North Africa, West Asia

Observations on the identity amendments to the Egyptian constitution

Right now, we must seek to overcome this tough historic moment without burdening Egyptians with a battle of no winners at all.

Nader Bakkar
9 November 2013

The articles touching on identity in Egypt’s constitution are among the concerns that have gone ‘viral’ among the Egyptian people, especially now that the Constitutional Assembly has almost completed its task.  

My opinion in this regard has not changed. I still insist that these identity clauses are like a mirror that must reflect the current state of society, where it is just not possible to impose upon people or fake an identity in any culturally mature society.

The Al Nour Party is an integral part of the Constitutional Assembly, and stands for preserving a clear reference to Islamic Shari`a in the constitution, in the same way that this was spelt out in the original text of the constitution that was passed by 64% in a transparent and fair referendum. This stand is based on two factors: the first is the Islamist identity of the party which it is claimed is that of the sweeping majority of Egyptians; the second is to preserve the democratic gains of the Egyptians through the two long years after the revolution.

As for the Islamic reference itself - we believe that this is not the exclusive preserve of any particular political faction and we have never tried to appropriate  it for ourselves. One proof of this, besides the results of the previous referendum on the constitution that included Article 219 (now a matter of bitter dispute), is that Al Azhar (the official, recognized authority on Islamic reference in Egypt) and the military institution were part of the previous constitutional assembly till the very end of its era. They even participated in the ceremony of handing over the constitution to the president so that he might call for a national referendum.  

Moreover, there was a signed agreement between the Al Nour Party, Al Azhar and the Coptic Church with the rest of the political factions as witnesses. This agreement also included Article 219, that explains the principles of Islamic Shari`a as well as the third article that introduced, for the first time in Egyptian constitutional history, the right of Christians and Jews to go on trial according to their own religious laws. I wish to bear witness to this undertaking as an elected member of the previous constitutional assembly.  

When the Al Nour Party took part in the road map of July 3, it asserted to the others (General Al Sisi, Dr. Al Baradei representing the secular current, Sheikh of Al Azhar and the Pope) that the Islamic identity should remain a settled matter away from the adjustments of ousting an elected president against whom people had revolted, due to the political failures of his government. The Al Nour party also maintained and maintains that it does not seek political gain so much as a way out of the political turmoil that allows Egyptians to resume their democratic path and correct the catastrophic mistakes of the Muslim Brotherhood (mistakes only consolidated when the latter party refused all the positions offered it in the interim government). Back then in July, all those in attendance agreed to that.

Right now, we must seek to overcome this tough historic moment without burdening Egyptians with a battle of no winners at all. Surprisingly, the Islamist-liberal political conflict has little social base of any significance compared to the way it exists among political elites. With regard to political definitions, the Egyptian people are still classified as conservative and pious. Signs of religiosity still dominate all social levels, and many of the pious and conservative families also took to the streets in June 30 against the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.  

This refutes two prominent readings of our current situation; the first is the Muslim Brotherhood’s claim that June 30 was against Islam itself; and the second is the secular elite’s claim that the constitution that was passed does not represent the identity of the majority of the people, and that it must be rejected on the grounds that it would lead to fascism.  

As for the Muslim Brotherhood, they have chosen to support a wrecking manouevre flat-out in the situation post June 30. They have sought to deflect and exhaust the energy of the interim government by continuous demonstrations and sit-ins in varied locations as a tactic aimed at scotching Egyptians’ hopes of any stability after Morsi. Al Jazeera supports them by doing everything it can to engender that hopelessness in both Egyptian and foreign audiences. On an international level, the Muslim Brotherhood is disrupting all diplomatic efforts to market the transition period, seeking instead to make this seem like a military coup.    

The secular elite have failed over a hundred days to prove its ability to satisfy people’s aspirations. It has fallen into the Muslim Brotherhood trap so naively, while failing to offer real solutions for the economic crises for which it took Morsi’s regime to task. It has also proved unable to hide its tendency to exclude and its own lack of tolerance for everything except one ideological stance and one opinion.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData