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Why Egypt will not become another Aceh

As Aceh and Afghanistan publicly punish violators of Islamic law, are other Muslim countries immune to this type of strict application that leaves no room for guidance and private correction? Is Egypt?

Gamal Abdel-Gawad , Tuesday 14 Dec 2010


Whip lashes were the punishment given to a young couple after they were caught kissing in an isolated forest in the autonomous region of Aceh, Indonesia. The authorities there applied Sharia law. Although they were caught kissing in private, the lashes were delivered in public and viewed by hundreds of people. The rulers of Aceh think the public nature of the penalty will deter others from disobeying Islamic law.

Now, consider Egypt. There is a clear contradiction between the intolerant countries (and autonomous regions) the likes of Aceh and Afghanistan, and Egyptian culture and traditions, where people prioritize shielding over deterrence.

Egyptians uphold virtue, especially in relations between the sexes and maintaining high standards of values and morals. Protecting the family ideal and ties is at the heart of Egyptian ethics and conduct. Accordingly, shielding (giving people the opportunity to correct their ways without the fear of scandal and public disgrace) is more important to Egyptians than deterrence. The shame which public punishment brings is unnecessarily cruel and causes families to come undone, something Egyptians hate to see.

Egyptians have enough compassion and reason to distinguish between ethics and virtues as concepts to live by, and the daily lives of millions who, on occasion, may err, as is the nature of humanity. Virtues and ethics for Egyptians are lanterns, guiding them on the correct path. They are not, however, ironclad laws that can change a fallible man into an incorruptible angel.

Egyptians balance between virtue on the one hand and the needs of family and security on the other. They favor guidance over public punishment; they prefer social controls within the family over heavy-handed interference by the authorities in raising children. Indeed, Egyptians choose redemption instead of deterrence, no doubt a characteristic of their moderation.

The courtyard of the mosque in Aceh became a place of punishment – contrary to its positive usage in Egypt. Here in Egypt, the mosques are places of worship, where people are liberated from worldly burdens to draw closer to God. They are venues of good feelings and charity, where the needy may seek assistance. They are not the sites of corporal punishment.

I know that there are those in Egypt who want us to become the next Afghanistan or Aceh, but I am confident that our culture is immune to instigations of sectarian strife.

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© 2010 Ahram Online.