Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Egypt's Challenge: Writing a New Constitution

Ashraf Ramelah

"Egypt is now a real civil state. It is not theocratic, it is not military. It is democratic, free, constitutional, lawful and modern." — Former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, after his election.
Democracy is unfathomable because it allows the doctrine of Islam, and its followers, to co-exist equally with other religions and doctrines -- a societal demotion. That outcome cannot possibly be the one desired by those now drafting Egypt's constitution.
As Egyptians wait for the constituent assembly to produce the country's new foundational document, the world can only speculate as to how well the new draft will distinguish Egypt's future from its past. Article 2 of Sadat's 1971 constitution is the controversial point today. If its wording is written into the draft of Egypt's new constitution, all hope is lost for a modern renaissance sought by the uprising of January 2011. Article 2 spells out two critical foundational points which clash with the formation of democracy. Even if these Islamic measures are accompanied by words promoting liberty, equality and human rights elsewhere in the same writing, the use of Article 2 will present a huge problem for the liberal, secular, pro-democracy freedom movement.

Egypt is likely to receive a draft of the constitution, due before the end of this year, comprised of both liberal elements and Article 2 (or its essence). The explicit language of Article 2 states, since 1980, that the religion of the state is Islam and Sharia (Islamic religious law) is the source of state legislation. This substantiates a religious state. If Article 2 is transferred to the current draft, it will mean that the draft of the constitution draft is unsuccessful for the third time since Egyptians rebelled against authoritarianism and religious supremacy. Would this be a signal for the continuance of Egypt's already two-year old revolt against a political class using religion to accrue power?

The greatest contributor to the making of Article 2 and its formation of the deeply rooted Islamic state was former President Anwar Sadat. While Sadat's constitution promised free markets, individual freedom, democratic procedures and safeguards for an independent judiciary; other buried clauses granted his presidency complete power, and he used it to appropriate exclusive ownership of the state for Islam. In 1971Sadat replaced Egypt's 1954 constitution, moving the country away from the policies of socialism enacted by his predecessor, Nasser. Sadat used the help of Islamists who influenced the populace against socialism in accordance with Islamic beliefs. In return, Sadat added pro-Islam clauses to Egypt's constitution, making Islam the state religion, Arabic the official language and Sharia a source of Egyptian law (later changing "a source" to "the source"). As such, Sadat encouraged Islamists to lay claim to Egypt.

The key to Sadat's success was "Islamic duality" -- a political doctrine of deception based upon the Hadith [tales of the life of Muhammed] and the Sira [Mohamed's biography] in which the Prophet teaches that to advance Islam, it is permissible to lie in three cases: to a wife, to a friend and to an enemy. We shall likely see this again with the forthcoming constitution. Envision the following scenario. Upon receiving the draft, Egyptians will wait for constitutional experts in the media to fully explain and challenge it in the period of time between its issuance and the popular referendum vote to approve it. The populace will be incapable of comprehending the full implications of the extensive fine print inside the sugar coating of human rights and freedom-sounding words. Meanwhile, assembly committee members assigned to write separate draft sections will hawk their special wares to the country, selling Sharia and selling democracy.

Egyptians have no reason to believe that democratic words written into their constitution will not as readily be written out or abrogated by articles within the same text. But dissatisfaction will be delayed; the draft will come to a vote and be approved. Disillusionment will set in sometime after the draft becomes official and the new constitution is in use. The reality of another wave of civilization jihad will hit Egyptians when they face serious roadblocks to equality and human rights. The populace, no longer illiterate and trusting as in the time of Sadat but now fearless and determined, will fill the streets and squares; clashes will continue to keep the revolution alive. This is the real miracle for Egypt -- the transformation taking place in the hearts and minds of the people sustaining an ongoing rebellion. Egyptians are no longer infected with the indoctrination of "democracy equals evil" transmitted by the policies and propaganda of past dictators which bonded the populace to the rise of the Egyptian Islamic state. Nor will Egyptians any longer be dragged along by the stick and carrot – this barrier has been broken.

Over decades Egypt's presidents – Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak – systematically created today's culture of Islam's embedded power and privilege. Egypt's interim government and constituent assembly is derived from the permanent and prosperous institutional state. Democracy is unfathomable because it allows the doctrine of Islam, and its followers, to co-exist equally with other religions and ideologies -- a societal demotion. That cannot possibly be the desired outcome of those now crafting Egypt's constitution. The two extreme viewpoints of the assembly's 50 appointees are provided by ultra-conservative clerics and pro-democracy liberals. But the majority of members will aim for the status-quo and to salvage and sanitize the face of Islam ruined by the Morsi regime's push toward Sharia.

Islam's image is damaged due to the regressive religious politics of the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] and Morsi's terrorist administration which left a sour taste. Ousting Morsi and his regime, the masses spoke loud and clear regarding the Islamiists' experiment in Egypt. Intolerance will not be tolerated.

Representatives from the Coptic Church make up about five percent of the constituent assembly and include bishops. The invitation from the interim government to the church illustrates that Egypt continues to play up the importance of religion as opposed to equality and freedom of religion. In a country where religious identity cards are carried by every citizen and double standards and discrimination throughout society are based on it, it is disappointing to see the same game being played now at the critical moment of laying the foundation for expunging these prejudices. So far, the bishops in the assembly have been concentrating on protecting church doctrine, sensing that Islam will remain supreme at the completion of this "democratic" constitution.

The cultural mindset is inescapable. The system and its corruption must also be defeated. Freedom fighters must be vigilant for years to come, develop a strong leadership and continually stage protests to keep the momentum. Gradualism, at best, will be the method of democracy-building in Egypt for generations to come.
The major achievement of the January 2011 freedom uprising has been to force the writing of Egypt's constitution before presidential and parliamentary elections take place – a huge feat for the Egyptian freedom movement. After more than two years of sacrifice, bloodshed, various false starts, and a surprising alliance with Egypt's military, a coalition of 30 million individuals in the name of freedom matures daily in the process -- equipping themselves with ever greater courage and the tenacity required for the long-term.

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