CAIRO––The 50-member constituent assembly responsible for establishing the new Egyptian constitution has included recognition of animal welfare in Article 45 of a redraft that is expected to be ratified in early 2014.
Announcing the inclusion of the animal welfare clause on December 1, 2013, Cairo animal advocate Dina Zulfikar forwarded two different translations of Article 45 from the Arabic original, diverging in idiom but parallel in apparent intent.
In synthesis, the first sentence recognizes the obligation of the Egyptian government to protect seas, beaches, lakes, waterways, and “natural protectorates.” The second sentence prohibits pollution, economic use of protected resources that are “incompatible with nature” and the right of every citizen to enjoy the benefits of the natural environment. The third sentence “guarantees the protection and development of urban green space,” the maintenance of biodiversity including protection of endangered and threatened species, and the protection of animal welfare, “all as regulated by law.”
Zulfikar thanked the Brooke Hospital for Animals, operating in Cairo since 1935, the Society of Friends of Historical & Public Gardens, Protectorates Society of Egypt vice president Samer El Mofty, coalitions of environmentalists, and others, for contributions leading up to the inclusion of constitutional Article 45.
Zulfikar herself set the process of adding animal welfare to the Egyptian constitution in motion on October 20, 2012 by standing in front of the headquarters of the then ruling Shura Council in Cairo with signs quoting the Quran of Sorat Al Anaam, verse 6:38: “There is not an animal moving in the earth nor a bird flying on its wings, but they are a nation like you.”
Zulfikar asked the Shura Council to include in the version of the Egyptian constitution that was then being drafted a clause to the effect that “Egypt recognizes animals as sentient beings deserving of merciful treatment.”
Following her solo demonstration, Zulfikar and fellow Cairo animal advocate Radwa Rabei organized a 15-member expert committee to recommend language to the Shura Council. Activist Donia Nasser conducted a Facebook poll, allowing respondents to choose among 13 different phrases offered by the committee members.
But the 2012 constitution, signed into law by then-President Mohamed Morsi on December 26, 2012, did not recognize either animal sentience or animal welfare.
After the 2012 constitution was suspended by the Egyptian army on July 3, 2013, Zulfikar and other animal advocates dusted off their recommendations and tried again.
A pivotal moment came on October 10, 2013, when Society for Protecting Animal Rights in Egypt founder Amina Tharwat Abaza accepted an invitation to participate in hearings about proposed constitutional protections of women and children from violence and abuse.
Abaza emphasized in her testimony how tolerating violence toward animals inculcates violence against people.
“At the conclusion of my speech, contrary to my expectation of being ridiculed, the attendees were extremely impressed and thundering applause gave me a deep sense of enthusiasm. Sameh Ashour, president of the lawyers’ syndicate, was very supportive throughout,” Abaza posted afterward.
With animal welfare constitutionally recognized, “The government should establish the animal welfare legislation we have previously submitted to comply with the new constitution. We believe this is a few steps forward for animal welfare in Egypt,” said Egyptian Society of Animal Friends chair Ahmed El Sherbiny.
Meanwhile, El Sherbiny said, “The Minister of the Academy of Scientific Research & Technology has formatted a committee by a ministerial decree to establish rules and regulations relating to using alternatives for experiments on animals. This committee is not looking to end experiments on animals now,” El Sherbiny added, “but rather to control the experiments. Of course, the long-term goal would be to end experiments on live animals if possible, even to use alternatives. We consider forming of this committee a definite step forward to a new era for animal welfare.”