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Constitutional Confusion and Contusions in Egypt

The constitution, as important as it may be, is not a cure for the genetic illnesses of the states of the Middle East.
Egypt’s constitution committee meeting back in November.

Egypt’s constitution committee meeting back in November.

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The fifth article has a general statement that is acceptable to everyone: “Sovereignty belongs to the people, who act accordingly, and defend it; the people preserves its patriotic unity, and is the source of authority, as is annotated in the constitution.”

The sixth article, on the other hand, is full of potentially explosive material: “The political system is built on principles of democracy and dialogue, equality of citizenship for all citizens, with equal rights and civic responsibilities, pluralism for political views and parties, orderly transfer of power, division and balance of powers, sovereignty of the law and honoring human rights and freedoms. All of this as annotated in the constitution. It is illegal for a party to be founded on the basis of discrimination between citizens, because of differences in gender, ethnicity or religion.”

The many problems in this clause relate to Islam: “Dialogue” – in Arabic “Shura” – stems from the statement in the Qur’an (Sura 42, Verse 38) that “the kingdom of the Almighty is dialogue among people,” a sort of “the voice of the masses is like the voice of G-d” in Judaism. This sort of pronouncement angers the secular people. The expression “citizenship is equal for all citizens” means that a Muslim is equal to a Christian, and this angers the religious. The “division of authorities” is not acceptable to the religious either, because the Creator of the world is the law-maker, He is the executive and He is the judge, so how is it possible to divide the powers into three different, separate authorities, which may disagree with each other?

The prohibition in this clause “to establish a political party on the basis of discrimination between citizens because of differences in religion” creates a potential threat to the Salafi parties, who therefore see it as a tool that the Muslim Brotherhood will use to close down the Salafi parties, which nibble at the support of the Brotherhood.

Article 10 touches on family matters: “The family is the basis of society, and it is founded on religion, morality and nationalism. The state and the society will adhere strictly to the original character of the Egyptian family…” The statement saying that the family is based on religion is interpreted by secular groups as a prohibition on civil marriages, which are common today in the cities of Egypt, and a prohibition of relations between men and women outside the framework of the traditional family. The secular people see this clause as severe religious coercion of the individual.

The religious character of the constitution is evident in article 11 as well: “The state will monitor morality, appropriateness of behavior, and public order, it will assure a high level of education, religious and patriotic values, respect scientific facts and preserve Arab culture and the historical and cultural legacy of the people…” The state monitoring of morality is perceived by the secular people as the” modesty police,” which will punish adult men and women for behavior that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood view as immoral.

State monitoring of “scientific facts” is seen as an Islamic threat to scientific research, because Islam does not accept such theories as Darwinism, does not agree to many historical statements such as – for example – that Jerusalem was the capital of the Jews, and especially does not accept scientific analysis of the Qur’an and the hadith, the oral tradition of Islam.

On the other hand, Salafis see the remnants of Pharaonic culture that are located throughout public areas and in museums in Egypt as something that is totally negative, because the Pharaohs were infidels and idol worshipers, so if the state oversees the “historical and cultural legacy of the people” and preserves it, it actually would be acting against Islam.

Article 24 deals with education: “Religious education and Egyptian history are two basic subjects that will be included in the educational system of all types, and until university.” Religious education? For secular students?

Later in the constitution, in Chapter 3, the authorities of the president are spelled out. One of them is “The president of the republic, with the agreement of the government, will declare an emergency situation only in the way that the law prescribes.” Since the president controls the government, this clause grants him authority, in effect exclusive authority, to declare a national emergency, in which the civil rights of individuals, groups and political parties will be cancelled, and the president will actually have the ability to shut down free political life and turn himself into a dictator, all with the sanction of law.

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About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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