Post-Mubarak Era Public Debates over Sharia in the Constitution

Following the 2011 ouster of Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) appointed a Committee to amend the Constitution. The Committee has been chaired by Tarek Al-Beshry, a prominent Muslim intellectual and former jurist. Al-Beshry publicly supported the maintenance of Article 2 declaring Sharia the main source of legislation. Although his position as committee chair raised some objections from secular and Coptic voices, he is generally well regarded as a moderate and respected voice. As discussed below, public intellectuals who support the maintenance of Article 2 untouched range from prominent Muslim Brotherhood members to Salafist scholars. Those who oppose Article 2 on secular-liberal grounds charge that the law is discriminatory nature, neglects the presence of religious minorities, and opens the door for discrimination in courts.

The official position of the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar is that Article 2 is one of the pillars of the state and nation, and that talk of changing the article raises sectarian tensions, and sectarian tensions are threatening to freedom and democracy. During the 2007debate on constitutional amendments, Pope Shenouda III, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, had dismissed the official spokesman of the church, Anba Morqos, for having suggested the abolition of Article 2, and he advised Copts not to demand for the removal of Article 2 to avoid raising sectarian tensions. Again, in March of 2011 Pope Shenouda reiterated his position, suggesting that Article 2 be expanded to consider non-Muslims; he stated: “I believe that at the current stage, it is difficult to oppose this article, especially for Christians. As a compromise I suggest the following, if it is essential to keep it, we may add a sentence ‘as for non-Muslims, the commandments of their religion shall apply in personal statute and clergy matters.’”

Potential presidential candidate Mohamed El-Baradei publically supports the maintenance of Article 2 as does Ahmed Kamal Abul Magd, former Minister of Youth and the Minister of Information as well as the deputy Chair of the Egyptian Council for Human Rights. Some voices supporting the maintenance of Article 2 are adamant and even inflammatory in their rhetoric. For example, in an interview on Al-Rahma Channel, Salafi scholar Muhammad Hussein Yacoub cautioned against altering the article.He noted that no young Muslim will accept any harm to Islam–thus equating “harm to Islam” with the amendment of this article. He concedes that it was possible to apply non-Muslim law for adjudicating among non-Muslims.
A number of Coptic and secular voices supported an amendment of Article 2. For example, Michael Mounir, president of the U.S. Copts Association, said that Article 2 is discriminatory. In a number of TV appearances, Prominent Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris criticized Article 2 for institutionalizing sectarianism. Also supporting an amendment of Article 2 was Ahmed Sobhy Mansour, the leading figure of the Quranists, a group calling for a secular democratic state, led by which has garnered harsh criticisms from mainstream Sunni Muslim scholars and harassment by security services.

The social networking site Facebook is one arena where supporters and opponents of Article 2 have coalesced in the thousands (membership figures from March 2011):

Those advocating for no changes to Article 2 include:

  • “Hemayet Madet El-Sharia Al-Eslameyya fe Al-Dostour Al-Masry” (Protecting the Islamic Sharia Article in the Egyptian Constitution) –61,948 members
  • “La le-Tagheyer el-Mada el-Thaneya men Al-Dostour Al-Masry” (No to Changing Article 2 of the Egyptian Constiution) – 9,596 members
  • “La le-hazf aw Ta’deel Al-Mada Al-Thaneya men Al-Dostour Al-Masry” (No to Abolishing or Editing Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution) – 5,185 members

Those opposing Article 2 include:

  • “Elgha’ El-Mada El-Tanya fe Al-Dostour Al-Mesry” (Abolishing Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution) – 2,461 members
  • “Hamla le-Elgha’ el-Mada El-Tanya men El-Dostour” (A Campaign to Abolish the Second Article of the Constitution) – 1,367 members
  • “Mesh ‘ayzeen el-Mada el-Tanya men el-Dostour” (We do not want the second article of the Constitution) – 861 members.

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