One year on the revolution…
Granted, anniversaries call for celebration. But more importantly, they are good opportunities
One year on the revolution…
Granted, anniversaries call for celebration. But more importantly, they are good opportunities for soul searching and self-assessment. The 25 January 2011 Revolution in Egypt is no exception.
So much has happened in Egypt since revolutionary winds swept over the country last January, and the majority of Egyptians today seriously ask if we are any closer to real democracy. A recent seminar held in Port Said by the Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Services under the title “The challenges facing democratic transition in Egypt” discussed just that. The seminar was widely attended by politicians, rights activists, intellectuals, and the public.
From hope to pain
Among the main speakers was Sheikh Mohamed Ashour, the former deputy to the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the world topmost scholarly seat of Sunni Islam. “For 18 days during the first wave of the revolution in Tahrir Square,” Sheikh Ashour said, “Egypt lived a unique union between its Christians and Muslims. They worked as one body to rid the country of a regime they saw as corrupt. As soon as Mubarak stepped down, however, events took a different turn. Egypt witnessed an unprecedented rise in hardline Islamist streams. Vicious attacks against Copts took place in Soul, Etfeeh and in Imbaba and Maspero, Cairo. No culprits were brought to justice, and the official story went that some anonymous ‘third party’ was manipulating events in Egypt with the aim of ruining the country.”
“The Salafis,” Sheikh Ashour reminded, “who had before the revolution, insisted that protesting against the ruler was tantamount to sin, jumped on the bandwagon of the youthful revolution, then took to accusing anyone who disagreed with them of being apostate. They issued fatwas of an extremist nature that had nothing to do with proper Islamic teachings, and the Egyptian community became splintered into different extremist religious factions.”
Today, Sheikh Ashour pointed out, we are before a Salafi faction that has self-appointed itself vice police, taking on the name given to the famous Saudi vice police. Egypt will stand up to such exploiters of religion, he insisted.
“The revolution which started off as a hope has turned into a national pain,” he said.
The real struggle of the people
“The hardline Islamists’ exaggerated focus on issues such as banning alcohol or women wearing swimwear comes at a time when Egypt suffers from towering economic problems that make everyday life a challenge,” Sheikh Ashour said. “If anything, this reflects how out-of-touch the hardliners are from the real suffering of the people, many of whom struggle to get a loaf of bread.
“Al-Azhar, which has throughout its 1050-year-long history, been the stronghold of moderate Islam,” he said, “has to shoulder the responsibility of rectifying the fundamentalist religious address.”
In the wake of the July 1952 Revolution, Sheikh Ashour reminded, both al-Azhar’s role and budget were curtailed, after it was decided to convert the Islamic world’s beacon into a modern academic university. With this decision, he said, al-Azhar no longer produced venerated preachers yet never produced exceptional physicians or engineers instead.
“The only way for Egypt to confront the hardline streams that seek to splinter its community is to rally under one religious address that unites rather than dissipates, and that would respect the ‘other’ including women and Copts,” concluded Sheikh Ashour.
Mohamed Nour Farahat, a lawyer and member of the 30-member Advisory Board which was formed to council the ruling Military Council, said that Egypt slipped deep into the sectarian abyss following last March’s referendum on constitutional amendments, which were formulated by a predominantly Islamic committee. The referendum was exploited religiously, as was the electioneering for the parliamentary elections. The Islamists’ sweeping victory in both the March referendum and the parliamentary elections indicates they would dominate the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution.
“Mansour Hassan, head of the advisory council,” Mr Farahat said, “told me that these streams are trying to topple the supremacy of the people and the constitution, this is why we should formulate supra-constitutional principles, in order to protect the nation.”
The recent proposition by the Muslim Brotherhood to substitute ‘fundamentals’ of Islamic sharia in Article 2 of the previous constitution for ‘principles’ of Islamic sharia as the main source of legislation gives rise to discomfort, Mr Farahat said. He said those fundamentals are not applicable to the normally moderate-minded Egyptian community; the fundamentals of sharia were instated in another era, another community, and a situation that is historically different from now.
Mr Farahat demanded for al-Azhar to be the only source of reference to determine what rules comply with sharia. “Al-Azhar is a moderate institution,” he said, “and should remain thus.”
Stronghold of moderate Islam
The participants in the seminar asked Sheikh Ashour whether it would help if the currently prevalent hardline religious address should be revised. Sheikh Ashour heatedly replied: “What ‘religious address’?” Any religious address, he insisted, should be solely based on the Qur’an and the sunna (the life of the Prophet Muhammad), the fundamentals of which warrant no revision. The required revision, he said, should concern the preachers and the approach they adopt, in order for the religious address to be adequate for the time and place it is to be applied in.