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Al-Azhar, NCW and Arab Lawyers condemn Amnesty call to decriminalize sex work

Al-Azhar issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing Amnesty International’s call to decriminalize prostitution, describing the recommendation as a diabolical attempt to undermine moral values and human dignity.

The statement noted that Islam allows sexual relations only within the framework of marriage and forbade all relations outside this framework “for the protection of mankind and prevention of any social or familial disintegration.”

On Tuesday, Amnesty International recommended the decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work as a way to protect sex workers’ human rights and end violations and abuse against them.

Other organisations have joined Al-Azhar in condemning the proposal.

The National Council for Women (NCW) for one has expressed its deep dissatisfaction and rejection of the Amnesty statement.

Ambassador Mervat al-Tallawy, secretary general of the NCW, described the call in a statement as contradictory to “public morality” and totally in breach of all religious teachings that prohibit such shameful practices.

Tallawy added that the call “violates women’s rights” and turns them into “sexual commodities.” She explained that legalizing prostitution would negatively affect family structures, increase the numbers of street children and ultimately allow for the spread of disease.

The Cairo-based Arab Lawyers Union agreed with the ambassador. Assistant secretary general of the union, Saber Ammar, warned on Wednesday against any reforms that degrade women and destroy their role in the society.

“Such institutions work under the influence of businessmen, colonial policies and drug dealers and are part of the Western plan to affect our cultural, religious and moral values,” Ammar was quoted as saying by privately owned newspaper Youm7.

The union called on women’s rights and human rights organizations worldwide, and specifically ones in Arab countries, to denounce Amnesty’s recommendation.

Internationally the Amnesty statement created quite a stir. A petition put together by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), signed by at least 3,000 people, was sent to Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty, criticising the call.

Several Hollywood stars had joined the campaign — including Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway and Emma Thompson.    

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