Will Egypt Degenerate into a Theocracy?

Hiram Crespo


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Egypt in 2011 had a revolution where people died on the streets thirsty for freedom and furious against tyranny.  Now, as the dust is settling, the draft of a new constitution seems to have been hastily voted on by a slim majority that re-establishes shari’a as the basis of Egyptian law and gives what many consider too much power to clerics from Al-Azhar University, to the president and the military.

The process was so lacking in transparency that liberals, Christians and secularists walked out in protest at one point, leaving mainly members of the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of the contents of the new constitution and increasing the polarization between secular and Islamist forces.

A recent article in The Economist, entitled “The Founding Brothers,” states that the new constitution would give a lot of power to the Muslim Brotherhood and in turn, Egypt would be similar to the days of Hosni Mubarak. The article discussed how one particular part of the constitution draft says that although freedom of religion is allowed, punishment would be given to those who ever insult the prophets. The Economist states that aspects such as these in the constitution draft were “vague or contradictory.”

Among its provisions, the constitution gives the military the dubious right to arrest and subject to trial citizens independent of the judiciary, a clause that made many international defenders of human rights cringe.  It reminded many of the recent arrest of 52 men on the Queen boat for the imaginary crime of homosexuality and the harassment and torture by the military that, according to Amnesty International, gay men had been facing for years.  The so-called “Cairo 52” were accused of “habitual debauchery” and some were charged with the crime of “defaming Islam.”

We may glean an indication of how unsophisticated the military’s judicial and legal rationale can be, particularly when informed by shari’a ideology, from the example of BBC reports in 2002 that the Cairo men were ordered to take down their pants by the military to verify whether they were wearing typical Egyptian underwear.  This was the test that proved whether or not they were homosexual.

During the vote, the city of Alexandria witnessed violent protests, particularly aimed at women as they protested a polling station where they were being prevented from voting because they weren’t veiled.

Another group that stands to suffer are the Baha’i.  Not only is the new constitution based on shari’a, but it also limits religious liberty to the so-called “heavenly religions” of Islam, Christianity and Judaism: Article 37 grants the right to build a house of worship only to these three religions. As such, Baha’is and members of any other religious tradition would find themselves second-class citizens just as they were under Mubarak, when they were denied the right to carry a national ID card for refusal to identify as either Christian or Muslim.  Without this card, they were unable to enjoy basic social services and rights in Egyptian society. The new constitution clearly indicates that religious discrimination will continue even as it supposedly guarantees religious liberty.

If the Muslim Brotherhood has its way and the new constitution is formally adopted as it is, many who are concerned about nurturing the seeds of the democratic revolution feel that nothing will have changed in Egypt and the blood of its martyrs will have been spilled in vain.