Cairo: The Egyptian assembly has at last reached on consensus about drafting a new constitution for the country with space for more Islamic laws after months of fierce debate but the issue is likely to be focal point of country’s politics.
The compromise would allow Islam to be more deeply penetrate into the legislative and judicial process by elaborating new guidelines to interpret “the principles of Islamic law” that the old constitution had recognized, at least nominally, as the main source of Egyptian legislation.
But the new constitution would also leave the final authority to apply those principles with the elected Parliament and civil courts, making the long-term consequences hard to foresee. Little is expected to change under the current courts and Parliament — dominated by Islamists who mostly favor a relatively flexible or gradual approach to adopting Islamic law — but the potential long-term consequences are already a subject of hot debate.
If Salafis, who currently hold about a quarter of the seats in Parliament, gain more influence in the legislature and eventually the courts, they can impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law. If Islamists gain more power across the Parliament, courts and religious institutions, “I would see a real possibility for evolutionary change,” said Nathan J. Brown, an expert on Egyptian law at George Washington University.
“The more interpretation, the better off we are,” said Manar el-Shorbagy, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo and a liberal delegate who signed the deal.
“You are no longer putting everything under one interpretation — the Salafis’ or whoever else,” he added.
Although many Muslim-majority countries acknowledge Islam in their charters, Egypt would become the first Arab state to seek to meld democracy with the principles of Islamic law, or Shariah. The full terms of the deal have not been released, but several liberals and Islamists involved in the negotiations described its details. Delegates on both sides called the deal a victory. Younis Makhyoun, a Salafi leader in the constitutional assembly who signed the deal, argued that it would “prevent random people from coming up with new schools of thought and claiming they’re part of Shariah.”
But outside the assembly, many on both sides denounced the deal as a sellout. On Friday, thousands of Salafis filled Tahrir Square to protest that the drafts did not go far enough.
The old Constitution had recognized the “principles of Islamic law” after a 1980 revision, although its texts hardly mattered under the old secular autocracy.
The ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year set off a call for Islamic law but also a debate over what it should mean, with new Islamist parties ranging from ultraconservative to openly liberal.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has dominated the elections since the uprising, argues that Shariah only “polishes morals, through persuasion and education, with no coercion whatsoever” as the group’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, said last week in a statement supporting the deal. “Shariah totally rejects the concept of a theocracy,” he said.
The agreement stipulates that in personal matters Christians and Jews are free to follow their own religious teachings. And it provides that on questions related to Islamic law, the Parliament or the courts can seek the nonbinding advice of scholars at Al Azhar, the learning center of Sunni Muslims.