Liberal and secular members have resigned from the Islamist-dominated assembly drafting Egypt’s new constitution, arguing that they were denied the opportunity to contribute to its framing and their suggestions were routinely ignored.
“There is an insistence to give society an authority that allows any group or individuals to assault people in the street under the excuse of protecting morals or religion,” they said in a statement.
The episode is likely to enhance concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, are embarked on what analyst Amr Hamzawy calls a “clear trend toward establishing a one-party autocracy.”
The group is “invading” state institutions, said Hamzawy (right), founder of the Free Egypt Party.
“It is a situation which is alarming and undermines the potential for sustained democratic transition,” he said. “We are seeing a party, a movement, taking over the state apparatus, and, in doing so, the potential viable emergence of an opposition is being undermined,” he told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Things can’t go on like this,” said Amr Moussa, former secretary-general of the Arab League and among those who withdrew. “The constitution should be for all of Egypt, not just for a group or a particular party. We see that it is flawed, but there is still a possibility of fixing the problems.”
The walkout was prompted by the most contentious of the proposed constitutional articles which was inserted at the insistence of Salafis, hard line Islamists who want the charter to lay the ground for a speedy and literal implementation of their interpretation of Islamic law.
Although previous Egyptian constitutions have stipulated that the “principles” of sharia (Islamic law) were the “main source” of legislation, the new article attempts to define the word “principles” in a way which critics say could usher in more religion in governance and open the way for ultraconservatives to push for their own particular interpretations of Islamic law.
“We reached a dead end,” said Wahid Abdel Meguid, one of the liberals who withdrew. “We objected to concepts which [reflect] Taliban or Wahhabi [thinking].
The liberals’ withdrawal follows the earlier departure of Coptic members of the , including analyst Samir Morcos and Edward Ghalib, deputy chairman of the Freedoms Committee, who resigned claiming that “the body is moving on the road to writing a constitution for an Islamist state rather than for a national-unity state.”
The draft constitution”clearly puts Egypt on the road of becoming a religious state,” Ghalib told Ahram Online.
“This is quite obvious in the fact that under the pressure exerted by the Salafists [ultraconservative Islamists], article 220 was added [to the draft constitution] to offer a radical interpretation of the principles of Islamic Sharia (law),” explained Ghalib.
“Passing the constitution in its current form is a loss to everyone, we can’t be part of this constitution,” said Moussa, adding that differences were on “basic” articles.
“We were deprived of discussing articles which is the main task of the assembly,” the former presidential candidate added, criticizing the assembly’s “rush” to finish.
Liberals, who include people behind the uprising that toppled Mubarak as well as figures who
The draft constitution gives unchecked powers to the president, said Hamzawy, a prominent analyst and activist. It also dilutes the powers of parliamentary oversight, ignores Egypt’s commitments to international human rights conventions and relies on fundamentalist interpretations of Islamic law that will curb the rights of women, Christians and other minorities, he said.
“The process is in a crisis,” he said, adding that liberal and secular groups plan to draft an alternative constitution.
“We do believe that the parallel draft constitution that we will put forward does reflect a wider national consensus; and it does not, in any way, threaten or challenge the Islamic identity of Egypt,” Hamzawy said.
Liberal and secular activists remain resentful that the Islamists have hijacked the revolution, subverting the democratic transition for their own sectarian and illiberal ends.
“The ultimate beneficiary was the Muslim Brotherhood primarily, the Salafis secondarily, and the young revolutionaries came out nearly empty handed,” said prominent sociologist and political analyst Saad El Din Ibrahim.“They marshaled and manipulated every event that happened. The Muslim Brotherhood ended up collecting all the fruits.”
It’s not only the Brotherhood and not only in Egypt that Islamists groups are “crudely manipulating” Sharia for political ends, says a leading analyst.
“Historically, the implementation of Sharia was not imposed from above, as the Salafis would have us think. The political and cultural concerns of society were reflected into Sharia, and the latter remained sensitive to the general needs of the population,” writes Khalil Al-Anani:
This is why Muslim scholars came up with the brilliant idea of defining the “goals of Sharia” (maqased al-sharia), a set of objectives that was not in dispute by the general public. The “goals of Sharia” grew into a major branch of Islamic studies, leaving us with a rich tradition of innovative ideas on matters of public interest. According to Islamist scholars, the five main goals of Sharia were the protection of: religion; self; mind; life; and property.
The Salafis have no time for any of that. What interests them is how to turn Sharia into a monolithic and abstract concept to wield like a baton against their opponents. Thus, the fact that Sharia is a malleable body of guiding principles escapes their notice.
But Georgetown University analyst Jonathan Brown is confident that “slightly more inclusion of Sharia will not change the legal, and certainly lifestyle, characteristics of the Egypt we know today.”
Egyptians demonstrated at the polls that they want a more Islamic government, he told a forum at the Middle East Institute.
George Washington University’s Nathan Brown said the overall civility of Egyptian politics has been good thus far, the Project for Middle East Democracy reports, but the Brotherhood has no mechanism for engaging in meaningful dialogue with outside parties.
Egypt is a fundamentally freer and more pluralistic society than it was two years ago, he said, but warned, that “five years from now, Egypt could be the ‘wrong Turkish model’ which is dominated by one political party.”
NGOs and civil society emerged from the revolution with more credibility, said Nancy Okail, Freedom House’s Egypt director. But the Brotherhood-appointed foreign minister was seeking to undermine civil society groups which perform a vital role in holding governments accountable.
POMED is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.