Below is a translation of the enclosed (Arabic) statement cosigned by 44 political parties and associations and 253 Egyptian individuals (*)
We, the signatories to this statement, follow with deep concern the discussions taking place in the Constituent Assembly of the Constitution, concerning articles dealing with the rights and freedoms of thought and belief. Such discussions prove that the political forces which withdrew from that assembly were right to do so, in view of the hegemony exercised by political Islam and the fact that the assembly did not represent all components of the Egyptian people and its political and social groups.
Issues of concern include:
1 - Recommendation to state in Article I of the Constitution that Egypt is a “consultative democratic” state, thus adding a suspicious and mysterious term, which would pave the way for mechanisms such as councils of religious clerics that exist in theocratic authoritarian regimes, and which differs radically from the established institutions of modern democracy. Instead, we call for stating that Egypt is “a democratic civil state based on equality and justice between all citizens.”
2 - Trying to amend Article II of the 1971 Constitution on the “principles of Islamic Sharia,” either by deleting the term “principles,” or by stating that [Sharia-based] “rulings” rather than “principles” are the main source of legislation. Such a dangerous amendment will open the door for a maze of [religious] interpretations and further “theocratize” the entire state. Indeed, it would codify the domination of a particular religious group [Sunni Muslims] on the Egyptian people, who belong to various religions, denominations and beliefs. Instead, we call for the text to state that “the overall principles of Islamic Sharia are a main source of legislation.”
3 - Recommendation that Al-Azhar be the reference for the interpretation of the principles of Sharia (rather than the Supreme Constitutional Court). Again, this would represent a very dangerous step on the road to tightening the loop of theocratizing the state and its system. Indeed it is a mere implementation of the Muslim Brotherhood’s program, issued in 2007, regarding the establishment of a body of senior scholars (adopting the Muslim Brotherhood ideology) whose role would be to monitor the activity of the parliament; a mere clone of Iran’s Expediency Council, composed of Ayatollahs and other religious scholars.
4 - Recommendation that Article II states that the “followers of non-Muslim, monotheistic religions may resort to their own religious provisions in matters of personal status, rituals, the selection of religious leaders and their religious affairs.” This add-on may seem like an attempt to reassure minorities, while in fact it is a mere exchange to accept more Islamization of the constitution, while it would not protect the minorities from the possible application of “Hudud” [Sharia punishments]. In fact, the personal-status laws are already derived from the religious provisions for various denominations. Furthermore, this amendment, which goes even farther away from a hoped-for civil personal status for all citizens, does not take into account the existence of citizens who follow beliefs other than the monotheistic religions. They have the right, and it is also in the society’s interest, that the state organizes their personal status.
5 - Recommendation to state that “the sovereignty is for Allah” rather than the people. This phrase, which plays on religious sentiments, takes Egypt back into the Middle Ages and undermines the foundations of the modern state by codifying the principle of theocracy. It further opens the door to huge problems in constitutional litigation, and the issuing and repeal of laws according to religious interpretations, let alone succumbing to blackmail by the “spokesmen of divine sovereignty.”
6 - Stepping back from the text of Article 46 of the 1971 Constitution (“the state guarantees freedom of belief and freedom to practice religious rites”), to be restricted to the followers of monotheistic religions, which would represent a constitutional provision to persecute some citizens and deprive them of their civil rights enshrined in previous constitutions and in international conventions.
In addition to the above, we:
- Reject the allegations propagated by extremist currents that the concept of “civil (secular) state” is anti-religious or that it interests only the affluent minority. Such false discourse misleads the people, because, as the human experience teaches us, a state which is based on fair laws and respects human rights, is not hostile to religion, and is in the interest of the poor and the rich alike.
- See the need for a constitutional text that international human rights charters, conventions and treaties become an integral part of the legislative and legal system with regard to the rights and freedoms. Countries previously liberated from the grip of tyranny, such as South Africa after disposal of the apartheid regime, have adopted such an approach.
- Demand the addition of an article to explicitly prohibit and criminalize discrimination based on belief, race, sex, social origin, etc., and enable citizens to resort to the law to address discrimination in all its forms.
Finally, we stress once again that a constitution must be a consensual document and a social contract which lays the foundations for coexistence between citizens, individuals and components of the national community, according to global standards as set by the cumulative human experience, without force or monopoly from anyone.
(*) The statement was jointly written by Mohamed Mounir Megahed, coordinator of Masryoun Against Religious Discrimination (MARED) and Adel Guindy, of Coptic Solidarity.