Egypt: Part II - Minorities in the constitution draft, a step back
Part II of a series of articles reflecting on the drafting of Egypt's new constition, by Mamdouh Nakhla
Minorities' fears are rightly aroused by code three of the latest draft of the constitution which states that, 'the principles of legislation of the Jews and the Christians is the main source that discipline their family affairs, their religious affairs, and the electing their spiritual leaders.'
This code was included to satisfy the Christian committee present in the founding constitution committee, but did not add anything new, as since the beginning of January 1956, after the application of Law number 462/ year 1955, stating the cancellation of the community courts and the community councils allowing the principle legislation of the Jews and the Christians to be applied in their family affairs when the married couple are members of the same religion and the same community. However in the cases of custody of children, alimony, heritage, wills and gifts, they are subjected to the Islamic Sharri’a laws.
As for electing the spiritual leadership of the Jews and Christians it has been organized by continual successive legislation from1882 until 1971. Moreover this code doesn’t protect other communities like the Baha'is’ or others, as they differ with Jews, Christians and Muslims in their family affairs. Besides it does not protect foreigners, even if they are Jews or Christians.
As for code six that states that the democratic system is based on the principles of Shura and citizenship, parties can never be found on the basis of discrimination between citizens for race, origin, or religion, moreover if we skipped this strange code, it is clear that the fundamentalist trend inside the constitutional committee is seeking to force the terminology of Shura instead of democracy. The thing that is widely different as the Shura is mentioned in the Islamic Jurisprudence is to follow the views of those who can allow or prohibit but, meaning the men of Fatwa, interpretation of Islam, but not the mass of the Egyptian people. Besides that this code is not compulsory for the ruler so he can take or drop the will of his people.
But democracy means the ruling is for the majority and compulsory to the ruler who must obey the will of this majority. The last sentence of this code prohibits founding parties that discriminate between people on basis of race, origin or religion, so as to add legitimacy on the religious parties founded after the 25th January revolution, as the prohibition focused on the discrimination on the people not the religious parties or the parties with religious background.
As for code 37 that stated that the freedom of belief is protected and guaranteed by the state and gives freedom for building places of worship for the three Monotheistic religions. This code before this new formulation stated that worshipping is an absolute action but fundamentalists pressured the committee to issue this code as it is now and used the terminology 'Protected' instead of 'Absolute' to stop any creeds that goe against the general order according to the discussion made in the constitution committee, meaning the Baha’is’ and the Shiite. Also this code doesn’t protect the followers of non monotheistic religions to practice their rituals.
Then we come to code 86 that aroused a lot of arguments between the liberals and the human rights organizations and women’s rights, as this code states that, the state is to take all the arrangements that roots equality between Man and Woman in the political, cultural, and social fields without any break to the Islamic Sharri’a. This code defames the Sharri’a itself as giving the impression that the Islamic Sharri’a doesn’t guard equality between Man and Woman.
As in one of the press releases given by the Salafi preaching front and issued in many news sites, in response to the demands of the advocacy organizations calling for the return of a non adult Christian girl said to be married with a Muslim man, that the Salafi front will stand strongly against any attempt to return the girl to her family as she realizes the meaning of marriage and carries its burdens while the girl is 14 years of age.
To be continued
The writer of this article is an Egyptian human rights activist specialized in minorities’ issues and fellow of the minorities and indigenous people in the Semitic delegation for human rights in Geneva, a lawyer for cassation court, a member of the international forum of lawyers in Paris, the Chairman of the Al-Kalema organization for human rights in Cairo.