A woman walks away after making a purchase as people wait to buy bread at a bakery in Cairo March 17, 2013. The spectre of steep food price inflation driven by a weaker pound is of particular worry to President Mohamed Mursi as he grapples with spasms of unrest two years after the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and was itself partly driven by a sense of mounting economic hardship in a country long steeped in poverty. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS FOOD) Image Credit: REUTERS

Cairo: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest Islamist movement, criticised a United Nations report that aimed to end violence against women and girls, saying it violates principles of Islamic law.

The Brotherhood, the movement from which Egypt’s President Mohammad Mursi hails, sent a 10-point critique of a document being drafted at a meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York. The text is due to be formally adopted when the session ends tomorrow. Russia, Iran and the Holy See have also expressed objections.

“The Muslim Brotherhood calls on leaders of Islamic countries, their foreign ministers and representatives in the United Nations to reject and condemn this document,” the group said in a statement. It urged the UN “to rise up to the high morals and principles of family relations prescribed by Islam.”

The growing power of the Brotherhood since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 has raised concerns Egypt may adopt religiously motivated laws that would curtail freedoms, especially for women and Christians. Persistent protests against Mursi and the Brotherhood have frequently erupted into violence, eroding political stability and hopes of reviving an economy suffering from the flight of tourists and investors.

While the Brotherhood’s response to the UN document “doesn’t represent a shift in policy” from the Mubarak era, “it will still hurt Egypt’s image,” said Karim Al Assir, an analyst at the Signet Institute, a research centre in Cairo.

‘Deceptive’ theme

“It backs up fears that the Muslim Brotherhood is more conservative and more Islamist, which is also associated with more conservative values on women’s rights,” Al Assir said.

The primary theme of the commission’s 57th session was the “elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

The Brotherhood described the theme of the conference as “deceptive,” saying it violated Islamic principles. The UN document seeks to destroy the institution of family, which Egypt’s constitution confirmed as the basis of society, the group said.

Among the 10 points the Brotherhood said it opposed were resolutions to ensure women’s rights to complain of marital rape; promote equal inheritance rights and equal rights between men and women within the family; and allow Muslim women to marry non-Muslims. It also criticised recommendations to abolish the need for male permission for travel, work or use contraception, according to the statement.

Sexual assault

The Brotherhood also criticised what it said were UN recommendations to give a woman the right to choose the gender of her partner, raise the marriage age and legalise abortion.

Russia, Iran, and the Holy See, seat of the newly elected Pope Francis, also opposed the document, according to a senior UN diplomat, who asked not to be identified as the discussions have not been finalised.

For Iran and the Holy See, like Egypt, the objections are on religious grounds, while in the case of Russia, which has low birth rates, it may be an attempt by President Vladimir Putin to gain traction with the conservative Russian Orthodox Church, a second UN official, present at the discussions, said on condition of anonymity.

Ten Arab civil society organisations from Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan published a statement on Saturday expressing concern over their countries’ role in the UN negotiations. “Our governments are increasingly using arguments based on religion, culture, tradition or nationality to justify violence,” the statement said.

Rape cases

An increase in cases of rape and sexual harassment of women in public locations in Cairo in recent months led Michelle Bachelet, the top UN official for gender equality, to express “deep concern” in a January statement.

Volunteer groups in Cairo that seek to protect women protesters reported 29 assaults in Tahrir Square on January 25, when thousands rallied to mark the second anniversary of the uprising against Mubarak.

The state-run National Council for Women is drafting legislation to criminalise sexual harassment and assault. A 2008 study by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights said 62 per cent of men acknowledged sexually harassing women, and 53 per cent said women who are subject to such offences “bring it on.”

The council, which is participating in the New York conference, said on its website on Saturday that the Brotherhood’s comments are “baseless.” The document is still under discussion and the argument that it violates the principles of Islamic law is “deceptive” and a misuse of religion to settle scores with the UN and limit women’s rights, it said.

Former US President Jimmy Carter in October said Egypt’s transition to democracy will be in part measured by the status of women in the nation.