Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Egypt’s identity | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The battle which currents of political Islam in Egypt are waging against the draft constitutional principles – or the terms which will govern the upcoming constitution, whatever their name will be – seems confusing, and raises questions about the true intentions of these currents. Such a battle is arousing suspicion that Islamic powers intend to hijack the identity of society and the state, with the aim of transforming Egypt into a religious state, contrary to the will of the January 25th revolution.

Upon reading the draft constitutional principles, or those which will govern the upcoming constitution – as published in the Egyptian press and currently being prepared by the government together with the ruling Military Council – they are revealed to be indisputable. The principles are general, and basically concern the identity of the state and the forthcoming regime to be established. The principles stipulate a democratic civil state based on citizenship and sovereignty of the law, respect for pluralism and justice, equality, and equal opportunities for all. According to the constitution, sovereignty is for the people, who are also the sole source of authority. The principles also advocate the peaceful transfer of power, the freedom of belief, the sanctity of private life, and right to acquire knowledge and exchange information.

No one could find anything here to dispute, as long as their intentions are pure and sound, so why then are the currents of political Islam in Egypt – represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and its newly born political party, together with al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya- fighting a battle against the draft constitutional principles, to the extent that they are threatening clashes with the Military Council, now ruling the country until the general elections due to be held in the next few months?

The Muslim Brotherhood warned the Military Council of issuing this constitutional draft in an official capacity, threatening to take to the streets, together with al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. Indeed, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya’s stance has somewhat changed, as it had previously advocated obeying the authorities, when the demonstrators were mobilized in Tahrir square in protest against the former regime and in an attempt to overthrow it. Meanwhile, an Islamic presidential candidate (Hazem Abu-Ismail) warned the Islamists who have accepted a civil state that they are now in a moment of truth, and that the people want God’s Shariaa to be applied, or in political language; a religious state.

Within such forces, it is most important to observe the transformations of the political stance of the Muslim Brotherhood, in its capacity as a partner in the revolution and whose political potential is the strongest of all currents, and also possesses the largest number of followers. The Muslim brotherhood had previously accepted the idea [of a civil state], and so it entered into negotiations in this regard with other political parties. However, pressured by the competition with al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have modified its stance, and now considers the issuance of the draft constitution principles as a breach of the will of the people, who voted in the recent referendum for the election to be held before any constitutional amendments.

In fact, such arguments are flawed, because these principles, if agreed upon by every one, can then be approved by a new referendum and then a constitutional declaration can be issued to govern the basis of the future state and preserve its identity. This is, of course, unless the battle that is currently underway concerns the very nature and identity of the upcoming state.

Let us return to the question: Why do these Islamic powers seem to fear the general principles of rights, freedom and identity, as being put forth in the draft principles? Is there anyone who is actually against freedom, the peaceful transfer of power, freedom of belief, sovereignty of the law and democracy?

We will not find anything in these principles to concern the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, except the part which stipulates that sovereignty is for the people and that people are the sole source of authority. Yet in fact these principles can protect the state against the path towards religious dictatorship.

The religious dictatorship model can be found in the example of the Iranian state. Superficially, there is a peaceful transfer of power, presidential elections, a president being replaced every two terms following competition with other candidates, and a parliament that debates with the government and the president. However, this is all under the supervision of an unelected authority that controls all rules of the game, an authority that considers itself above the president, the parliament, and the people. This authority is the Supreme Guide, along with a committee of experts and scholars who hold the strings of the game. The President’s rank is lower than that of the Supreme Guide, who represents the genuine authority that is derived from religion, not the people. Certainly, a civil state has nothing to do with this.