Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

With Sharia Law Scaled Back, Egyptians Hopeful About Constitution

December 17, 2013 7:32 am 1 comment

A protest against former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt on June 28, 2013. Egypt's new draft constitution de-emphasizes Sharia law and is an improvement over the 2012 constitution of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government, Egyptian Christians and human rights groups say. Photo: Lilian Wagdy via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – Egypt’s new draft constitution, to be voted on in a national referendum in January, is being hailed for its improvements over the 2012 Islamist-backed constitution. But the new constitution still has a number of shortcomings regarding religious and personal freedoms, according to concerned Egyptian Christians and human rights groups.

“Personally I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Halim Meawad, co-founder of Coptic Solidarity, a U.S.-based international Coptic Christian human rights organization.

Meawad said the draft constitution is an improvement over the Muslim Brotherhood constitution of 2012, particularly with elimination of Article 219, which defined aspects of Sharia law on which legislation could be based. Article 219 and other features of the 2012 constitution led many liberal and Christian leaders to boycott the Muslim Brotherhood government, eventually culminating in popular protests and the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

The new draft, by removing Article 219, eliminates the political authority that Al-Azhar University, Egypt’s highest Islamic institution, had over the legislative process.

“The new draft maintains the position of Sharia in social conscience, but prevents any infringements on constitutional jurisdiction,” Adel Ramadan, legal affairs official at local NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Ahram Online.

Nevertheless, controversial aspects still remain in the draft constitution, including Article 2, which states that the principles of Islamic Sharia are “the main source of legislation.”

“The infamous Article 2, declaring the principles of Sharia to be the primary source for legislation, is still there like a sword drawn and can be used against non-Muslims at any time and in any situation,” Meawad told JNS.org.

Meawad explained that Article 2 goes back to former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who included it to gain the support of Islamists.

“Article 2 was introduced by President Sadat in 1971 to create an Islamic base for himself…Ever since, this article was used by authorities, including the judicial system, to discriminate against non-Muslims, especially Copts, despite the facts that other articles in the same constitution gives all the freedom of religion,” Meawad said.

Egyptian Christians and liberals on the constitutional committee attempted to remove all mentions of Sharia law from the constitution, but the ultraconservative Salafi party, Al-Nour, insisted the reference to Sharia law remain, albeit in a watered-down version.

“Dr. Safwat al-Baiady and other Christian members of the constitutional committee made a weak attempt to change Article 2 because they knew very well that it is a mission impossible,” Meawad said.

Another change in the draft constitution is Article 235, which addresses the longstanding difficulty Egyptian Christians face in constructing new churches. While church construction was permitted under President Hosni Mubarak, it required special permission from him or from the prime minister.

Under the new draft, Article 235 authorizes the Egyptian parliament to “organize building and renovating churches, guaranteeing Christians the freedom to practice their religious ritual.”

“Christians have freedom of belief and practice,” Safwat al-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt and a member of the constitutional committee, told Christianity Today. “And for the first time in the history of Egypt’s constitutions, building churches becomes a right.”

The new Article 235 will allow many of Egypt’s Christians the opportunity to rebuild dozens of churches destroyed by the wave of violence by Islamic extremists this past August.

Amnesty International, which has been vocally critical of attacks on Egypt’s Christians, said in a report that the new constitution was a step in the right direction but that it “still falls short of Egypt’s international human rights obligations.”

“Unfortunately there is a glaring inconsistency between the aspirations in the draft and the reality of ongoing human rights violations in Egypt,” Amnesty International said.

“There is no guarantee that this inconsistency will go away. I was hoping for, or I should say dreaming of, a true secular and modern constitution with no contradictions between its articles,” Meawad told JNS.org.

Despite the fact that Sharia law is still mentioned in the draft, Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II endorsed the constitution and has urged followers to vote for it in the upcoming referendum in January, saying that participation is their duty. Ultimately, Meawad believes the draft should be accepted because it “could have been much worse,” he said.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Features Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    JNS.org – About two-dozen people file into Dodd 175 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on a Thursday night, scouting out seats and picking at the kosher pizza in the back of the lecture hall. Miyelani Pinini knows the drill. A former student president of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she’s attended and even organized her share of free-pizza events. But now she and a fellow South African student leader were the stars of this […]

    Read more →
  • Food Spirituality/Tradition The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    JNS.org – It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Lifestyle Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    JNS.org – Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha has recently popped its corks on 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Actor Zachary Levi said casting directors have denied him roles for being “too Jewish,” despite the fact that he is not a Jew, the New York Daily News‘ Confidenti@l reported on Wednesday. “I guess they were looking for more of a corn-fed, white boy look,” he said. “My family is from f****** Indiana! Come on, I’m like dying here!” The Thor star clarified that he is Welsh, and that Levi is actually his middle name, while his real last name is Pugh. He said he […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Spirituality/Tradition Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    The secret of Chabad’s worldwide success is revealed by veteran Chabad shliach (emissary) Rabbi David Eliezrie in his new book, The Secret of Chabad. The Chabad movement was founded by Rabbi Schnur Zalman of Liadi, Belarus, in 1775. Years later it came to the US with the arrival of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in 1940, after his escape from Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Upon his arrival in New York, a number of his co-religionists advised him that there was no place for traditional […]

    Read more →