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Does the Arab spring need a bill of rights?

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Constitutional models will soon proliferate in the Arab world – 12 drafts are already in circulation in Tunisia, and on Nov. 28 Egyptians are set to elect law-makers to shape a new constitution.

In a region chockablock with minorities, and with no autocrats to ensure stability, what such documents need are unequivocal guarantees of equality for all citizens, regardless of race or creed.

Protecting rights of minorities, women

Evidence of the need for minority protection in the Middle East is already coming thick and fast: This month – eight months after the Arab Spring – 27 Coptic Christians were killed when Egyptian tanks rolled into a crowd of protesters. Yet there is little accountability in Cairo for the massacre of peaceful protesters, part of which was caught on YouTube.

Politically, there is agreement in Tunis and Cairo and elsewhere on "democracy." Yet this is mainly about voting and elections; conceptual rifts are deepening. Will states adopt a simple democratic "majority rule" system, or one that builds in rights that protect minorities ahead of time, a "national consensus" model?

Basic questions are unanswered: Will women be allowed positions of leadership? Will full participation by non-Muslims in politics, public office, and courts be assured? In states like Syria, with a plethora of minority groups and intra-Muslim divides, if change comes, will all Islamic family members receive full rights?

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