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Observations on the identity amendments to the Egyptian constitution

The articles touching on sharia in Egypt’s constitution are the subject of bitter dispute, now that the new draft is nearing completion

Nader Bakkar , Wednesday 13 Nov 2013
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Views: 1769

My opinion on the constitution's identity clauses has not changed. I still insist that these clauses are a mirror that must reflect the current state of society, whereby in a culturally mature state it is simply not possible to impose an identity on people.

The Nour Party is an integral part of the constitutional committee, charged with drafting a new constitution to replace that passed in 2012. It supports preserving a clear reference to Islamic sharia in the constitution, through the same phrasing as the text of the previous constitution, which passed by 64 percent of the population in a transparent and fair referendum.

This stance is based on two factors. The first is the Islamist identity of the party, which represents that of the sweeping majority of Egyptians. The second is the preservation of the democratic gains won in two long years since the revolution.

The Nour Party believes that this Islamic identity is not the exclusive preserve of any particular political faction, and we have never tried to appropriate it for ourselves.

One proof of this, besides the success of the previous constitution at referendum (despite its inclusion of Article 219 which defines Islamic sharia and is now a matter of bitter dispute) is that both Al-Azhar, the authority on Islamic reference in Egypt, and the military, were part of the assembly that wrote the previous constitution.

They even participated in the ceremony during which the constitution was handed over to the president so that he might call for a national referendum.

Moreover, there was a signed agreement on the matter between the Nour Party, Al-Azhar University and the Coptic Orthodox Church, with the other political factions as witnesses.

The agreement concerned Article 219 as well as another article that introduced, for the first time in Egyptian constitutional history, the rights of Christians and Jews to go on trial according to their own religious laws.

I wish to bear witness to this undertaking as an elected member of the previous constituent assembly.

When the Nour Party took part in the roadmap of 3 July, it asserted to the others (General El-Sisi, Dr. ElBaradei who represented the secular current, the sheikh of Al-Azhar and the pope) that Islamic identity should remain a settled matter, separate to the adjustments made to oust an elected president against whom people had revolted due to the political failures of his government.

The Nour Party also maintained and maintains that it does not seek political gain so much as a way out of political turmoil that would allow Egyptians to resume their democratic path and correct the catastrophic mistakes of the Muslim Brotherhood --mistakes only consolidated when the latter party refused all the positions offered to it in the interim government.

Back then, in July, all those in attendance agreed to that.

Right now, we must seek to overcome this tough historical moment without burdening Egyptians with a battle of no winners at all.

The Islamist-liberal political conflict has little social base of any significance compared with its presence among political elites. With regard to political definitions, the Egyptian people are still classified as conservative and pious. Signs of religiosity still dominate at all social levels, and many pious and conservative people also took to the streets on 30 June against the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.  

These facts contradict two prominent readings of our current situation; the first is the Muslim Brotherhood’s claim that 30 June was against Islam itself, and the second is the secular elite’s claim that the constitution that was passed does not represent the identity of the majority of the people, and that it must be rejected on the grounds that it could lead to fascism.  

As for the Muslim Brotherhood, they have chosen to deploy the tactics of a wrecking manoeuvre. They have sought to deflect and exhaust the energy of the interim government by continuous demonstrations and sit-ins at varied locations as a tactic aimed at scotching Egyptians’ hopes of any stability after Morsi. 

Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera supports them, by doing everything it can to engender that hopelessness in both Egyptian and foreign audiences.

At an international level, the Muslim Brotherhood is disrupting all diplomatic efforts to market the transition period, seeking instead to make Morsi's ouster seem like a military coup.    

The secular elite have failed over the last hundred days to prove their ability to satisfy people’s aspirations. It has naively fallen into the Muslim Brotherhood's trap, while failing to offer real solutions for the economic crises for which it took Morsi’s regime to task. It has also proved unable to hide its tendency to exclude and its own lack of tolerance for any ideological stances and opinions other than its own.

 

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Abdulhai
21-11-2013 08:22pm
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Up eating eggs Bull
Didn't 2012 constitution include the Islamic sharia law as a civilian rule and modern curriculum of rule does not interfere with the rights of minorities and the Egyptian Copts? Didn't militarists exploit your hatred for MB as a propaganda for their military coup? Do you think with your political Naivety that the militarists overthrew the elected Islamist constitution, to bring another Islamist constitution ? Are we naive to think that Elnoor party who supported scouts and SSI come now to call for democracy and civilian rule? Just a question.
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Pharaoh
16-11-2013 02:06am
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we can achieve peace
To appease Islamists and minorities, it is important to change the court system. I will suggest a framework to operate the court system. My framework is based on the American court system, which is predominantly Anglo-Saxon. I believe that we should have a body of juries added to the Egyptian court system. Those juries are going to impart judgment on the defendant. Those juries are from the peers of the defendant. They should be juries of good character from the same socio-economic status. This will help the jury relate to the defendant and impart good judgments. In order to please Islamists, a council of Azhar clerics should be created to oversee decisions made by the judge. This translates into the judge having to consult the clerics before imparting a decision. More, to ensure that the decision is Islamic, the power of veto through unanimous agreement should be given to the clerics. The last component of this system is the most difficult one. It is important for the government to promote and recognize certain public organizational bodies. Religious bodies, tribal bodies and ethnic bodies should organize themselves into public organizations or corporations. Those are then recognized by the state, where their privacy, property and power structure is protected. This protection comes at the price that those organizations must give back in the form of culture, economic wealth and social order. With this assumption then an advisory board can be created to advise the jury. This advisory board will consist of high ranking members of the defendant’s affiliated public organizations. It would be a requirement that the jury listens to the advice of this board before imparting judgment on the defendant and only through a unanimous agreement of that board can the judgment be imparted.
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Ali
14-11-2013 11:56pm
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sharia
Laws can be expressed fully without using any religious terminology. If your religion includes wisdom worthy enough to be codified as law, try to translate it into modern language. If you cannot do that, then it probably would not have been clear enough to be useful as law anyway. The problem with using religious terminology of any specific religion is that the language and meaning of it is owned by those who seek to present themselves as experts of it. Even if they state that they are happy with the interpretation of judiciary it still empowers the clergy unofficially and leaves door open to try to increase their authority over the interpretation later.
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Sam Enslow
13-11-2013 12:14pm
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Whose Sharia?
The nice phrases hide the agenda of the Salafi who believe that all who not follow their brand of Islam are not real Muslims. Look at their history of mistreating Sufis and their shrines. They also claim to want to have Sharia defined by Al Azar - in the hopes that one day they will control that institution and thus Islam in Egypt. During attacks on Coptic churches, it was most often Salafi preachers who issued the calls for violence. They are the ones who protested against Shia visiting their places of worship. The Salafi do not believe in an all inclusive Islam where the individual answers only to God. They are also a part of the Saudi identity - not Egyptian identity. Nothing in the most liberal constitution will prohibit Salafi from following their version of Sharia. It will, however, prevent them from imposing their will/interpretations on others. The Salafi of today, but not when they supported The Brothers, sound tolerant and use words that sound innocent and pleasant enough. But their preachers deliver another message when empowered to do so. Now they sound more like followers of Rumi than Salafi, but power attracts them. If Egypt adopts any of their identity "demands", it will set the stage for more sectarian violence. Egyptians of all faiths must be considered Egyptian. The only reason the Salafi press for these special identity clauses is that they are intolerant of all who hold beliefs different from theirs.
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George
14-11-2013 07:52pm
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Islam is more than a religion, it is an eternal constitution for life
Islam is different than Christianity. Islam has a sharia, Christianity has no Sharia. You are voicing the Christian view.
Hani
14-11-2013 07:48pm
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You are discussing this issue from a Christian perspective
In Islam. religion is not confined to the personal sphere . There is no separation between Mosque and state in Islam. You can't impose secularism on a Muslim people. secularism is part of Christianity, but it is not part of Islam. In Islam you can not practice your faith under secularism. In the final analysis, it is up to the people to choose. And in this part of the world, the people has chosen Islam and rejected secularism.
Hani Ayoub
14-11-2013 07:40pm
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Secularism in the Arab world=fascism
Sam: you don't know what you are talking about. Secularism in the Arab world means hostility to religion Don't you notice that secular regimes allow political parties only if these parties are based on atheistic beliefs such Communism or socialism whereas parties based on Islam are banned? Are you blind or ignorant that you don't see the facts.Secularism in the Arab world is not the sam as secularism in America. In America secularism was founded to protect religion from the government. In the Arab world secularism is intended to destroy religion.
Sam Enslow
14-11-2013 12:44pm
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Religion vs Political Religon
Your real or true religion is shown in how you lead your life. A secular state allows all to follow their religious beliefs. Paradoxidly a religious state most often leads not to religion but to hypocracy. Religion becaomes a matter of public show - not personal belief. A religious state (it makes no matter the religion) attracts those whose interests are not God related but use God as a tool to achieve personal political power and wealth. You will never hear any politician say God is against my stand. God always agrees with politicians who claim to speak for Him and to hold an absolute understanding of what God wants.
Samir Morqus
13-11-2013 10:55pm
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Secularism, too, shouldn't be imposed.
Sam, it is also undemocratic to impose secularism, which is not Islamic, on a predominantly Muslim people. Yes, Salfists shouldn't be allowed to impose their views. But secularists, too, shouldn't be allowed to impose theirs.
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