Salafists battle for a religious state in Egypt

News article, posted 07.14.2012, from Egypt, in:
Gamal Essam El-Din
Salafists battle for a religious state in Egypt (Photo: AP)

Ultraconservative Salafists have stepped up efforts aimed at imposing their radical brand of Islam on Egypt's new constitution. The two Salafist parties, El-Nour Party and Asala, have exploited their membership of the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution to battle hard to change the first three articles of 1971 constitution. They were successful with the first article, but lost with the second and third articles under pressure of the prestigious and moderate Sunni Islam Al-Azhar institution and liberal forces.

On Article 1, the assembly’s Basic Components Committee approved the request of Salafists to add the word “consultative” (a literal translation of the Islamic word "shura") to the article. Mohamed Emara, an Islamist thinker and chairman of the committee, said the article now reads: “The Arab Republic of Egypt is democratic, consultative, constitutional and modernised; based on the separation of powers and the principle of citizenship.” It adds that, “Egypt is part of the Arab and Islamic nation, with strong ties to the African Continent.”

This differs from the text of the 1971 constitution where Article 1 states that "The Arab Republic of Egypt is a democratic state based on citizenship. The Egyptian people are part of the Arab nation and work for the realisation of its comprehensive unity.”

The addition of the word “consultative” or (“shura"), said Emara, was proposed by the Salafist El-Nour Party because the word “shura” is contained in the Quran, the holy book of Muslims. “Shura means democratic in the sense that rulers should listen to representatives of the nation and always keep in consultation with them before deciding on major issues,” said Emara.

In 1980, in a bid to curry favour with Salafists and other Islamist conservative groups who fiercely objected to the signing of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, late President Anwar El-Sadat decided to create a “Shura Council” and change Article 2 of the constitution to state that “The principles of Islamic Sharia (code of laws) form the major source of legislation in Egypt.”

The Salafists’ battle to changing  articles 2 and 3 of the 1971 constitution has been fierce. Salafists insisted on removing the word “principles” from Article 2 on the grounds that it gives reason for judges to circumvent implementing Islamic Sharia law. They also believe that Sharia law, not its principles, should be the main source of legislation to ensure that the hudood, or the ordinances of God — such stoning non-believes and amputating the hands of thieves — be applied. The imposition of hudood, according to most Islamist conservative forces, is a necessity so that Egypt does not become a secular state and that it is committed to implementing God’s laws.


[Excerpt—See accompanying URL for full original text]