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Egypt's sectarian constitution: The triumph of the Church and its allies and the defeat of Al-Azhar and Al-Nour

January 27, 2014 at 10:54 am

The coup authorities are moving quickly to ensure the constitution is approved no matter what. If necessary, they will mobilise officers and soldiers in the military and the police and their families to vote for the constitution and create the façade that it is popular among the people when in fact it isn’t.

While the Lagna al-Khamseen (the fifty-member committee tasked with drafting the new constitution) was racing against time to approve the articles, despite having passed the end of the prescribed period, huge crowds of students congregated in Tahrir Square for the first time (they had previously gathered in Tahrir in much lower numbers.) The mass gathering of students was itself a victory, as the coup authorities consider it to be their holy site and do not allow supporters of legitimacy to enter. The invasion of Tahrir square was also considered to be a blow to the new constitution.

The constitution is rejected on principle, as it is part of the coup against legitimacy and the popular will of the 2012 constitution which was approved by a majority of two-thirds of the population. I will quickly review parts of the constitution that expose how Egypt has changed during the coup’s reign, by over-writing its Arab-Islamic identity in the legitimate constitution which representatives of the community had participated in preparing, including liberals, leftists and Christians, before their withdrawal from the Constituent Assembly.

The end product of the Lagna al-Khamseen endorsed the historic victory of the Egyptian churches representatives and their secular allies, who were the overwhelming majority of the committee. Representatives of al-Azhar and the al-Nour party were defeated. They are still supporters of the coup. Although they joined the committee to protect and improve the constitution they did not hesitate to delete articles that related to Islamic law and Islamic identity.

The church representatives and their secularist allies took part in this process because they were the ones that congregated on June 30th and paved the way for the military coup. They believe it is their right alone to reap the fruits of their labour, evidenced by the text of the final draft of the constitution and by their description of the January 25th revolution now being a revolution from January 25th to June 30th.

While delight prevailed in Egyptian churches and secularist bars, it was strange that al-Nour’s media spokesman announced the party’s approval of and satisfaction with the draft constitution. They claimed to be satisfied with the general consensus of the Lagna al-Khamseen on the disputed articles which among other matters also concerns Islamic identity.

As the Islamic law and identity articles collapsed, one after the other, under pressure from secular forces and the church, their representatives gained a number of advantages and approved articles at the plenary session, which delayed voting on some of the articles pending adjustment and two new articles were added at the very last moment. Article 235, which was one of those, stipulates that the House of Representatives passes a law to regulate the construction and renovation of churches in order to ensure that Christians can freely exercise their religious rituals, a request that the Church has often insisted on.

The second gain by the church, made at the last minute, was to ensure positive discrimination for Christians. This occurred in the first House of Representatives elections (Article 244). The article was subject to wide-ranging discussion during subcommittee and public meetings. The final draft was produced without it, but representatives of the church insisted on adding it in at the very last second.

However, their gains have not been limited to these two articles alone, which were added by church representatives in the final seconds, they have achieved many advantages, most notably the abolition of Article 219 which interprets Islamic law and was the most important issue for al-Nour. The party had previously announced that their participation was to protect this article specifically, in addition to other articles regarding Islamic identity. What is strange is that al-Nour Party which had previously considered this a sacred article (according to statements by Yasser al Borhamm) did not consider it sacred after it lost it to the secularists and church representatives. Even worse, they accepted the Constitutional Court’s interpretation of Islamic law, which gives a very limited interpretation of Sharia. The same interpretation that previously led al-Nour to propose Article 219 which al-Azhar had helped to formulate.

During the Constituent Assembly, the Egyptian church had previously decided to draft a constitution in 2012 through its prominent representative, Saint Paul, he was also their representative at the Lagna al-Khamseen. This decision was made in return for articles specific to Christians and Jews, such as the third article of the 2012 Constitution, “The canon principles of Egyptian Christians and Jews are the main source of legislation for their personal status laws, religious affairs and the selection of their spiritual leaders.” Despite the deletion of Article 219, the third article was moved into the new document, at the insistence of the churches representatives, although it should have been abolished with the rest of Article 219.

Most of the content of Article four, which had been specified by al-Azhar, was removed, in particular reference to the opinions of senior experts in matters relating to Islamic law. The article’s ranking was dropped to number seven. It was also moved from the first section, which specialised in matters of the state, to section two which specialises in matters of doctrines, without objection from al-Azhar representatives, some of whom appeared to be more secular than the traditional secularists.

Changes in the Islamic identity began from the first article of the constitution which states “the legitimate Arab Republic of Egypt is an independent sovereign state and that the Egyptian people are part of the Arab and Islamic nations”. The newly proposed version suggests that the Egyptian people are part of the Arab nation, denies the existence of a Muslim nation and only recognises it as part of the Islamic world. Transgression against the Islamic identity articles were repeated in Article six, “the political system is based on the principles of democracy and shura (counsel), citizenship (under which all citizens are equal in rights and duties), multi-party pluralism, peaceful transfer of power, separation of powers and the balance between them, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and freedoms, all as elaborated in the Constitution.
 No political party shall be formed that discriminates on the basis of gender, origin or religion.” However, the word shura was cancelled in the final draft as it did not appeal to secularists and church representatives. The representatives of al-Azhar and al-Nour Party could not defend it. In addition, new text was written regarding the composition of parties in Article 74, preventing the establishment of political parties based on religion, as was the case in the 1971 constitution. This prohibits the existence of all Islamic parties, including al-Nour itself which participated in the document’s drafting.

The changes were not limited to the deletion of some words and paragraphs, entire articles were deleted at times without alternatives being provided. Article 11 of the legitimate constitution was deleted, it read, “the State shall safeguard ethics, public morality and public order, and foster a high level of education and of religious and patriotic values, scientific thinking, Arab culture and the historical and cultural heritage of the people, as shall be regulated by law “. Additionally, Article 204, unique to the Supreme National Authority for Combating Corruption was deleted, as well as Article 212 for the creation of a General Authority of Endowments, involved with building its public and private institutions, although the article regarding endowments was itself kept.

‎It is clear that the primary objectives of the coup and the members of the Lagna al-Khamseen, was to eradicate the Arab-Islamic identity of Egypt and to replace it with a contradictory identity not worthy of respect. The al-Nour and al-Azhar representatives had the chance to withdraw until the last moment and acquit themselves. However, they remained involved until the very last second. Their judgement will take place before their people in this world and before their Lord in the hereafter.

This is a translation of the Arabic text published on on 2 December, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.