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August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Constitution’

Egypt Democratically Adopts an Anti-Western Dictatorship

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

The victory in the referendum on the Constitution is the fourth straight Muslim Brotherhood success—including the overthrow of President Husni Mubarak’s regime with army assistance, the parliamentary election and the presidential election–in the process of taking over Egypt for the long-term and fundamentally transforming it into a radical Islamist state. This last one should be sufficient to go all the way.

This event is also producing a new stage of Western rationalizations that whitewash the Muslim Brotherhood and rationalize support for Islamists being in power.

It isn’t that the constitution, as many Salafists would have liked, explicitly mandates a revolutionary Sharia state. Rather, the constitution sets up a framework that will allow the Brotherhood to do so. Between the president and the constitution, the Brotherhood will now march through every institution and remake it. Judges will be appointed; school curricula rewritten; army generals appointed; and so on. As the Brotherhood shows patience in carrying out this process of gaining total, permanent control, many in the West will interpret that as moderation.

“The problem with [President] Morsi isn’t whether he is Islamist or not, it is whether he is authoritarian,” said a Western diplomat in Cairo. Wow, talk about Western misunderstanding of the importance of ideology. Perhaps whether or not he is an Islamist—and of course he is–has something to do with his being authoritarian? Since his goal is a Sharia state then that is an authoritarian destination for which authoritarian means are considered acceptable and are in fact a necessity. One might as well insert the words Communist, fascist, or radical Arab nationalist for Islamist.

There are three factors involved here in setting Western policy: ignorance, a desire to avoid crises, and a foolish belief that having a radical regime in Egypt will moderate the extremists.

To add insult to injury—literally—the New York Times, which has continually portrayed the Brotherhood in glowing terms, now explains to its readers that the opposition has nothing to offer:

“The leading opposition alternatives appeared no less authoritarian [than the Brotherhood]: Ahmed Shafik, who lost the presidential runoff, was a former Mubarak prime minister campaigning as a new strongman, and Hamdeen Sabahi, who narrowly missed the runoff, is a Nasserite who has talked of intervention by the military to unseat Mr. Morsi despite his election as president.

“’The problem with ‘I told you so’ is the assumption that if things had turned out differently the outcome would be better, and I don’t see that,’ the diplomat said, noting that the opposition to the draft constitution had hardly shown more respect than Mr. Morsi has for the norms of democracy or the rule of law. ‘There are no black hats and white hats here, there are no heroes and villains. Both sides are using underhanded tactics and both sides are using violence.’”

This is disgraceful, a rationalization for either failure or worse. The idea is that it really didn’t matter who won because they are all the same so why not a Muslim Brotherhood government with a powerful Salafist influence? Any leader of Egypt is going to be a strongman. The question is a strongman for what causes? And if people were talking about unseating the democratically elected Mursi that’s because they view him as the equivalent for Egypt of some new Khomeini, a man who will drag Egypt into decades of repressive dictatorship and war.

I’ve often written of the weakness and political incompetence of the anti-Islamist forces but these are courageous people fighting for a good cause. True, their side includes leftist and nationalist extremists but should that be used to discredit them all when the Islamists are constantly whitewashed?

And for U.S. interests it certainly does matter who wins. Extend this wrong-headed analogy: the Iranian Islamists are no worse than the shah; Saddam Hussein was no worse than the oligarchs who ran Iraq before it went radical in 1958; the current Islamist regime in Turkey is no worse than the high-handed Kemal Ataturk? One might have well had Communist regimes in South America rather than military dictatorships?

It might not sound nice to some people but the main task of Western diplomats is not to worship democracy but to try to promote behavior in other governments favorable to their own country’s interests. In those terms, Mubarak or Shafik is better than Mursi. And since Mursi doesn’t even stand for real democracy the choice is even more obvious.

And there is a dire implication here: If there is no real democratic opposition then the United States doesn’t have to help it. Is this principle thus extended to Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and Tunisia? Are Islamists the only alternative or, to put it in a slightly less obviously objectionable way, should we accept and even help Islamists because everyone is the same?

Wow, has the Western elite lost its way. There is so little sense of who is a friend and who is an enemy; the lesser of two evils; the strategic interests of their own country that one can only despair of any lessons being learned from experience.

It’s ironic that Obama has spent so much time talking about how past U.S. support for pro-American dictators has been a mistake that led to a legacy of crisis when he is now supporting an anti-American dictator.

The argument presented by U.S. officials that compromise is in the Brotherhood’s interest is laughable. Do people in Washington know what the Brotherhood wants and conditions in Egypt better than the Brotherhood leadership? We have seen this same mistake made many times before by Western governments and editorial writers, lecturing a radical regime that it would accomplish more by being totally different.

What is most disturbing is not that the Obama Administration is supporting this regime–which is bad enough–but that its not even suspicious of the Egyptian government’s intentions and behavior. It thinks the Brotherhood is going to curb the Salafists while it actually uses them as storm troops. And so in the coming months we will see more obfuscations and apologies about Cairo’s behavior.

The sad truth is that it is too late for U.S. leverage—which the Obama Administration doesn’t want to use any way—to have an impact. The Brotherhood is already in power. If the United States gives it money and support, the Brotherhood will use that to consolidate its rule while mobilizing the people against the United States; if Washington doesn’t, the Brotherhood will then mobilize the people even more effectively in that way. A U.S. policy coddling the regime will be seen as the weak and stupid response of enemies; a tougher policy will be portrayed as hostile.

True, if Obama doles out money and military equipment to the regime with conditions and slowly, Morsi has an incentive to go slower and more carefully yet it also strengthens the regime’s ability to fulfill its goals and entrench itself in power. But the army isn’t going to do anything against the regime even though, at this point, it will not repress the opposition for Morsi. The Islamists aren’t going to be won over by the United States. And Obama isn’t going to be serious about using pressure except for meaningless statements and phone calls. The administration will speak nice language about protecting women’s and minority (Christian) rights while it looks the other way when these are violated.

Understandably, the democratic opposition—like its counterparts in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Iran—has learned that the United States will not help them. As one sign at a demonstration put it: Obama: Our dictator is your bitch. One day, decades in the future, an American president might be apologizing to Egyptians for a U.S. policy that backed a repressive Islamist regime in their country.

What are the next steps for Morsi? To out-wait the opposition demonstrations, which might well diminish since the constitution is now an established fact, begin the transformation of Egypt’s institutions, and figure out how to handle the problem of parliament. Can he reinstate the results of the earlier election—with a 75 percent Islamist majority—or will he have to hold a new vote next year that might yield a much smaller majority?

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

The Breakneck Speed of Islamist Transformation in Egypt

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

A critical moment has arrived for Egypt. But in what way?

President Morsi has rescinded much of his decree claiming total power right now. But he could accomplish much the same thing after the Constitution is confirmed and perhaps by forcing reinstatement of the parliament whose election was declared invalid by a court. At any rate, Morsi’s concession has not quieted the demonstrations–another sign that concessions in the Middle East don’t bring agreements–and so this crisis isn’t going away.

There are three broad possibilities: the regime will fall; the opposition will be repressed; or there will be an increasingly violent civil war.

The regime will not fall due to these demonstrations. Remember what happened to the previous, Mubarak regime. It fell for the following reasons:

–The army would not defend it.

–The army then overthrew it.

–The Muslim Brotherhood-led opposition would not compromise.

–The West would not support the regime.

These conditions, except possibly the first one, are not in place today. Ultimately, Mubarak’s regime—not just Mubarak but the whole regime—fell only because the army overthrew it. There is no sign of this happening now. And the West, ironic as that might be, supports the Muslim Brotherhood government, especially because it is willing to go ahead with almost $10 billion in aid. And the Brotherhood will not give in to the opposition on any substantive point, whatever cosmetic maneuvers it makes.

Let’s remember that Western, and particularly U.S. policy has spent the last two years talking about how terrible it is to have a dictatorship or military rule. The armed forces have been systematically discouraged by the West from being in government.

By definition, of course, the Brotherhood regime is supposedly not a dictatorship because it won two elections and is probably about to win a third one. So an elected regime cannot be a dictatorship? Yet this regime has declared that it is above all court decisions and all previous laws. Isn’t that a dictatorship? It intends to impose a highly repressive law on its society. Isn’t that a dictatorship?

The opposition thinks so; the West doesn’t. But what does the army think? Well, it does not take a principled stance against having a dictatorship. It is happy to live with a dictatorship that meets the military’s conditions. These are:

–The army chooses its own leaders.

–The security services set their own budgets.

–Nobody interferes with the military’s vast economic holdings.

The regime has already met the second and third conditions and to retain the military’s backing would give in on the first as well. But the regime wants more: that the armed forces actively put down the demonstrations and this is something that the generals are reluctant to do.Now Morsi has given the army the power to arrest civilians but does it want to do so? The army doesn’t want to be hated, shoot down people, and set off a civil war in which it has to round up hundreds of thousands of people and launch scores of operations each day. True, the police are obedient and will act against these demonstrations just as it formerly tried to repress the anti-Mubarak demonstrations. But the police alone aren’t sufficient.

What happens, then, if the regime doesn’t give in and the army doesn’t stop the demonstrations? The logical conclusion is that the Brotherhood and Salafists will increasingly send violent vigilantes into the street to defend their government. (As this article predicted, on December 11 gunmen opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in Tahrir Square, wounding nine.) They want to ensure the Constitution is adopted on December 15—whether the opposition boycotts the vote is irrelevant to them—and afterward the Brotherhood regime can operate under that Constitution.Then, the opposition will be told: you’ve lost, accept it; you have no choice. And besides, we are acting legally under this Constitution that the people accepted.

President Morsi will have to decide whether to try to override the courts and reinstate the previously elected parliament (almost 75 percent Islamist) or make a concession and allow elections for a new parliament (that might be only 55-60 percent Islamist).

Thus, the key issues are how high the level of violence will rise and whether the current conflicts will make the regime speed up or slow down the fundamental transformation of Egypt into a Sharia state in which Islamic law is strictly interpreted.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Constitutional Confusion and Contusions in Egypt

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

In a democratic state, a constitution is supposed to express in words the basic values of its citizens and state the foundational principles that will guide the conduct of the government in a way that reflects the values that most of the citizens believe in, led by the value of freedom. The constitution is intended to limit the powers of government and to defend the citizen from the whims of those in positions of power.

Even in dictatorial states there are laws, however they are mostly not effective; they do not defend the citizen from the power of the government, and the recent situation in Syria is a convincing proof of this fact. In dictatorial states the constitution is the tool that is used to carry out the will of the dictator, as well as his intentions and sometimes even his excesses, while he shuts the mouths of his opposition with the usual claim that everything he’s doing is in accordance with the constitution and the laws that are based on it.

Egypt, after the revolution of January 25th 2011, is a state that has freed itself from the burden of a dictator, Husni Mubarak, who, together with his cronies and predecessors, the officers, ruled Egypt since July 1952 in accordance with a constitution that served as a fig leaf to cover up the fact that the government was entirely in his hands, and the whole country revolved around him as if he were a god.

Now the Egyptians want a different constitution, a “democratic” one, which on one hand will promise that the government will not become a dictatorship again, and on the other hand will express the basic values of the society and defend them. This is the reason that Egypt needs a new constitution, because the previous one was nothing more than a tool to serve Mubarak.

The reality of recent days is that certain groups are not pleased by the way that President Muhammad Morsi is trying to secure the constitution by referendum, so they go out into the streets to express their opinion with demonstrations that sometimes deteriorate into acts of mass violence, injuries and deaths. In order to simplify the discussion for the purpose of this article, we will say that the population in Egypt is divided into three main groups: the Secular, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis.

The secular group wants to turn Egypt into a modern, liberal, open, Western style state, that is neither religious nor traditional in character, where the status of citizenship is equal for everyone, and takes the place of all of the other ethnic, tribal, religious, and sectarian affiliations.

The Muslim Brotherhood wants a religious state, in which Shari’a rules but does not prevent the state from adopting modern tools that exist in the world. They are in favor of women’s participation in public activities, with limitations for modesty, and believe that it is important to integrate the Coptic citizens – who are Christians – into the society, economy and the various governmental systems. But equality among citizens is seen as problematic, because according to Islam a Muslim and a Christian can never be equal, since the Christian is a “ward of the state” (dhimmi) who, according to the Qur’an (Sura 9, Verse 29) must exist in the shadow of Islam and under humiliating conditions. The statement that women are equal to men is problematic for them too, because of traditional concepts that say that “the men are responsible for the women” (Sura 4, Verse 34).

The Salafis want to see the implementation of Islamic Shari’a in all areas of life, and do not accept the adoption of any Western, modern characteristic. They insist on regarding Copts as class B citizens, and do not accept the idea that women should have public positions. They take literally the saying attributed to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam: “The best hijab for a woman is her home.”

The main problem with the constitution in Egypt today is that every one of these three sectors sees the revolution as his own revolution, defines “democracy” according to his own concepts and values, and if the new constitution goes in a different direction then he will claim that “they stole the revolution,” he will go out to the streets and will raise hell. The only common factor to all of the sectors is their avowed refusal to allow a dictator to take control of the state, even though each one of them would agree that whoever represents their world view should rule with broad powers. In other words: each sector would agree to a “soft dictator” if he would represent that particular sector’s world view.

Egypt’s New Constitution Laying Foundation for Sharia State

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

On November 30, a Constituent Assembly consisting almost 100 percent of Islamists voted to approve the draft of Egypt’s new Constitution. The next day, President Muhammad Mursi ordered that a referendum be held on December 15. In other words, Egypt’s population will be given two weeks to consider the main law, which has 230 articles, that will govern their lives for decades to come.

Most of the non-Islamists had walked out of the Assembly because they objected to the proposed Constitution and it seems as if the remaining opposition members did not even attend the vote. So great is the outrage that Egypt’s judges–who supervise elections and were explicitly asked by Mursi to oversee the forthcoming referendum–have refused to do so.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief spiritual guide raved about how great the Constitution is and then responded to the walk-out with a phrase that might serve as the slogan for the new democracy in Egypt and other Arabic-speaking countries:

“You should not have withdrawn. It’s your right to express your opinions freely.”

Yes, they could say what they thought and then be outvoted. Now that, indeed, is democracy. But what if you can already see that the democratic procedure will produce a dictatorial result? For example, Mursi was democratically elected president. He then issued a decree that said no court could countermand anything he decides. Isn’t that democratic, at least in the broader sense? Well, no it isn’t.

The competing street demonstrations of regime supporters and anti-Islamist oppositionists have now coalesced around two slogans. Pro-Islamists chant, “The people want the implementation of God’s law.” The opposition chants, “The people want to bring down the regime.”

But this time, unlike 2011, it is the regime that enjoys the support of the armed forces and Western governments, being buttressed also with almost $10 billion in aid. “The people” aren’t going to bring down this regime and the new rulers are going to implement their interpretation of “God’s law.” That is the new meaning of democracy in Egypt.

I draw here from the analysis in the Egypt Independent newspaper. For a BBC comparison of this with the previous Egyptian constitution see here. And here’s the full text. Keep in mind that neither we nor Mursi knows for sure what will happen to the parliament already elected. The Islamists have 75 percent of the seats in that body (Muslim Brotherhood, 50 percent; Salafist party, 25 percent) but the high court has ruled the lower house’s election to have been unconstitutional. If this decision stands new elections will be necessary next year. In the presidential election, the Brotherhood’s vote was only 52 percent.

While this lower vote could be due to extraneous factors–the abstention of many Salafist supporters for partisan reasons; some Islamists preferring someone other than Mursi in the first round presidential balloting and not switching to support him in the second–Mursi doesn’t know how well the Brotherhood will do if there is a new parliamentary election. Consequently, he needs to find a way to either overrule the court’s decision (hence, his decree letting him overturn what the judges say) or prepare for rule with a parliament less favorable to the Brotherhood. Hence, the constitutional provisions creating a strong presidency are very much in his interest and frighten the non-Islamist opposition.

–Islamic Sharia law is the main source of Egypt’s laws. While this has been in previous constitutions, the problem is interpreting how strictly Sharia will be interpreted and how widely it will be applied. What that passage means for Egypt is going to be a lot more significant under a Muslim Brotherhood government with major input from even more radical Salafists than it did under President Husni Mubarak’s relatively secular-style regime.

–A basic principle of the Constitution (Article 4) is to consult al-Azhar, the country’s influential Islamic university on any issue when Sharia is concerned, which potentially means on every issue. That elevates al-Azhar above all other non-governmental institutions. Al-Azhar is not (yet?) in Muslim Brotherhood hands but its leaders, who know which way the wind blows, can be expected to back a tough interpretation of Sharia law.

–To further ensure that Egypt will be a Sharia state, another provision (Article 219) states that the principles of Sharia are to be found in the four Sunni schools of thought, ruling out any reformist possibilities.

–The state must preserve the “genuine nature” of the Egyptian family and its moral values (Article 10) and has the power (Article 11) “to safeguard ethics” and morality. In other words, the government can do just about anything to determine how people should live and any aspect of their existence it chooses. This is repeated in other articles which limit rights to those that do not contradict what the state might not allow as unacceptable (Article 81) and lets the police arrest people for such crimes (Article 199).

–Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are the only legal religions in Egypt (Article 43). This is in accord with the general interpretation of Islamic law that only these three “people of the book” religions are legitimate. Of course, the face of Christian property will be in the hands of an Islamist government that is unlikely, for example, to approve the construction—or possibly even the renovation—of churches, again in accord with Sharia. Many of these things were also done by the Mubarak regime but one can expect an even tougher approach now.

–It is against the law to insult a prophet (Article 44). This might seem only to be a bother for those who would burn Korans or Bibles or make deliberately provocative videos. But it is important to remember that Islamists have charged that academic research has crossed this line and also the novels of Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt’s Nobel Prize-winning author as well as a tweet from the main backer of the leading non-Islamist party. Islamist groups will be able to bring law suits against anyone whose writing or statements or tweets they don’t like.

–Freedom of expression is limited (Article 48) by the principles of state and society, national security, and others things. That means that any television station or newspaper that says anything that can be deemed contrary to Sharia or Islamic morality as interpreted by a Muslim Brotherhood government can be shut down. A National Media Council (Article 215) will be responsible for preserving “societal principles and constructive values,” which presumably means it can order publications and television channels to be closed down.

–There can be only one trade union for each profession (Article 53). This has hidden implications since in the past the state has controlled the sole such organization in each area. In addition, though, suppose doctors, journalists, engineers, or members of other professions are tired of being in associations that are controlled by the Brotherhood. They cannot form their own separate groups.

–The president can force parliament to meet in secret rather than public session (Article 93). In that case, the legislators would have no say in the decision. This makes observers suspicious about how much the president will dominate parliament, since Egypt has been a country ruled by a single man for six decades in which parliament was a rubber stamp. In addition, anything critical of the regime can be kept secret.

–This concern is furthered by another provision (Article 104) only allowing parliament to overturn a presidential veto on laws by a two-thirds’ majority. This is, of course, also in the U.S. Constitution but, again, Egypt is a country that has long seen a dictator who rules and a parliament which has no significant influence.

–There is no maximum number of members for parliament set (Article 114 and 128), raising suspicions that the president and the Brotherhood’s political party can add more people if needed to maintain control.

–If the lower house of Parliament does not approve the government platform set by the president (Article 139) he can dissolve it. Since members of parliament don’t like to be forced to run for reelection and possibly lose their seats, this pressures them to accept the president’s policies. This provision is also found in other parliamentary democracies but again there are suspicions given Egypt’s history and the regime’s ideology.

–A provision intended to make the army accept Muslim Brotherhood rule (Article 197) establishes a National Defense Council, with a majority of officers, to set the military budget. This had been a major demand of the armed forces. Another thing that will make the army happy (Article 198) lets civilians be tried by military courts for crimes that “harm” the armed forces.

–The president has the power to appoint the heads of many public institutions (Article 202).

–Two provisions (Article 231 and 232) are explicitly designed to reverse the Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling that parliament was elected on the basis of an unconstitutional the elections law. Thus, approval of the Constitution at the referendum would lead to Mursi arguing that a parliament with two-thirds Islamist membership would be legitimate, rather than facing new elections in which the Islamists might lose seats.

Probably the provision most bruited in the Western media will be the taking out of a provision that explicitly said women’s equality would be subject to revision based on Sharia (removed from Article 68). Another article (Article 30) states that citizens are equal before the law and equal in rights and obligations without discrimination.

Presumably, however, this changes nothing since conformity with Sharia law is already mandated in the Constitution. But that last point is a good symbol of the Constitution’s meaning. It enshrines Sharia rule without rubbing people’s faces in it. Thus, the Western media and governments can cheer the Constitution as democratic and proof that Islamists are now moderate even though that document opens the door for dictatorial rule.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Maryland Congressman Apologizes for Holocaust Reference

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

A Maryland congressman apologized for referring to the Holocaust as he discussed his opposition to federal involvement in providing student loans.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) apologized Thursday for the remarks, which drew criticism.

“While explaining my position on an important Constitutional issue I regrettably used an extreme example as a comparison that was ill-advised and inappropriate,” Bartlett said in a statement. “I should never use something as horrific as the Holocaust to make a political point, and I deeply apologize to anyone I may have offended.”

In his initial comments at a town hall meeting on Wednesday, Bartlett had argued that the federal government lacked the authority under the Constitution to offer student loans and warned of a “slippery slope” if the Constitution is ignored.

“If you can ignore the Constitution to do something good today, tomorrow you will be ignoring the Constitution to do something bad,” he said, adding: ” The Holocaust that occurred in Germany — how in the heck could that happen? And when you start down the wrong road, it can be a very slippery slope.”

Morsi Instituting Sweeping Changes in Army leadership, Constitution, Political Appointments

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Egyptian president Morsi made several sweeping decisions on Sunday afternoon, announced by the presidential spokesperson in a televised statement.

Al Ahram reported that, to start, Morsi cancelled the addendum to the constitutional declaration, issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on June 17. The addendum included clauses that gave the armed forces a high level of autonomy; with SCAF retaining the final say in all military-related issues. It also stipulated that the head of the SCAF, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was to remain minister of defense until a new constitution was drafted.

Next, Morsi issued a decision to retire Hussein Tantawi, the minister of defence and the general commander of the Armed Forces.

Morsi also retired Sami Anan, the Army’s Chief of Staff, from his duties. Both men were awarded state medals and appointed as advisors to the president.

The president next appointed the head of the military intelligence, Abdel Fatah El-Sisi, as Minister of Defence to replace Tantawi.

Sedky Sobhy, the commander of the Third Army, was appointed as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces.

Morsi also retired the Commander of the Navy, Mohab Memish, and appointed him as head of the Suez Canal Authority.

Reda Hafez, the commander of the Air Force, was also retired and appointed as minister of Military Production.

Mohamed El-Assar, the SCAF member in charge of armaments, was appointed as assistant to the Minister of Defense.

Finally, Morsi appointed Mahmoud Mekki, the deputy head of the Cassation (appellate) Court, as his Vice President.

Immediately following the announcement of their appointments, Mahmoud Mekki, Egypt’s new vice president, and Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the new minister of defense, were both sworn into office before President Morsi shortly after 5 PM on Sunday.

Rubin Reports: A First Look at Egypt’s New Constitution Shows a Careful Ambiguity On Islamic Rule

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

http://rubinreports.blogspot.co.il/

Although it isn’t official, the first two articles of Egypt’s new Constitution have been reportedly drafted by the committee of parliamentarians charged with that task. Article 1 defines Egypt as part of the Arab and Muslim nation, a compromise between acceptance of the country as a normal nation-state and its identity as either a purely Arab nationalist or Islamist entity.

Similarly, Article 2, according to Mohamed Emara, head of the committee responsible for drafting this section, says:

“Islam is the religion of the state, and Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source for legislation. Christians and Jews shall resort to legislation derived from their own religions.”

There is some ambiguity here as to whether Egypt would thus be a Sharia state. On one hand, Islamic law is not made the sole source of legislation, while the word “principles” might mean that the interpretation will be loose, principles and not all of the details. Bourhamy says that this merely shows that Egypt isn’t a secular state.

On the other hand, though, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis accepted this formulation which, since they want a Sharia state, apparently feel does not block their goal from being reached. Moreover, precisely what “principles” means will be defined not by some governmental organ but by the al-Azhar mosque university. While the leaders of that institution are more moderate than the Brotherhood and Salafis, presumably President Muhammad al-Mursi will replace them at some point with his own people.

The Arabic word used to define “democracy” was “shura.”  This is a term often used in Muslim countries because it is found in the Koran. It might be translated as “consultative,” since the ruler (in this case, al-Mursi) can consult with the parliament. This might be taken to imply that its decisions are not binding. Also that the parliament does not have a free hand in passing laws since—it is implied—no law can be passed that conflicts with Sharia law.

Non-Islamists can argue that there is no harm in the word but it should be noted that the idea for using this term was suggested by a Salafist.

The bottom line is that there is an ambiguity which Western observers and anti-Islamist Egyptians can say means that the country will not be a Sharia state, while Islamists can maintain their own view. The key point, of course, is not the wording as such but who gets to interpret it down the road.

Finally, Christians, it is implied, will be governed by their own religious laws. But this is a peculiar formulation. If Egypt is not governed by Sharia law then why would Christians need to be exempt from it? If this provision is restricted only to matters of personal status (principally marriage, divorce, and inheritance) then Christians would mostly be living under Sharia law in any state court. And what does this constitutional provision mean for example regarding the status of women, where Egyptian law has granted more rights than Sharia would do? Another important issue will be the appointment of future judges since many of the current magistrates oppose Sharia law as that of the state.

If there is an Islamist president and parliament who pass laws that correspond only to Sharia and who appoint Islamist judges and al-Azhar  shaykhs then Egypt will be a Sharia state. No doubt though the Constitution will be interpreted by many Western observers of proof that the Brotherhood and Salafists have moderated.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/rubin-reports-a-first-look-at-egypts-new-constitution-shows-a-careful-ambiguity-on-islamic-rule/2012/07/12/

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