Source: US Today
Islamic law will be part of the new Egypt. The question is, how strict will it be?

Portions of the draft constitution revealed in recent days have caused worry among women and religious minorities that the text may restrict their rights and behavior. Yet Egyptians who desire adherence to the seventh-century laws of the Muslim prophet Mohammed are not pleased.

Liberals say the revolution is being hijacked, and debate on the document in the media and the streets is growing increasingly tense.

"Sharia is a style of life – an Islamic style of life," said Amina Wasfy, a pathologist from Heliopolis who stood among a bevy of women in face veils and flowing robes in Tahrir Square on Friday. "We want sharia to be strict in the new constitution."

A 100-member committee continues to craft the document, hoping to have it finished before the end of the year. It then is to be put to a public referendum.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which dominated parliamentary elections that followed the ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, supports language that bases the constitution on the principles of Islam. Salafists, who believe in a Muslim theocracy, say the main function of a new Egyptian government should be to interpret Islamic law, known as sharia, and enforce it upon the nation.

"Political Islamists see this country as a mainly Muslim country with a predominantly Muslim and conservative majority," said Mazen Hassan, a political science lecturer at Cairo University. "Deep down, this is a conflict regarding the identity of the country."

Civic freedoms, independence of the judiciary and presidential powers are among the issues to be sorted out by the draft constitution. Among the most hotly contested portions of the draft is Article 2, which states that laws are to be based on sharia "principles," wording that is supported by liberals and no different from Egypt's 1971 constitution.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which did not participate in Friday's rally for sharia, said in a statement that a separate article explaining the principles would be added. Those principles include "instructions, rules and commandments specifically mentioned in the Quran and in the authenticated traditions of the prophet," as well as jurisprudence accepted by Sunni scholars, the statement said.

Liberals worry that the final document could mean curtailment of women's rights, freedom of speech and expression.

"All these things can be lost with the new constitution," said Mohamed Abou El-Ghar, president of the liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party who was a member of the first drafting committee before it was dissolved this year. "We consider (the constitution) a matter of life and death," he said.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis dominate the drafting committee, which includes only eight women. Egypt's new Coptic Christian pope, Tawadros II, said this month that he would reject a draft constitution that seeks to impose a religious state.

Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic weekly newspaper Watani, said Coptic Christians, about 10% of the population, are not alone in their concerns. Attempts to increase the role of sharia in the constitution are "raising strong concerns on behalf of women, Copts, moderate Muslims, who stand together in confronting political Islam," he said.

Women's rights activists, who embrace Western expectations of equality, are upset about how their priorities are faring in post-revolution Egypt.

"If we have an article in the constitution that is very clear, it won't allow us to be (open to various interpretations) later on," said Dina Hassein, a member of the National Council for Women, concerned that a lack of clear language could open doors for restrictive policies for women.

In Tunisia – also in the process of completing a constitution nearly two years after sparking the Arab Spring – women have succeeded in thwarting wording they said threatened their status in a draft of the document.

"So far, all attempts to challenge the achievements of women saw a strong outcry," said Ikram Ben Said, president of the Tunisian association Voices of Women.

Supporters of sharia continue to press their cause.

"There is a concern over the medium and the long term that (regressive) ideas based on narrow readings of religious writings be imported and reintroduced in our society," she said.

In Egypt, Hassan said the key to a successful conclusion of the debate over the constitution will be learning how to concede.

"The way out is for our elite in both camps to learn to compromise," Hassan said. "This is the learning curve we have to go through, and without it, polarization will go on for a while."


Go to top