist slant, undermines women's rights and denies them equality while ignoring their political rights.

Rights groups also worry that the new charter has granted religious authorities the right to review laws to ensure they are in line with Islamic laws, which they say may further undermine their rights.

Violence against women has also been on the rise in Egypt, particularly during political protests. Some suspect the attacks are an organised campaign to curb women's participation in public life after they played an integral role during the protests against former autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak.

The issue has been a source of contention between the Islamist-led government and opposition activists, who accuse authorities of not doing enough to address the issue.

In her speech, el-Sharqawi said violence against women should be combatted based on "balance between the values shared by humanity, and the cultural and social particularities of countries and peoples."

- AP


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