Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood sharply criticized an anticipated U.N. document on combatting violence against women, saying on Wednesday that it was "deceitful," clashed with Islamic principles and undermined family values.
The text of the document has not been published because negotiations are continuing, regarding how to address sexual violence and rights of women to control their sexuality as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Diplomats and observers tracking the debate are optimistic of agreement before the two-week meeting of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women wraps up Friday in New York. One participant said Egypt is seeking to introduce an opt-out clause to allow each country to implement the document according to its own traditions.
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 defense of homosexual rights, which are not recognized 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 Quran (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."
The Brotherhood, which won Egypt's presidency and controls parliament, called on other Muslim nations, women's groups and Islamic organizations 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 civilized behavior and by misleading and destructive processes."
Libya's top cleric also raised similar concerns, rejecting the document for violating Islamic teachings.
The head of the U.N. 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.
When the commission took up the issue a decade ago, 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.
Francoise Girard, executive director of the New York-based International Women's Health Coalition, a nonprofit organization which promotes the reproductive and sexual rights of women and young people, told The Associated Press she expected "strong" conclusions to the debate.
Girard said a range of issues in the text are still unresolved including several references to sexual violence, the connection of violence against women and sexual and reproductive health and rights, and what governments need to do to prevent sexual violence.
Girard said Egypt proposed an amendment last week saying that each country is sovereign and can implement the document in accordance with its own laws and customs, a provision strongly opposed by many countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia.
"Definitely this needs to be removed because we came here to reach an agreement that expresses an unequivocal commitment to act and to end violence against women and girls," Girard said. "This amendment would show less than full commitment to take action."
Discussions of 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.
The speech was delivered on March 4 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 organized 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."
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed from the United Nations.