Human rights lawyer Mona Zulficar: Interview on the Egyptian Constitution; Egyptian Society Needs Healing

Sent On: 
Tue, 2014-08-05
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AWR, Cairo, August 5, 2014

Mona Zulficar, deputy chair of the 2013 Constituent Assembly, mentioned the word healing in our interview on the Egyptian Constitution seven times, stressing the need to overcome sectarian and other divides in Egyptian society. She also explained her fight for human rights in the Constitution of 2014. “Is this Egyptian constitution perfect?” Mona Zulficar asked. “The answer is no. Is this constitution much better than all the previous constitutions? The answer is yes. Is it fundamentally different from the Brotherhood’s constitution? The answer is yes. Does it protect human rights for all? The answer is yes.” It has not excluded the Muslim Brotherhood or previous NDP members. It has not excluded anybody; on the contrary, the philosophy is including everybody and trying to have fair representation and healing.”

Mona Zulficar is widely recognized as one of Egypt’s top lawyers, with a 30 year track record of fighting for human rights and women's rights in Egypt and internationally. She has been an elected member and Vice Chair of the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee and served two terms ending September 2013.


Mona Zulficar - Source: 


We spoke about our mutual friend, scholar of Islam Dr. Nasr Abu Zayd (1943-2010. His Islamist enemies tried to prevent him from promotion to full professor at Cairo University because they believed his method of Qur’an exegesis was too liberal. In order to undermine his position, they falsely claimed in court that he was an apostate from Islam. The claimants, led by the radical sheikh Yousef el-Badri, based their arguments on the hesba principle in Islamic jurisprudence that makes every individual in an Islamic society responsible for the actions of the society. A claim based on this principle was new but had disastrous results. The judge accepted the claim and ruled that Prof. Abu Zeid was to be considered an apostate, and thus had to be divorced from his wife, Prof. Ibtihal Younes, against their will.

Since then Islamists filed hundreds of hesba cases against writers and activists, brought by a mixture of publicity-seekers and religious fanatics.

Dr. Zulficar founded and coordinated a coalition of prominent lawyers and professors of law to defend the case of Dr. Nasr Abu Zayd and Dr. Ibtihal Younis in the Supreme Court, ultimately resulting in suspending the divorce judgment permanently. Dr. Zulficar also successfully fought to amend procedural law to close the gap in the regulations that made it possible to misuse the hesba concept to harass the lives of non-Islamist intellectuals. Following the case, she has been fighting in the courts to establish human rights principles of freedom to marry and form a family, freedom of opinion, of expression and research until Dr. Abu Zayd passed away in 2010.

Mona Zulficar also united a large group of Egyptian human rights NGOs in the late 1990s to fight for the establishment of the National Council for Human Rights. As a result, a law establishing the National Council for Human Rights was passed in 2003, consistent with the Paris Principles, adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1992, and regulating the status and functioning of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights.

It is thus not surprising Zulficar has brought her expertise and activism in the Constituent Assembly. “I have been campaigning for an equal opportunity and non-discrimination law for 8 years now.  I couldn't so far get the law out, so I put it in the constitution.”

In the past anyone accused of apostasy could be denied an Identity Document which is needed for elections, social security, employment and other areas. Without an ID someone does not exist. The Constitution now mentions that every Egyptian has the right to obtain identity documents.

Mona Zulficar also fought for an article stating that basic human rights and freedoms are inalienable, and they shall not be reduced or suspended or interrupted. Moreover, any law regulating the practice of a right or freedom may not infringe such right or freedom or prejudice its substance. She also worked for a text that prohibits laws that would penalize any freedom of expression by detention.

The text of the current Constitution is the result of negotiation  and influence by context. “It is not a constitution that was drafted in vacuum or in a world of idealism.” The 1971 constitution gave the president “unconditional power to refer any case to the military courts.” The 2014 Constitution restricts this to violence against military and security personnel in function. It was not possible to prohibit  military trials of civilians absolutely in one step since there were “terrorist attacks and killings of the military as we were drafting and discussing. It put us under a lot of pressure. [It was] not pressure by the military. [It was] contextual pressure.”

Healing Egyptian society is extremely important to Mona Zulficar. For decades, Christians and other religious minorities have been the subject of discrimination. Muslim Brothers have been trying to exclude their opponents including by using the constitution as basis for discrimination and now they are naturally rejected. She hopes that transitional justice law will help the healing process but she realizes that this “is going to take time.” 

Arab-West Report strongly appreciates Mona Zulficar’s focus on healing since only an Egyptian society that is united in the sense that people accept and respect differences in opinions and beliefs, and work together towards economic improvements for all Egyptians will make Egypt develop.

Our interview showed a very dedicated woman who was truly dedicated to achieve the best for Egypt. For more information about her views on the Egyptian Constitution please click here.


 Cornelis Hulsman

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report