By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
CAIRO, Egypt – Ever since the removal of Mubarak in February 2011 and the installation of Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi as President, there has been great dispute among the public as to what role religion should play in Egypt’s constitution. Both the Islamic liberal/Coptic Christian and Islamic conservative sides of the debate have been demonstrating regularly in Egypt’s capital. The most recent demonstration was held the other day when 10,000 conservative muslims congregated in Tahrir Square to call for Shari’a law.
While neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the ultraconservative Al-Nour party backed the protest, many of their followers and other Salafi groups showed up to demonstrate. The main groups which organized the rally were the Gama’a Islamiya and the Salafi Front. The current stance of the Muslim Brotherhood is to introduce Shari’a law gradually, however, the other Salafi groups want to see more immediate change.
At the heart of this political/religious conflict is the wording of the second amendment of Egypt’s constitution. Under the previous constitution, the second amendment stated that the basis of legislation would be rooted in the “principles of Islamic Shari’a.” Conservatives believe that this is far too broad. They seek the amendment to state that the basis of the law will be “the rulings of Shari’a.” To a Salafi like Mahmoud, “[h]aving the principles of Shari’a included is the same as not having Shari’a at all.”
Those like Mahmoud want to be governed by their own religion, and nothing else. They chanted in the streets that, “[t]he people want God’s law applied.” They believe that Shari’a law will benefit all people, even non-muslims. Hassan Abdel-Hamid, a resident of small town near Alexandria, believes it is good because it will help protect women. He claims that if ruled by true Shari’a law, no parents should fear for their daughters’ safety because anyone who would harass a woman would end up facing Shari’a punishment. The spokesman for the Salafi Front, Khaled Saeed points out that Shari’a already allows for non-Muslims to have the freedom to decide between their own legislation and Islamic law. This would still guarantee that Coptic Christians could use their own religious practices for marriage and divorce.
Newly elected Coptic pope, Tawadros II is adamantly against any constitution that is overtly religious. Coptic Christians make up approximately 10% of the population and completely reject the Salafi demand for full Shari’a implementation. Secular and liberal individuals also greatly favor the original wording of the second amendment which simply appeals to the broad tenets of Islam.
A constitutional assembly, charged with creating the new constitution, failed earlier this year and was dissolved by court order. The secular and liberal members removed themselves from the body after claiming that “Islamists were trying to dominate the process.” A second assembly has been formed, however, the same problems still remain, and liberals again are threatening to walk out.
For further information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Egypt’s Ultraconservatives Demand Islamic Law – 9 November 2012
CNN – Salafis Call for Islamic Law in Egypt Protest – 9 November 2012
Daily News Egypt – Thousands of Protesters in Tahrir Call for Shari’a Law – 9 November 2012
Egypt Independent – Salafi Front to Join Friday’s Pro-Sharia Protest – 8 November 2012