Egypt

The future of political Islam

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ISLAMIST DEMOCRACY: The Egyptian crisis raises deeper questions about religious politics

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1.  THE toppling of president Mohamed Morsi and his Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt has raised a host of deep and difficult questions about the future of politicised religion in general, and political Islam in particular.

2.  For starters, it has posed us with the singular query: if the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt now feels that the democratic path is not the means to attain state capture, would this induce some of them to abandon the democratic process altogether and opt for other, perhaps extra-constitutional, means to come to power?

3.  One is reminded of the thesis of Olivier Roy, who has written extensively about the future of political Islam. His argument, developed in the late 1990s, was that religio-political movements such as the Ikhwan’ul Muslimin would eventually learn to moderate and compromise if they were allowed to become part of the democratic process.

4.  The belief then was that the arena of politics was like a structured mould that would shape and form all movements that entered its normative space. The assumption underlying this argument is that religio-political movements were the “soft” human component that entered the “hard” structure of states and institutions, and that such institutions – by virtue of their capacity to maintain and reproduce structured norms of behaviour – would tame the belligerent forces that would otherwise have tried to capture the state and turn it into something else.

5.  For a while, the thesis struck a resonant chord among many analysts and scholars; and there was ample evidence from all over the Muslim world that Islamist parties and movements would conform to the pattern of behaviour Roy had predicted.

6.  Even Islamist thinkers like Rashid Ghannouchi had stated, before the 1990s, that the Islamist movements of North Africa would have to learn to play by the rules of democracy and that if they wanted to come to power, it had to be via the ballot box. Related to this was the other caveat that such movements would also have to accept the will of the majority and accept the possibility that they may also be voted out of power.
The experiment with Islamist democracy was, therefore, not unique to Egypt, for we have seen the same taking place in countries such as Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In Southeast Asia, we are also presented with several Islamist parties that have likewise committed themselves to the democratic process.

7.  By and large, Roy’s argument seems to have been correct, for we have seen how the Islamist parties of Turkey and Indonesia have adapted themselves to the realities of modern states and modern democratic processes. This has not simply meant the change to their outward appearance in terms of their sartorial choices and the shift from robes and turbans to business suits and i-Pads.

8.  It has also meant that many of these religio-political parties have begun to speak the language of democracy as well, and have to take into account serious challenges such as the accommodation of religious and cultural pluralism in the countries they wish to govern.

9.  Morsi has been accused of being too strong-minded, autocratic and even borderline dictatorial.

  The manner in which the new Egyptian constitution was ramrodded without the visible support and cooperation of other parties in the country was a poor starting point that eroded his claim that he would abide by the norms of democratic consensus and consultation.

10.  So were the many less important policies that were pushed through, which had more to do with cosmetic forms of religious politics than a genuine shift in terms of the ethical prerogatives of the state.

11.  But the toppling of Morsi is also something that has serious repercussions in the short and long term for Egypt, and the Muslim world at large.

12.  For whatever mistakes and shortcomings of Morsi and the FJP party, it has to be said they had come to power with a majority of votes that did reflect the will of the people.

13.  The toppling of the Morsi government has now gained the attention of Islamist movements worldwide, from Turkey to Indonesia; and the fundamental question has been raised by them: if an Islamist government can be brought down despite having won the elections, does this mean that all Islamist movements will meet the same fate in the end? And, if so, why should the Islamist movements of the world even play by the rules of democracy in the first place?

14.  My own concern lies in the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood’s short-lived experiment with democratic politics was seen as a barometer for Muslim sensibilities in the Arab world today, which remains in a state of semi-permanent crisis. The Brotherhood was criticised by some of the more radical and violent Islamist groups of Egypt for “selling out” and transforming themselves into a political party, and by doing so accepting the rules of the democratic game.

15.  Now that they have been deposed, the more radical voices in the Arab world might find themselves in a stronger position to say that democracy cannot be reconciled with religion.

16.  That would be the wrong and dangerous path to follow and one that may end up being self-defeating in the long run. But, for now, the Brotherhood’s democratic experiment has come to a halt and the world waits to see if rational voices will be heard again.

Source : Dr. Farish A Noor, The Future of Political Islam,

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Egypt’s Scholars Elect New Mufti

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Egypt Elects New Mufti For First Time

CAIRO – Muslim scholars have chosen a professor of Islamic jurisprudence to become Egypt’s new Mufti, the first time the top religious leader be elected since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

“Dr Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, professor of Islamic law in Tanta University, got the highest number of votes and the matter has been sent to the president to issue his decision,” Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Abdel Karim, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence, was elected on Monday by the newly-formed council of senior scholars.

A panel of Muslim scholars took the decision after “detailed study of the applicants based on scientific legal standards, the adoption of Al-Azhar’s moderate agenda and an estimation of their psychological and moral suitability”, the statement said.

Abdul-Karim will replace Ali Gomaa, who served under Mubarak.

The new mufti is the first ever elected Mufti since the 1952 revolution.

In the past, the position was traditionally filled by top scholars from Al-Azhar, who were generally staunch backers of whoever ruled the country.

“This is the first time Azhar clerics choose an Azhar scholar in balloting,” said Mahmoud Azab, an advisor to Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb.

“This is a new tradition we hope will continue.”

Al-Azhar has sought to position itself as a moderate force above the political fray.

No Brotherhood

The new mufti’s election came amid media reports that Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Rahman al-Bar had been among the candidates, but he did not make it to a short list of three scholars.

“It seems some council members were sensitive to the strong public resistance to Bar’s nomination, which led them to change their mind,” an official in the mufti’s office told Reuters.

The new mufti, Abdel Karim, is not known to hold any political affiliations.

The runner-up, Attiya al-Sayyid Fayad, has written commentaries for the Brotherhood’s website and was reported to have been a member of the Islamist group on whose ticket President Mohamed won the presidential election in June.

Abdel-Karim will be the country’s 19th Grand Mufti since 1895.

The Grand Mufti has a variety of tasks in Egypt. He reviews and ratifies death sentences issued by courts.

He is also responsible for announcing the dates of the months based on a lunar calendar, which in turn determines when the important Muslim fasting month begins.

In response to citizens’ requests, he issues religious edicts, known as fatwas, and he gives opinions over government policies.

Woman Right in Egypt Constitution

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Women’s rights in Egypt’s draft constitution—that Egyptians will vote for or against in a public referendum in December 15—is one of the most debated issues among supports and opponents of the constitution. Opponents of the draft constitution argue that it undermines women’s basic rights and freedoms. Its supporters, on the other hand, claim that it protects women’s rights, respect, and equality.

In a recent article, I have studied “Minorities and Freedoms in Egypt’s Draft Constitution”.  I believe that hot issues such as women, human respect, justice, citizenship, etc., deserve in-depth studies and readings in order to fairly evaluate the controversial draft that prompted widespread protests across Egypt. It is not fair, of course, to judge something without having a clear perception of it. So, I would cite and study some articles that focus on women’s rights and position in Egypt’s draft constitution to pave the way for better understanding of it.

Honor and Respect

Women, like men, have the full right for honor and respect. All world religions and conventions agree on this principle. In the introductory section, which outlines the basic concepts and principles of the draft constitution, it is stated:

The individual’s dignity is an extension of the nation’s dignity. Further, there is no dignity for a country in which women are not honored; women are the sisters of men and partners in all national gains and responsibilities.

This principle in Egypt’s draft constitution does protect women’s honor and dignity. The above-mentioned maxim “there is no dignity for a country in which women are not honored” clearly assures the State’s and the society’s duties in preserving women’s honor and respect. It is illegal and a punishable crime—by virtue of the above principle—to disgrace or underestimate women in Egypt. Women, moreover, are men’s counterparts and partners who share national gains and responsibilities.

Interestingly, these values and rights of women are well-established in Islam. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said in a hadith, “Women are men’s counterparts.” (Abu Dawud, Sunan, hadith no. 236)

A woman in the Muslim society enjoys high respect and honor by merits of religious, social, cultural, and legal norms. The noble Qur’an commands husbands to deal honorably and kindly with their wives, saying, {And live with them (your wives) honorably.} (An-Nisa’ 4: 19) Therefore, a woman—whether a baby, girl, sister, wife, mother, etc.—should be greatly respected and honored.

Equality

Equality for all citizens—men and women–in Egypt is assured and maintained throughout the draft constitution. Women, therefore, enjoy as equal rights as men. It is clearly stated at the very beginning of the draft constitution that “equality before the law and equal opportunities for all citizens, men and women, without discrimination or favoritism” are guaranteed.

In fact, both women and men are equal in Islam. So, Islamic Shari`ah never discriminates between people, men and women. This fact is clear in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). For instance, the noble Qur’an unequivocally emphasizes that men and women are equal: {O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.} (Al-Hujurat 49: 13)

In his well-reputed book, Islam in Focus, Hammudah Abdalati Abd Alati says,

The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man but they are not necessarily identical with them. Equality and sameness are two quite different things. This difference is understandable because man and woman are not identical but they are created equals. With this distinction in mind, there is no problem. It is almost impossible to find two identical men or women.

This distinction between equality and sameness is of paramount importance. Equality is desirable, just, fair; but sameness is not. People are not created identical but they are created equals. With this distinction in mind, there is no room to imagine that woman is inferior to man. There is no ground to assume that she is less important than he just because her rights are not identically the same as his. Had her status been identical with his, she would have been simply a duplicate of him, which she is not. The fact that Islam gives her equal rights – but not identical – shows that it takes her into due consideration, acknowledges her, and recognizes her independent personality.

Support for Working, Divorced, and Widowed Women

Egypt’s draft constitution guarantees full support for working, divorced, and widowed women. The State, therefore, will maintain social and financial support for women in a way that preserves their life, honor, dignity, and wellbeing. Article No. 10 reads:

The State shall ensure maternal and child health services free of charge, and enable the reconciliation between the duties of a woman towards her family and her work.

The State shall provide special care and protection to female breadwinners, divorced women and widows.

Given the above, decent and honorable life for women, like all citizens, will be maintained and promoted by the constitution. This way, the Egyptian society, with its various cultures and faith communities, could enjoy social justice and solidarity. Women and men, whether young or aged, will have equal rights to their country’s public resources and properties.

In conclusion, I see that Egypt’s draft constitution has many points that deserve study and reading. Women’s rights are generally promoted in a way that preserves their dignity, honor, and equality with men. Moreover, Egyptian women, as well as men, have the opportunity to shape their future and freely vote for or against the draft constitution. This manifests women’s real participation in the political and social life in life in Egypt.

Dr. Wael Shihab has a PhD in Islamic Studies from Al-Azhar University and is the Head of the Shari`ah and Fatwa sections at the English web site of Onislam.net.  You may reach him at this e-mail address: wael.shihab@onislam.net.

Minorities and Freedoms in Egypt Constitution

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On Saturday, December 1, Egypt President Morsi called all citizens, in and outside Egypt, for a public referendum on the new draft constitution, to be held on 15 December.

The draft constitution, coming in the wake of tensions that followed the decree issued by President Morsi, granting him sweeping powers, has also prompted widespread protests across the country. 

In my opinion, I believe that the draft constitution will, if Egyptians vote in its favor, defend minorities’ rights, responsible freedoms, human respect, and justice. Giving it a fair look, and comparing it to the previous constitutions, I see it paying attention to establishing equality among all citizens irrespective of their faith, cultures, or sects. It affirms social solidarity and supports community morals and values. It respects human values and people dignity.

In the following lines, I will further elaborate on my point by providing some citations from the draft that focus on religious rights of faith communities and basic freedoms. My objective is to present to the readers how I see the Egypt’s draft constitution—one of the products of the peaceful popular January 25th revolution—trying to set a new Egypt on the principles of citizenship, equality, justice, respect, and social solidarity.

Defending Minorities’ Religious Rights

The third article of the Egyptian draft constitution maintains religious communities’ rights to apply their own religious principles in their personal status laws and devotional affairs:

The religious principles of Egyptian Christians and Jews are the main source of legislation for their personal status laws, religious affairs, and the selection of their spiritual leaders.

Many writers used to claim that Egypt’s Islamists—who gained majority in last parliamentary elections—deny rights of religious monitories to apply their own religious rules and rituals. This claim is proved to be groundless by virtue of the above article and many other articles that assure freedom of worship and protection of places for worship for all Egyptians: Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Article 43 states:

Freedom of belief is an inviolable right. The State shall guarantee the freedom to practice religious rites and to establish places of worship for the divine religions, as regulated by law.

The above values that defend religious minorities’ rights are compatible with Islamic and world conventions and laws. It is baseless then for anybody to claim that moderate Muslims—like Egyptians—don’t support religious freedoms and tolerance.

Maintaining Universal Values of Citizenship

Interestingly, Egypt’s draft constitution upholds universal values of citizenship such as equality, respect, and dignity for all citizens irrespective of their faith, cultures, or social classes. In the introductory section that outlines the basic concepts and principles of the draft constitution, it is affirmed that “equality before the law and equal opportunities for all citizens, men and women, without discrimination or favoritism” are guaranteed.

In article 6, the draft constitution assures:

The political system is based on the principles of democracy, shura (mutual consultation), and citizenship values, under which all citizens are equal in rights and duties. … No political party shall be formed that discriminates on the basis of gender, origin, or religion.

Throughout the draft constitution, universal values of citizenship are maintained. This, of course, reflects moderate understating of Islam and its human values.

In a “Muslim state”, all citizens enjoy equal rights and bear same responsibilities. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) and his Companions established good relations with other faith communities living in Madinah, the first Islamic state. There was a large Jewish community as well as some other Arab tribes who had not accepted Islam. The Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) prepared a mithaq (a covenant or a constitution) for organizing good relations between these communities. The covenant of Madinah laid down broad principles on which cordial relations would be established between Muslims and non-Muslims. Protection of life and property, and freedom of thought and of worship were guaranteed. Among the principles of the covenant are:

“The Jews and the Muslims, . . . each group must support the other against anyone who fights the people of this document (covenant of Madinah). Their relationship shall be one of mutual advice and consultation, and mutual assistance and charity rather than harm and aggression . . . Charity and goodness are clearly distinguishable from crime and injury, and there is no responsibility except for one’s own deeds. God is the guarantor of the truth and good will of this covenant. This covenant shall constitute no protection for the unjust or criminal.” (See Sirat Ibn Hisham, pp. 110-111)

Freedoms Guaranteed

Egypt’s draft constitution protects freedoms that serve individuals’ and the society’s benefits. In the introductory section of the draft constitution, we read:

Freedom is a well-established right. The freedom of citizens shall be upheld in all aspects of life; freedom of opinion, expression and creativity; and freedom in housing, property and travel, out of full belief in such freedom as a divine principle laid down by the Creator in the motion of the universe. God has created humans free. … So, the rights and freedoms of all citizens shall be protected without discrimination.

According to the draft constitution, freedoms of ALL citizens are protected by the law. Moreover, freedoms guaranteed should not pose dangers to citizens’ lives, properties, or morals. So, it is a “responsible and ethical” freedom that is compatible with people’s beliefs, cultures, and public and private benefits.  The following articles, for example, prove that the draft constitution promotes freedoms that preserve people’s private and public benefits:

Article 8: The State guarantees the means to achieve justice, equality and freedom, and is committed to facilitating the channels of social charity and solidarity between the members of society, ensuring the protection of persons, honor, and properties, and working toward providing decent life and sustenance for all citizens; all within the context of the law.

Article 9: The State shall ensure safety, security, and equal opportunities for all citizens without discrimination.

Article 11: The State shall safeguard ethics, public morality and public order, and foster a high level of education and of religious and patriotic values, scientific thinking, Arab culture, and the historical and cultural heritage of the people; all as shall be regulated by law.

In Islam, freedom—including religious freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of action, media freedom, personal freedom, etc.—is supported by a countless number of general and detailed proofs of Shari`ah. For example, the Qur’an emphasizes religious freedom saying, {There is no compulsion in religion} (Al-Baqarah 2: 256) Ethical responsible freedom, which Islam generally supports, is bounded by the general ethics and guidelines of people’s faiths, morals, and values. So, it is not acceptable, for example, to approve insulting or attacking holy books, prophets, or religions under the pretext of freedom of expression or liberties. Also, it is not acceptable to justify harming people or risking public interest of communities for “irresponsible fake freedom” of some individuals.

To conclude, Egypt’s draft constitution supports rights of faith communities without any discrimination between minorities and the majority.  Universal citizenship values are maintained for all.  Freedoms that promote people’s public and private benefits are guaranteed. Therefore, I call on all fair people of the world to read the draft constitution that Egyptians will vote for or against within few days in order to share Egyptians their dreams for a better future.

Dr. Wael Shihab has a PhD in Islamic Studies from Al-Azhar University and is the Head of the Shari`ah and Fatwa sections at the English web site of Onislam.net.  You may reach him at this e-mail address: wael.shihab@onislam.net.

Candidate for Egyptian Presidency – Dr. Mohamed Morsi

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Dr. Mohamed Morsi, Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party and former member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, is also one of the most prominent political leadership figures of the Brotherhood, the organization that led the struggle against the ousted repressive regime in its last decade.

Dr. Morsi was also the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc at the People’s Assembly of 2000-2005, and President of the Department of Materials Science, Faculty of Engineering at Zagazig University.

His full name is Mohamed Mohamed Morsi Issa Ayyat. He was born in August 1951 in Egypt’s Sharqiya province. He received a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Cairo University in 1975, then a Master of Engineering degree in Metallurgy from the same university in 1978. He further received a doctorate (PhD) in engineering from the University of Southern California, 1982.

He worked as a lecturer and a Teacher Assistant at the Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University, and the University of Southern California, US.  He also worked as an Assistant Professor at the University of North Ridge in California between 1982 and 1985, and as a Professor and Head of Materials Engineering, Faculty of Engineering at Zagazig University from the year 1985 till 2010. He was elected a member of the Faculty Staff Club at the University of Zagazig.

He was also selected as a member of the International Conference of Political Parties and Organizations, and founder-member of the Egyptian Resist the Zionist Project Committee. Dr. Morsi is known to be a hard worker at each position he held – from the various fields of science, in which he excelled, to his career as a determined political leader, in which he proved his great abilities and skills.

He has research in several major fields of industry in Egypt related to practical production solutions. He also conducted dozens of studies in “metal surface treatment”, which is one of the scientific precision industries, during his work at NASA on the development of space shuttle engines in the early eighties.

Due to his constantly firm stance against the repressive measures and oppressive practices of the overthrown regime, Dr. Mohamed Morsi was arrested several times. After the 2005 elections were rigged, Dr. Mohamed Morsi led demonstrations in support for judges demanding independence, refusing referral of some judges to the Competence Commission to punish them for their outspoken views against blatant elections fraud.

Consequently, Dr. Morsi was arrested on the morning of May 18, 2006 with 500 members of the Brotherhood during their protest in front of the North Cairo Court and Al-Jalaa Court Complex in Central Cairo. He spent seven months behind bars.

He was arrested, yet again, on the morning of the “Friday of Anger” on January 28, 2011 during the revolution of January 25 along with a large number of Brotherhood leaders across Egypt. Their arrest was a deliberate attempt by the despotic regime to prevent them from participating in the ‘Friday of Anger’ protests across Egypt.

When several prisons were destroyed during the revolution, and many prisoners escaped, Dr. Morsi refused to leave his prison cell. Instead, he contacted satellite TV channels and news agencies demanding the judicial authorities visit the prison and check the legal position of jailed Muslim Brotherhood leaders, to clarify if there were indeed any legal reasons for their arrest, before leaving prison, since no judicial personnel were available there.

The injustice suffered by Dr. Mohamed Morsi went beyond his person, extending to his family. His son, Dr. Ahmed, was arrested just after the announcement of his father’s nomination for parliament in 2000. He was also arrested 3 times when his father was an MP at the People’s Assembly.

After his great endeavors and proven excellence in political work in his five-year term in parliament, Dr. Morsi was chosen by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura Council as a member of the group’s Guidance Bureau. After the January 25 Revolution, he was elected by the Muslim Brotherhood Shura Council as Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party when that was established by the group.

In Egypt’s Parliament in 2000, Dr. Mohamed Morsi played a prominent and influential role as leader of the parliamentary bloc. He was one of the most active members of parliament, responsible for the most famous questioning sessions in Parliament – for the train crash incident – in which he held the government responsible for the tragic accident. Internationally, he was chosen as the best parliamentarian in the years 2000 – 2005 due to his effective parliamentary performance.

In the 2005 Parliament elections, Dr. Morsi won the highest number of votes, leaving his nearest rival far behind. But a run-off was announced, after which his rival won through blatant fraud.

Dr. Morsi played a major role in the political section of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was supervisor of that section which has seen significant action during the recent period, starting from the reform initiative launched by the group in 2004, then the publishing of a political program in 2007, and led the political operations during the parliamentary elections in 2010.

Source : rohama.org