The 50-member constitution-drafting committee is currently meeting behind closed doors to discuss proposed amendments to Egypt’s constitution. The precise wording of a number of constitutional articles is still subject to debate, particularly those dealing with Egypt’s religious identity and the role of Islamic Shari’a law.
The committee member told Asharq Al-Awsat: “On Thursday evening, Moussa met with the representatives of Al-Azhar, the church and the [Salafist] Al-Nour Party to discuss the crisis surrounding the issue of identity, but this meeting failed to produce anything new.”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of his or her position, the committee member informed Asharq Al-Awsat that there are disagreements over Articles 2, 3, 4 and 219.
Articles 2 and 219, which explicitly mention Islamic Shari’a law, have served as major sources of controversy since the constitution-drafting process started.
Article 2 of current Egyptian constitution states: “The state’s religion is Islam, its language is Arabic, and Islamic Shari’a is the source of its legislation.”
The committee member emphasized the Egyptian Christian community’s delicate position in relation to Islam’s formal position in the Egyptian state, noting that church leaders opposed the more strongly worded version of the article introduced under Mursi.
This firm stance comes as sectarian violence escalates in Egypt, both during Islamist president Mohamed Mursi’s administration and following his ouster, with Muslim Brothers’ anger at the turn of events often being taken out on Egypt’s Christian minority.
However, Al-Azhar has called for Article 2 to remain in Egypt’s new constitution, saying it “defends Egypt’s Islamic identity,” according to the source.
Article 219 states: “The principles of Islamic Shari’a include its commonly accepted interpretations, its fundamental and jurisprudential rules, and its widely considered sources, as stated by the schools of Sunna and Gamaa.”
This article has been a particular source of contention, and is viewed as being linked to Article 2 in that both articles would define the role of Islamic Shari’a law in the country.
While Article 219 has been severely criticized by Egypt’s liberal and secular forces, who have vowed to ensure its removal from the amended constitution, the Salafist Al-Nour Party has called for it to remain.
The committee member told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Al-Nour Party is particularly insistent that the term “principles of Islamic Sharia’a law” be kept somewhere in the constitution, adding that the phrase has been used in all former iterations of modern Egypt’s constitution.
Article 3 of the suspended constitution stipulates that “the canon principles of the People of the Book [Jews, Christians and Muslims] are the main source of legislation for their [respective] personal status laws, religious affairs and the selection of their spiritual leaders.”
The latest revelation regarding disagreements over Article 3 comes after the Catholic Church’s representative to the 50-member committee, Bishop Antonius Aziz, claimed that an agreement had been reached to change this term from “People of the Book,” which is considered offensive by some Christians and Jews.
According to the source, disagreement continues to rage over the precise wording of this article, with representatives of Egypt’s Coptic, Orthodox and Evangelical churches calling for it to be changed to “non-Muslims,” while Al-Azhar and the Al-Nour Party are calling for it to be changed to “Christians and Jews.”
The source added that Al-Azhar feels the use of the broader-term “non-Muslims” in this article would open the country “exploitation” by followers of other religions and sects in the future. According to the constitutional committee source, Al-Azhar is refusing to back down over the wording of Article 3, fearing Egypt becoming an “oasis of rival cultural beliefs and religions in the future, changing the identity of Egypt until it is like other multi-doctrinal Arab states, like Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.”