Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Egyptian cleric and official spokesman for the al-Da’wa al-Salafiya group, Sheikh Abdul Moneim al-Shahat, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that he believes that approximately 80 percent of Egyptian society will ratify the Egyptian draft constitution at the forthcoming 15 December referendum.
The Salafist cleric also said that he expected Egypt’s Christian Coptic community to also vote yes, saying “I believe that a large number of the Christians in Egypt may not adhere to the viewpoint of the Church and will vote yes on the constitution, particularly in light of the presence of Article III that says that their personal status laws and religious affairs will be based on Christian principles. I believe this represents a gain for them, at least morally, that will push them to vote yes.”
Article III of Egypt’s draft constitution states that “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.”
Egypt’s new Coptic Christian Pope, Tawadros II, recently said that he would reject any constitution that imposes a religious state in the Muslim-majority country. He said “a constitution that hints at imposing a religious state in Egypt is absolutely rejected” adding “if the constitution addresses one part of the community and ignores another, it will take society backwards.”
Sheikh al-Shahat also launched a fierce attack against the political elites who have rejected this draft constitution, saying “I do not expect them to withdraw from their rejectionist position.” He called on these political elites to explain the reasons behind their withdrawal from the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting this new constitution, asserting that “these elites were present within the Constituent Assembly and they participated in the discussions and they called on al-Azhar to intervene to convince us [the Islamists] to withdraw from certain wordings of the text that we believed were more clear and conservative in terms of Islamist Sharia law, and we responded to al-Azhar’s intervention. They also initially responded to and signed off on this, but then they withdrew under mysterious circumstances.” He added that “the ball is now in their court, and they must explain to the public why they withdraw in such a surprising manner.”
Liberal, secular and Christian members of the 100-member Constituent Assembly had been withdrawing to protest against what they called the Islamists’ hijacking of the constitution drafting process. Then acting-pope, Bishop Pachomios, announced the official withdrawal of all Egypt’s Church representatives from the Constituent Assembly on 17 November, saying “the ongoing process within the Constituent Assembly will not guarantee a constitution that will provide national consensus or that reflects the identity of Egypt.” Whilst in June, “Egyptian bloc” parties, including the Free Egyptians, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Tagammu Party and others, initiated a walk-out, followed by the Karama Party and the Democratic Front Party, in protest to “Islamist monopolization” of the Constituent Assembly.
For his part, the al-Da’wa al-Salafiya official spokesman stressed the “balance” of the draft constitution, informing Asharq Al-Awsat that “if we speak about the issue of identity, for example, we will find that the constitutional article dealing with this was drafted via al-Azhar, and the Salafist wording of the article that called for a higher degree of clarity was not included, nor was the secular wording…which was very lenient regarding the identity issue.”
He added “regarding identity and Islamic Sharia law in the constitution, this can all be attributed to one party, and that is the al-Azhar constitution, rather than the constitution of the Salafists or Muslim Brotherhood.”
Sheikh al-Shahat stressed that “we did not withdraw, even though we wanted a more defined constitutional text than the one that was drafted. However we are talking about a text drafted by al-Azhar, which is the primary reference for the Egyptian public, and the Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood will vote yes on this out of respect for the role of al-Azhar and the belief that the constitution must be written as wanted by the majority of the people, even if we have a different view.”
He added “as for law and freedoms and balance between authorities, then there is a real leap forward regarding this issue in comparison to other constitutions drafted in Egypt, and I believe that when the people saw the final voting on the constitution articles on satellite television many people would have been surprised regarding what this constitution contained in this regard.”
Part II of Egypt’s draft constitution pertains to rights and freedoms, and in total is made up of 50 separate articles, starting with Article 31 that states that “dignity is the right of every human being, safeguarded by the State”, whilst Article 34 confirms that “all citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination.”
This section also includes the article dealing with Freedom of the press [Article 48], which stresses that “freedom of the press, printing, publication and mess media shall be guaranteed. The media shall be free and independent to serve the community and to express the different trends in public opinion, and contribute to shaping and directing in accordance with the basic principles of the State and society.”
The Salafist party spokesman stressed that this draft constitution is balanced, and was drawn up with the cooperation and coordination of elites from all backgrounds of Egyptian society, including well-known Islamists and religious scholars, as well as representatives of various political trends, parties and trade unions.
He said “I am talking about a constitution drawn up by an elite group of people” adding “I do not think that anybody in society can compete with this elite.” He said “when the Egyptian people become aware of the biographies of those who draw up this constitution…they will find it very difficult to vote no.”
Sheikh al-Shahat asserted that he expected many of the people who have announced their objection to the constitution to retreat from this position and vote yes at the forthcoming referendum after actually studying the constitution’s articles. He said “I believe that many who were enthused by the [opposition] elite’s rejectionist calls will vote yes” adding “this elite announced its position rejecting any attempt to increase the Islamic Sharia reference from the 1971 constitution, therefore this is a disaster for them, particularly as they have never hidden the fact, since the beginning of the revolution, that they went to move in the opposite direction and delete Article II of the constitution, or amend it and weaken it.”
Article II of the draft constitution states that “Islam is the religion of the state and Arab its official language. Principles of Islamic Sharia law are the principle source of legislation.” This is in line with the text of Egypt’s 1971 constitution.