28. The constitutional amendments: To agree or not to agree, that is the question!

Article summary: 

Article two of the Egyptian Constitution is not subject to the proposed constitutional amendments. It is, however, the main subject of heated arguments and discussions in Egyptian society. A debate was held at The American University in Cairo [AUC] about the proposed amendments.

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The Proposed constitutional amendments open the doors to debate in Egypt. A debate was organized at the American University in Cairo entitled, ‘The Constitutional Amendments and the Muslim Brotherhood.’

The debate sparked heated discussions about the Muslim Brotherhood relationship with former Egyptian President Anwar al-Sādāt, and the notion of a secular state with a religious reference in the frame of the constitutional amendments.

Dr. Yahyá al-Jamal, a constitutional scholar, expressed his approval of a secular state that has a religious reference. He noted that Western civilization has two columns: Greek philosophy and Christianity.

Dr. al-Jamal added that there was a great difference between the religious state that he rejected and a secular state with a religious reference. He highlighted the significant change in Muslim Brotherhood’s political discourse in the last decade.

Al-Jamal expressed his approval of the Muslim Brotherhood’s desire to have a secular state with a religious reference provided that there would be no discrimination on religious basis.

In al-Jamal’s opinion, the proposed constitutional amendments concerning an anti-terrorism law destroy one of the most important articles of the Constitution of 1971; namely article 41 about individual freedom. [Reviewer: Article 41 of the Constitution states: “Individual freedom is a natural right and shall not be touched. Except in cases of a flagrant delicate no person may be arrested, inspected, detained or his freedom restricted or prevented from free movement unless necessitated by investigations and preservation of the security of the society. This order shall be given by the competent judge or the Public Prosecution in accordance with the provisions of the law. The law shall determine the period of custody.” To read the Egyptian Constitution in full see: http://www.egypt.gov.eg/english/laws/Constitution/index.asp.] The amendment to article 179 would pave the way for the introduction of a new anti-terrorism law that would undermine the principle of individual freedom [Article 41(1)], privacy of an individual’s home [Article 44], and privacy of correspondence, telephone calls and other means of communication [Article 45(2)]. The amendments would also grant the president the right to interfere in the judiciary proceedings by bypassing ordinary courts, including referring people suspected of terrorism-related offences to military courts.

Journalist Salāḥ ‘Īsá disagreed with Dr. al-Jamal describing the expression “secular state with a religious reference” as being vague and obscure. He further added that even those who call for such a state are not entirely capable of defining the term.

‘Īsá Khul‘?, a participant in the debate [Reviewer: No further information on the debate found] criticized the Constitution for having 15% of the articles that cover the president of the Republic’s authority, whereas not one covers questioning his authority.

Dr. Min‘im Abū al-Futūḥ, a member of the guidance bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared that there is a misunderstanding of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and that there are some people who are attempting to exploit the Brotherhood’s texts to achieve their own individual interests. [Reviewer: No specific texts mentioned and no names mentioned.]

Abū al-Futūḥ asserted that no legislation can be rectified without the will of the public, even if it that legislation is dependent on the Sharī‘ah and the Sunnah. He added that the group’s ideology is clear and that it does not accept a religious state; for the people alone must be the source of authority.

Abū al-Futūḥ noted that the proposed amendments asserted corruption and aggression, and that the amendment to article 76 increased the influence of the ruling authority.

On the other hand, Huṣayn ‘Abd al-Razzāq, general secretary of the Tajammu‘ party, described the political institution during 1971 as being totalitarian and dictatorial. He added that al-Sādāt used political Islām to eliminate the leftists.

Under the headline, ‘Did the Mass Media succeed in Changing the Constitutional Amendment into a Popular Case?’ Rose al-Yūsuf of January 22, 2007 reported the viewpoints of various people regarding the media’s role in the amendments.

Maḥmūd Muḥyī al-Dīn, professor of Psychological Health at the Azhar University, said that the media coverage was reasonable. At times they were neutral, while at others times very partial.

‘Ātif al- ‘Ābid, chairman of the Center for Public Research, said that the coverage has been remarkable, and that people were responding to the different programs devoted to supporting the amendments.

In his interview with Rose al-Yūsuf of February 25, 2007, Muntaṣir al-Zayyāt, lawyer of the outlawed Islamic groups, expressed his rejection to a religious state, adding that the Islamic groups are secular people who have an Islamic base.

Despite the fact that the proposed amendments do not meet the expectations and demands of the Islamic groups, al-Zayyāt declared that they can be considered as a step on the way to reform.

al-Zayyāt added that specifying a quota for women and Copts is a confirmation of sectarianism, stressing that no one is allowed to amend article two.

‘Islam is the First to Assert Citizenship Rights, and Guarantee the Freedom of Creed and Expression for Everyone.’ al-Liwā’ al-Islāmī of February 22 titles its fourth page under this headline. Ṣawt al-Islām reports various on viewpoints about citizenship being an Islamic principle.

Dr. Muḥammad Shāmah, Dr. Manī‘ ‘Abd al-Ḥalīm, Dr. ‘Abd al-Ghanī Maḥmūd, and Shaykh Farhāt al-Munajjī all agreed on the fact that Islam confirmed equality, freedom and justice. In Islām, all citizens are equal regardless of their color, gender or religion.

Dr. ‘Abd al-Ghanī Maḥmūd expressed that there is no harm in declaring Sharī‘ah as the main source of legislation. “The Islamic Sharī‘ah is fair and just with all and respects every religion,” he explained.

While asserting Islam’s protection of every individual’s citizenship rights, he questioned the respect of minority rights in Western societies that, according to him, pretend to be pioneers of freedom and justice.

In the same respect, Dr. Khālid al- Qāḍī criticized Europe’s duality in calling for secularity while some of the minutest details of European life are religious. He mentioned the religious signs, statues and names of various European institutions. He also mentioned the considerable number of religious holidays in Europe. al-Qāḍī further criticized Europe’s stance on Turkey, arguing that Turkey’s Muslim majority is its only obstacle to joining the European Union.

Religion and religious identity are also one of the hottest questions aroused when discussing the constitutional amendments. Dr. Muḥammad al-Sayyid Sa‘īd expressed that the proposed amendment prohibiting the establishment of political parties on a religious basis was in itself not sufficient. On the contrary, it could be a source of great suffering because it will deprive a large sector of Egyptians from the freedom of expression. The suppression of free expression may result in violence that will only add more fuel to the fire.

Sa‘īd further argued that historical and political solutions guaranteed more freedom of expression in the civil domain; i.e. when they can be expressed in civil institutions. He added that forming political parties that have clear platforms and can attribute to solving society’s problems in the frame of a secular democratic state should be permitted.

In the same context, al-Qāhirah stressed under the headline, ‘Can Muslims and Christians Coexist on Citizenship Platform,’ the importance of enforcing factors of unity between Muslims and Christians. al-Qāhirah’s article published on February 27, 2007, asserted the importance of separating religion from politics. It further stressed the importance of eliminating all forms of religious discrimination by providing all Egyptians with equal chances of employments and public posts, as well as striking all religious practices that can threaten the country with sectarian violence. [Reviewer: religious practices here most likely refer to exaggerated religious appearances.]

Despite not being included in the proposed amendments, article two of the Constitution is still attracting attention from the Egyptian media and society.

Dr. Hasan Abū Ṭālib expressed in al-Ahrām of February 24 that there were issues of greater importance to be discussed in the proposed amendments than article two. He highlighted the importance of discussing the president of the Republic and prime minister’s authority, as well as discussing the proposed addition of an anti-terrorism article.

The Islamic Research Academy [see: http://www.alazhar.org/]asserted the importance of keeping article two of the Constitution as it is. It rejected any amendment to the article and the adoption of any source of legislation other than Sharī‘ah.

Dr. Mufīd Shihāb, minister of legislative affairs and deputy councils stressed three fixed facts that cannot be touched in the Egyptian Constitution: free education, 50% representation of workers and peasants, and the second article.

Hānī Labīb expressed in Ākhir Sā‘ah of February 21 that discussions about article two of the Constitution were a form of “political sarcasm,” especially in the shadow of the calamitous set of constitutional amendments that demand wisdom and constructive debate.

Labīb further argued that the suggested amendment to article two stressed the principles of citizenship and guaranteed equality for all Egyptians. The amendment to article five, however, is a confirmation of the secular identity of the state.

Labīb added that the banned Muslim Brotherhood could manipulate Copts into discussing article two by emphasizing their right to have a political entity according to the second article, which petrifies the majority of Copts and pushes them to ask for the article’s omission.

In an interview with Akhir Sā‘ah Dr. Rif‘at al-Sa‘īd, head of al-Wafd leftist party, unveiled Hasan al-Bannā’s intention to establish a “divine method.” The agenda of the group’s party issued in 1937 considered that method as the real Islām. As such, every change or rejection of it became a rejection of Islām itself. al-Sa‘īd further argued that the slogan “Islam is the solution” is vague and tricky; for it suggests that Islām is currently absent, thus doubting the creed of all Muslim Egyptians now.

Nevertheless, Copts still seem to be fear the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood to influential posts.

Many Copts, with a youth majority, participated in a debate over the constitutional amendments held in Saint Mark’s Cathedral for Orthodox Copts. Dr. Muhammad Kamāl, director of the education department in the National Democratic Party, answered the Coptic questions about the proposed amendments. He clarified that article two did not diminish the Copts’ rights, and that article 40 of the Constitution asserted the equality of all citizens.

While citizenship seems to be the means of providing more equality in Egyptian society, Dr. Muṣṭafá al-Fiqī, head of the committee of foreign affairs in parliament, declares that citizenship is not the solution for the Copt’s problems. He added that Copts need to lead a more active role in public life to increase the percentage of their representation in parliament.

In the same context, Dr. Aḥmad Fatḥī Surūr, president of parliament, considered appointing special seats for Copts in parliament. He also criticized woman’s representation, arguing that women are not apt for parliamentary posts.

Despite the ruling system criticizing advocates of a religious state, Dr. Sa‘īd Ismā‘īl ‘Alī suggests in his article in al-Wafd of February 27 that the government has an interest in keeping article two. People are greatly preoccupied with discussing and considering this article, while in the meantime the government is suggesting other more serious texts and amendments of which people will be unaware.

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