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Column: Egypt’s constitution: A religious battleground

Bell Johnson

Nov. 9, 2012

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

All it took were three words made up of 11 letters, and a promise was created for a brighter future.

“We the people” is a phrase familiar to everyone in the U.S. and the world. The Preamble to the Constitution marks the beginning of a vital document to our nation’s past, present and future. A past, present and future created by and for the people. It is what makes this country so special — our democratic values and representation of all citizens is known worldwide and has become a model for countless other nations.

Yet not every nation succeeds.

After surviving 60 years of military dictatorship, the Arab Spring, Arab Fall and the election of a new president, Egypt has begun the process of creating and establishing a new constitution — a constitution hoping to unite all Egyptians and find peace. So far, they’re not off to a great start.

With a government dominated by the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and their candidate Mohamad Morsi as the new president, the road to constitutional success has been fraught with speed bumps.

That being said, Egypt’s democracy remains in limbo. Earlier in the year, the original constitution-drafting board was disputed, parliament was dissolved and a different 100-person constituent assembly was selected. Because of these changes, Egypt’s hope at drafting a constitution before the year remains bleak. Factor in the challenge of the composition of the new constituent assembly being primarily Islamist, and their end-of-the-year deadline for ratifying their tight agenda remains problematic.

Creating a constituent assembly may seem taxing, but the crafting of an original draft is even more disagreeable. Instead of showing innovative leadership, the assembly has used the basic framework of the old dictatorial constitution and rehashed it, providing Egypt with almost no new ideas.

Nevertheless, Egypt has adapted a first draft — though complaints and grievances continue to challenge it.

Fear from secularist and non-Muslim citizens centers on the domination of the Muslim brotherhood in power. So far the draft states that citizens will be subjected to Islamic law. Non-Muslims are concerned that the wording containing sharia is the main source of law; meanwhile, intransigent Muslims want a clear definition of Sharia as the law.

Why impose a religious constitution on an entire country when not all of Egypt’s citizens practice a uniform religion? Egypt has the largest Christian population in the Middle East. In a nation of 85 million people, 5 to 15 million are non-Muslims.

Journalists and feminists are disgruntled by the draft. Though the draft does contain some sections granting a scope of freedoms, other sections limit women’s rights, freedom of speech and freedom of worship, which undermine the proposed freedoms. Egypt is determined in adopting a new constitution and making it work, but the road they are traveling on right now doesn’t seem like the best route.

Morsi needs to appoint a more legal-minded assembly to draft a constitution that isn’t bogged down by religious questions and ethnic identity; rather, the assembly should focus on establishing the basic framework: electoral procedure, redistribution of power from the center to the other branches of government and checks and balances for the three branches. Once the foundation is laid, Egypt can begin to address the concerns of mixing ideologies. Right now, Egypt is trying to draft a religious constitution using Islam as the framework. Instead, the constitution must lay a democratic framework and then address the religious questions and concerns later.

With 85 million people facing economic, social and political difficulties, Egypt’s adoption of a successful, democratic constitution would become a model for the entire Arab world. By not imposing religion on their citizens, Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood could shepherd their nation into a modern democracy.

After the struggle, the citizens endured during the Arab Spring and Arab Fall, it would be incredible if Egypt were to begin an era of peace and dialogue. However, there are many conflicting interests and religious ideologies at play for this to happen soon.

For the time being, the drafters will continue to wrestle with new drafts. But, as the saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” After all, it took our nation 3 1/2 months to draft the Constitution and then another 27 amendments to get to where we are today.

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Article comments

Nov. 9, 2012 at 9:02 a.m.

Arafat: “Islam is a religion only to the extent that a wolf in sheep's clothing is a sheep." Anonymous

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