Susan Dakak, a member of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq, believes that placing Shari'a experts on the constitutional court is too big a loophole. She wrote in an e-mail to Iraqi women's rights activists:
"The Federal Supreme court that is made of Judges, Lawyers and Sharia Experts will have the final judgment in making the law ( any bill must be approved by these individuals prior to becoming a law). Laws while in effect must be approved by this body of Sharia Experts. And finally, any interpretations of any provisions of the constitution will be settled by the same individuals. Basically, 137 went out the front door and came back in a very sneaky and conniving way through the back door."
She is correct the proposed draft calls for the court to approve laws before they go into effect (article 91) , as opposed to resolving constitutional disputes - I think she's right, this does grant the court too much power. Not to mention it being completely impractical - imagine if the Supreme Court reviewed every law passed by Congress!
Other women activists, such as Maysoon Damluji, President of the Iraqi Independent Women's Group and the Deputy Minister of Culture in 2004, and Dr. Raja Kuzai, a member of the National Assembly (she was also one of three female members of the Iraqi Governing Council under the CPA), have been very vocal in denouncing the constitution. They argue that the clause calling for Shari'a experts on the Federal Court could negate all the other clauses in the constitution that aim to protect religious freedom and the basic rights of women.
Maysoon wrote in an e-mail to women groups: "After much insistence, some of us managed to meet with some high officials yesterday, in order to express our deep dismay with the draft of the constitution. Clergymen will veto any attempt to intoduce modern values to this nation... . We told them that there was nothing in the constitution that would prevent a 12 year old girl from forced marriage of a 60 year old tribal sheikh or religous sayed."
Other women leaders such as Safia al-Souhail and Zakia Hakki tell us in their e-mails and calls that they feel the lobbying by women's groups has been effective in blocking most of the religious parties' attempts to write an Islamic constitution. They say that the language on democratic principles and essential freedoms, the reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 25% quota for women, and the bi-cameral structure with elected representative give women (and other Iraqis) grounds to push back in the future if clerics try to impose Islamic law.
I say to the Iraqi women, and all Iraqis who want to ensure Iraq is not ruled by clerics: Keep pushing back! Every time women, minorities and non-Muslims in Iraq speak up and are vocal, they remind the political parties and their fellow citizens that the new Iraq must accomodate them as well. And the line is pushed closer to liberal democracy and away from theocracy.
The debate has begun - and it is an important one. The process will not end with the Assembly vote: if the constitution is approved, the Iraqi newspapers, radio, television and civil society will now take over and engage Iraqi society in a debate about the constitution.
Jurists around the world should weigh in on the one essential question:
Does the constitution contain sufficient mechanisms for Iraqis to protect themselves from clerics who would try to impose Islamic rule?
Iraqi women's groups and democracy activists are ready to spread the word inside Iraq.