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Does the Arab spring need a bill of rights?

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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?

In post-Muammar Qaddafi Libya, interim leaders now say they have adopted sharia as the main source of law – a common formulation in Islamic governments, which is open to a wide range of interpretation. As part of this, Libyan leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said, marriage laws would be changed to allow polygamy.

"There is a massive disconnect between the discourse of a civil state with an Islamic reference, and the practice of substantive democratic rights on the ground," warns Mariz Tadros of the University of Sussex in Britain. "The Islamists are saying they want a civil state. But [that state] won't be civil. Bit by bit if the sharia is institutionalized, we will see an elite corps with a privileged standing making rules. Rights won't be granted without qualification ... but it will be called a democracy."

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