Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood raise prospect of Sharia law
By Mohamed Hassan Shaban
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood organization have begun to speak openly about the right of Egypt’s majority to impose Sharia law in Egypt. This is the source of significant fears for Egypt’s Coptic community and political liberal forces, particularly as Islamists dominate the Constituent Committee, which is commissioned with drafting the country’s new constitution. However prominent liberal figures on the same committee, including former Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Musa, have attempted to reassure the Egyptian public regarding the prospect of Islamic Sharia law being implemented in the country, stressing that the committee is based on the principle of consensus.
Commenting on the Coptic and liberal fears regarding the implementation of Islamic Sharia law, senior Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood figure Essam al-Erian – who also serves as vice chairman of the affiliate Freedom and Justice Party – said “it is not right for a supporter of democracy to object to the right of the majority to implement Islamic Sharia law.”
Al-Erian, who is also a member of the Constituent Committee, stressed that religion is a vital part of Egyptian life and that no rational person could believe it possible to separate religion from daily life in Egypt. This is a stance that recalls a recent interview given by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Mursi, during which he said that Islamic Sharia law governs all aspects of life.
Article II of Egypt’s old constitution, which had been in place for the past 30 years, stated that “Islam is the Religion of the State, Arabic is its official language, and the principle source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia).”
The Islamists within the Constituent Assembly announced their intention to exert pressure to ensure that the provisions of Sharia law are utilized as the basis for Egypt’s new constitution. This is something that Egypt’s approximate 8 million Copts reject, not to mention the majority of the country’s liberal and left-wing forces.
Earlier this month, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi succeeded in strengthening his grip – and therefore the grip of the Muslim Brotherhood – on the Egyptian state after he retired a number of the country’s most senior generals and cancelled the Constitutional Declaration which had granted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] broad powers at the expense of the presidency. Moreover, Mursi also granted himself the right to appoint a new constituent assembly “should future developments prevent the current assembly from carrying out its responsibilities.” This is something that is looking increasingly likely, particularly in light of the sharp divisions within the Constituent Assembly itself, whilst the Cairo Administrative Court is expected to issue a ruling on the legality of this assembly after a number of lawsuits were put forward complaining that it does not accurately reflect the diversity of Egyptian society.
Egypt’s liberals are increasingly concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood’s control of the state, not to mention the potential changes that may be enacted in the new constitution. However prominent liberal figures – many of whom are members of the Constituent Assembly – have attempted to reassure the public that work is on-going regarding the drafting of the new constitution.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa asserted that the Constituent Assembly is based on the principle of consensus in the constitution drafting process. Commenting on the Islamists’ statement regarding the implementation of Sharia law, he stressed that “any materials relating to Islamic Sharia law must be very accurate” adding “Islamic Sharia law enjoys absolute reverence, but every situation has its particulars.”
The former Egyptian presidential candidate said that “the constitution is the document for today and tomorrow and the new constitution must express the diversity of Egypt’s society, particularly as we are guided by the al-Azhar Document [on basic freedoms].” He added “what is important is that this [new constitution] is based on opening new horizons of life, creativity and thought.”
Musa, who is also a member of the Constituent Assembly, told Asharq Al-Awsat that there are figures within the assembly who are seeking to impose their own ideas on the new constitution, adding this could affect the principle of the civil state.
He also warned against the constitutional-drafting process being based on voting, saying “relying on the mechanism of voting to approve the constitutional articles will have a dangerous result on the credibility of the constitution.”
He added “we are working on the basis that consensus on the constitutional articles serves as the foundation and rule.”
Egypt’s political forces had agreed that each constitutional article should be approved by consensus within the Constituent Assembly, however if this is not possible then by the approval of 67 members. If this proportion of votes cannot be obtained, then the vote will be delayed for 48 hours, after which the constitutional article can be passed by a 57-vote majority.
This represents the second Constituent Assembly in Egypt’s post-revolution period after the previous assembly was dissolved by court order after a number of liberals and moderates quit the body complaining that it was being dominated by Islamists. Following this, a new Constituent Assembly was formed however a number of liberal leaders refused to join citing concerns over the first assembly which has allowed the Islamists to secure a clear majority.