Egypt: Dogma rules

Islamists on the Constituent Assembly are steamrolling through constitutional drafts that will turn Egypt into a non-civil state – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Gamal Essam El-Din, 25 – 31 July 2012.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the two Salafist parties — the Nour (Light) and Asala (Fundamentalist) — are exploiting their majority on the 100-member Constituent Assembly to Islamise several articles of the 1971 constitution. Liberal and civilian forces which are boycotting the assembly say the changes could put an end to Egypt as a moderate Muslim country … //

… Civil groups and liberal forces have objected to making Al-Azhar the final reference on interpreting Sharia principles. Nabil Abdel-Fattah, an Al-Ahram expert on religious institutions, argues that “Al-Azhar could use this article to impose censorship on publications and media channels, and certainly will do if it falls under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis”.

Article 3, which currently states “sovereignty is for the people alone and they are the source of authorityÒê¦ the people shall exercise and protect this sovereignty, and safeguard national unity in the manner specified in the constitution”, is also being targeted for revision by Salafis who want to remove the phrase “the people” in the second sentence and replace it with “God”.

Such a change, secularists fear, lays the foundation for a theocratic state, a position with which Abdel-Meguid agrees.

Salafi and Brotherhood members of the Constituent Assembly have scored their biggest success so far over Article 5 which had hitherto banned political parties founded on religion. In the face of pressure from Islamists the new draft of the article replaces the outright ban with the formula that “political parties can never be based on separation among citizens upon grounds of sex, race or religion”.

The Salafis and Brotherhood are also pushing for a new article that reads: “It is strictly forbidden to speak ill of the Divine Self or the Prophets of God, the Mothers of the Believers [Wives of the Prophet Mohamed] and the Wise Caliphs.”

“This article,” says Abdel-Fattah, “will be used to impose strict censorship on any thinker offering interpretations of the Quran and Islamic history that challenge the hardliners. Religious fanatics will use it to try those who question their interpretation on charges of blasphemy.”

Islamists on the assembly have also demanded an end to what they term “socialist articles”, particularly the reserving of 50 per cent of parliamentary seats for representatives of workers and farmers. In this they are joined by some secular forces. The liberal-oriented Wafd Party has argued that “it is better for workers and farmers to form political parties to fight for their interests rather than enjoying a fixed quota in parliament”.

The assembly’s five committees, says Abdel-Meguid, should complete their job within two weeks. “The approved texts will then be referred to a plenary meeting of the 100-member Constituent Assembly which will discuss them article by article before a final draft is presented to the public in a yes-or-no referendum.”

That, at least, is the putative timetable. Should the Administrative Court next week invalidate the constituent assembly on the grounds that it is unrepresentative, which most analysts expect, then the whole process is once again up in the air. (full text).

Links:

Will Egypt attain real democracy? The path to real democracy is respect for law, and this starts from the top – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Ahmad Naguib Roushdy, 25 – 31 July 2012;

Egypt: Power to the people? Power cuts have been igniting demonstrations across the country.

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