Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

The Common Islamist: Principle, Pragmatism, or Triumphalism?

Islamist Giza Protest

From my new article on EgyptSource:

For many in Egypt, conspiracies and manipulations are evident, none clearer than the current battle over the Supreme Constitutional Court. Many liberals are convinced Islamists are seeking to destroy the judiciary in order to establish control over all three branches of government.

But do Islamists see themselves this way? Setting aside any possible top level schemes and propaganda among Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi leaders, do their supporters believe they are involved in a pre-planned hijacking of the revolution? Or might their own assumed conspiracies of the liberals have a measure of legitimacy?

‘They are doing everything they can to keep the decisive voice from going to the people,’ Ezzat al-Salamony, a member of the Guidance Bureau of the Islamic Group in Cairo, said of the secular politicians.

Demonstrations on Sunday at the Supreme Constitutional Court led to its chief justice suspending all work in protest. The headline of Ahram Online read: ‘Besieged by Islamist protestors, court delays ruling on Constituent Assembly’. Attending this protest, I witnessed hundreds chanting against the court.

But I also witnessed scores of riot police securing the entrance, enabling anyone to go in or out.

SCC Islamist Protest

I write next of what may represent a liberal effort to discredit Islamists via the protest at the court. But there may well be other games as well by the other side:

In his [Morsi’s] earlier declaration the president issued two more months for this assembly to complete its work. But in this closed door meeting the message was different.

‘Either we accept the declaration, or the constitution would be voted on tomorrow [Thursday, November 29],’ said Messiha, referring to the message delivered by the president’s legal advisor Mohamed Gadallah. The president was forcing their hand, and they refused. Just like that, the two months disappeared.

But most of the article is given to direct quotes from protesting Islamists, such as this one:

‘We can go outside the law if necessary for the public interest,’ said Adel Mohamed, ‘and the wali al-amr [Islamic terminology for the leading governmental authority] has the right to define the public interest.

‘Morsi walks righteously because he knows God, whereas Mubarak [also a wali al-amr] put those who mentioned the name of God in prison.’

Some of the quotes will resonate, others will infuriate. I can only hope, though, that all were sincere. For the most part I did not feel Islamists were trying to sell me a bill of goods.

Now, the country must make that determination. The referendum on the constitution is scheduled for December 15. The next two weeks will be very interesting.

Please click here to read the rest of the article at EgyptSource.

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Nods toward Religious Authoritarianism in Egypt’s Draft Constitution

Egypt’s Constituent Assembly

Good reporting here from Ragab Saad on EgyptSource.

As is, not only does the current draft constitution challenge the concepts of human rights and freedom, it also allows the state to become a guarantor for society, defies the idea of a modern state and seeks to sow the seeds of a religious state in Egypt.

He then goes piecemeal through the draft to highlight contradictions and vague wordings. Here, on the empowerment of the state to protect ‘cultural authenticity’:

The first part of the draft constitution stipulates the state’s protection of the “cultural and civilizational unity” of Egyptian society, adding that it shall ensure “the authentic character of the Egyptian family, and the protection of its traditions and moral values.” It also indicates that the state has an obligation to “empower authentic Egyptian traditions.” The use of such vague terminology can only be seen in the framework of the state’s efforts to impose a patriarchal understanding of society, one which allows interference in its citizens’ private lives.

On religious rights and diversity:

Ironically, the chapter on rights and freedoms imposes several restrictions. In Article 30, the draft constitution states that all citizens are equal before the law, and will not be discriminated against on the basis of religion and belief, among other things. Yet in Article 37, the draft constitution restricts the right to build houses of worship to the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Article 37 distinguishes between citizens on the basis of religion, and is an example of how the draft constitution itself contains contradictions.

On women’s rights:

In regards to women’s rights, Article 68 (previously Article 36) ensures the equality of men and women without prejudice, as long as it is not in conflict with the “provisions   أحكام   of Islamic law.” This is another example of the draft constitution’s inconsistency, since Article 2 states that the “principles   مبادئ   of Islamic law” are the main source of legislation. This inconsistency reveals an inherent desire to move further away from the idea of gender equality, and chips away at gains made in Egypt in regards to women’s rights.

From his central conclusion:

If this constitution passes, it will be the first Egyptian Constitution that adopts a specific religious doctrine for the state. It also means that ancient texts on Islamic jurisprudence, and others that may not even exist anymore, will become sources of Egyptian legislation from which a parliamentary majority may select what it wants from its provisions, instituting authoritarianism in the name of religion.

A legal challenge to the assembly writing the constitution has now shifted from the Administrative Court to the Supreme Constitutional Court. If struck down, President Morsy has granted himself the authority to institute a new body, and the process will start over.

But the shift will take a minimum of 45 days, perhaps granting the assembly enough time to finalize the draft and present it to the public. Even the public referendum might be hurriedly tackled.

What happens, however, if the court strikes the constitution down at this stage? More political chaos could be on the horizon for Egypt.

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