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Egypt Constitution: Salafists, Al-Azhar at odds over Islamic Sharia provision - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Vice President of the Salafist Nour Party, Bassam El-Zarqa (L) attends a meeting of the committee revising the country's controversial constitution, in Cairo, Egypt, 09 September 2013. (EPA)

Vice President of the Salafist Nour Party, Bassam El-Zarqa (L) attends a meeting of the committee revising the country’s controversial constitution, in Cairo, Egypt, 09 September 2013. (EPA)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—A heated debate raged among the 50-member constitutional drafting committee over the wording of Article II, which states that Islam is the official state religion, Arabic the official state language, and which names Islamic Sharia Law as the principal source of legislation in Egypt.

The Salafist Al-Nour Party is demanding that the article reads that “the rulings” of Islamic Sharia law serve as the source of legislation in Egypt, while Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Sunni Islamic body, favors the term “principles of Islamic Sharia law.”

Al-Nour Party committee representative, Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that if the committee insists on omitting article 219 of the 2012 constitution—which strengthens the role played by Islamic Sharia law in legislation—then it must replace the word “principles” from Article 2 with the term “rulings,” or alternatively agree new language for article 219.

Article 219 of the Islamist-backed 2012 constitution reads: “The principles of Islamic Sharia include its commonly accepted interpretations, its fundamental and jurisprudential rules, and its widely considered sources, as stated by the schools of Sunna and Gamaa.”

The controversial article was severely criticized by Egypt’s liberal and secular forces, who have vowed to ensure its removal from the amended constitution.

For his part, Bishop Antonius Aziz, representative of the Catholic Church said the “elimination of the word ‘principle’ poses a risk to society…and that the [three] main churches in Egypt are in favor of keeping Article 2 as it is.”

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the principles of Islamic Sharia law can be applied within the current framework, adding, “Everyone agreed to reject Article 219 because it does not express Islam and was added [to the constitution] in a suspicious way. It infringes on the rights of Muslims more than Christians.”

For his part, an Al-Azhar official who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said that Article 2 was unanimously approved by all the political forces, and that the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed El-Tayeb, had called on the committee to keep the text of Article 2 as is in the 2012 constitution.

When asked whether Al-Azhar and the Salafists are at odds over the wording of Article 2, the source said: “Some parties have their views regarding the amendment of the article, but we insist on keeping it unchanged.”

Regarding the linguistic difference between the words “principles and “rulings,” the Azhar source maintained that “principles” mean the foundational rules of Islamic Sharia law, adding that this term is far more suitable than “rulings.”

Al-Nour Party’s former representative Bassam El-Zarq withdrew from the constitution drafting committee on September 17 in protest against the committee’s stance on Article 2.

Egypt’s interim president issued a decree appointing Mansour in place of Zarqa.

In related news, the Azhar source also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the first session of the legal committee tasked with discussing the legality of drafting a new constitution failed to reach an agreement.

It was reported that Amr Moussa sought the help of a number of advisors from the Constitutional Court to help break the deadlock among the members of the committee.

The committee has until Monday to reach a final decision on this issue.