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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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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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