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Egypt’s draft constitution: A case of the blind men and the elephant

Soliman Shafiq

17 Nov 2012 8:49 pm

By the time I was through reading the draft for Egypt’s new constitution, I couldn’t help thinking: Was this a draft constitution or an announcement of principles of some specific political party?

By the time I was through reading the draft for Egypt’s new constitution, I couldn’t help thinking: Was this a draft constitution or an announcement of principles of some specific political party? With all due respect to the Constituent Assembly members who wrote the draft; their mix of seculars and Islamists was more like Okaz market. Okaz was among the largest open markets during the pre-Islamic era in the Hijaz (modern-day Saudi Arabia), and was famous as a forum for speakers and poets.  
The relations—and conflicts—between all the persons and movements represented in the assembly finally generated the product named “the draft constitution”. The situation strongly brings to mind the fable of the blind men and the elephant, where each blind person ‘sees’ the elephant only as the part he is able to hold. None of them could imagine that the elephant’s body was much larger and more diverse than what his hand alone could hold. 
In the draft constitution, Article 3 reads: “The principles of the Christian and Jewish doctrines are the main source of legislations for their personal status laws, the practice of their religious rites, and the selection of their spiritual leaders”. 
Article 4, states: “Al-Azhar is an independent institution; its domain is the Islamic nation and the whole world. It is responsible for spreading the Islamic call and the religious sciences. The State ensures all the sufficient financial allocations for the achievement of its objectives and the selection of the Grand Imam of al-Azhar is governed by the relevant law. One version of the draft constitution says that he cannot be deposed, while another says he can be deposed by the council of al-Azhar senior scholars. The council of al-Azhar senior scholars is consulted, according to the relevant law, on issues relating to Islamic sharia. 
Article 221 states: “The principles of Islamic sharia constitutes its comprehensive sources (the Qur’an, the Prophet’s Sunna) and their fundamental bases and recognised sources among the Sunnis and the Muslim assembly”. 
These three articles leave one under the impression that the draft constitution is for a religious State in the era of Ottoman Caliphate. 
Article 30, on the other hand, reads: “Citizens are equal before the law. They are equal in public rights and duties with no discrimination based on gender, origin, language, religion, creed, opinion, social status or disability”, and gives an impression that the constitution concerns a democratic, civil State. 
Several articles in the draft constitution totally contradict one another. Some 50 per cent of the articles concerned with freedoms include the clause “inasmuch as it does not contradict the sharia of Allah”. This clause undermines Article 30 which states that all citizens are equal before law. 
I believe that Article 3 should read “The principles of non-Muslims doctrines” instead of “The principles of Christians and Jew” so as to secure the rights of all minorities in Egypt, such as the Shi##a and Baha’is.
The Church representatives in the Constituent Assembly appeared to be unaware of the snare embedded in Article 221 which gives a very wide-reaching definition to Islamic sharia to ensure its dominion. This means that article 3, which states that the principles of Christian and Jewish doctrines are the main source of legislation governing their respective family laws and religious leaders, is applicable only as regards their religious life. Outside their churches or synagogues, they are citizens in a religious Islamic State that has its own family laws which might very well be applied to them. 
Article 4 has been already rejected by al-Azhar, even though it had been accepted by the Church. I ask al-Azhar to omit this article because it will lead to struggles inside al-Azhar that will turn it into another Expediency Discernment Council of the System as in Iran. 
I believe the various parties of the Constituent Assembly were a group of conflicting, frightened persons who worked in a climate not conducive to the production of a constitution, whether religious or civil.  The Churches of Egypt did well to finally withdraw from the assembly.
Watani International
17 November 2012

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