Washington, D.C. (July 30, 2012) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that hundreds of Christians will protest outside Egypt’s constitutional court today, demanding the dissolution of an Islamist-dominated assembly tasked with writing the country’s new constitution. The assembly, appointed by a parliament that was dissolved by the military on June 14, has proposed a constitution that will adhere to the “principles of Islamic Sharia [as] the main source for legislation.”
On July 30, Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) is expected to decide whether or not the Constituent Assembly, a body tasked with drafting Egypt's new constitution, is legal. The current 100-member assembly is led by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. If the court dissolves the assembly, the military will be granted authority to create a new panel to write the document, making it less likely that Egypt’s constitution will be centered on Islamic law.
In early July, the Constituent Assembly proposed an article which states that Egypt’s legislation is based on the “principles” of Sharia. According to Mohamed Emara, a head of the assembly, Article 2 states that, “Islam is the religion of the state, and Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source for legislation.”
“There is some ambiguity here as to whether Egypt would thus be a Sharia state,” said Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in Herzliya, Israel. “On one hand, Islamic law is not made the sole source of legislation, while the word ‘principles’ might mean that the interpretation will be loose…. On the other hand, though, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis accepted this formulation. Since they want a Sharia state this implies they don’t feel that phrasing blocks their goal. Moreover, the meaning of those ‘principles’ will be defined not by the courts but by the al-Azhar mosque university.”
Following demonstrations on Friday at St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in the Abbassia District in Cairo, the Maspero Youth Union, a political movement created to defend the rights of Coptic Christians, is calling for renewed protests on Monday demanding that church representatives withdraw from the Constituent Assembly “after [the assembly’s] failure to preserve constitutional articles [by] allowing Egypt to be turned into a religious state,” according to the group’s statement. Protestors are also urging the SAC to dissolve the Constituent Assembly and to reject the proposed constitution, which they view as the beginning of the Islamization of Egypt.
“The stipulation ‘sovereignty is for God’ in the draft constitution to replace the current ‘sovereignty is for the people,’ plays on religious sentiment,” a member of the Maspero Youth Union told Daily News Egypt. “It takes Egypt back to the Middle Ages, shatters the basis of a modern state, legalizes theocracy, and opens the door for countless legal problems, let alone blackmail by opportunists who feign religiosity.”
Meanwhile, Salafi political parties—who made up 25 percent of the dissolved parliament and follow the radical Wahhabi interpretation of Islam found in Saudi Arabia—are insisting that Sharia be the sole source of legislation. In their first few months in parliament, Salafi lawmakers sought to remove a woman’s right to divorce her husband and to toughen blasphemy laws by enacting stronger punishments for insulting Islam.
“I am afraid of leaving the constitution in the hands of people who think in this way,” Shahata Mohamed Shahata, a lawyer fiercely opposed to Islamist rule, told Reuters.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “The ‘Arab Spring’, which many of Egypt’s Christians and secularists believed would grant greater freedoms, has instead given rise to Islamists that do not recognize the rights of religious minorities. Although the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly will threaten the very fabric of Egypt’s revolution by giving the military—rather than a democratically elected assembly—the authority to write the country’s constitution, this is exactly what many Christians are hoping for. If the military and the constitutional court do not intervene, then Islamic law will become the basis of the country’s legislation. Under a Sharia state, attacks on churches and the killing of Christians will continue to increase. Additionally, Christians and secularists who are viewed as a threat to the Islamist-dominated government will routinely be charged with blasphemy or ‘insulting Islam’ and thrown in prison. The remaining freedoms that Christians and other religious minorities still have in Egypt will be completely taken from them.”