The heated debate over the application of Islamic law in Egypt has unexpectedly been renewed. This debate is likely to rage when the Constituent Assembly completes its project to draft the first constitution in the country following the Jan. 25 Revolution, which will be polled at a second stage. However, controversy arose following the statements of Essam el-Erian, vice chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party, who declared that Shariah law is likely to be applied before drafting and approving the constitution.
These statements were also made in anticipation of the mass rally that was called for by the former regime’s supporters to oust the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). This is not to mention the lawsuits that were filed, calling for disbanding of the FJP and other religious parties that emerged following the revolution, on the grounds that they are established on a religious basis.
Political activist Ahmed Bahaa Eddin Shaaban has warned against such statements, which he believes could lead to a hastened approach to constitution drafting. The Constituent Assembly, which is entrusted with the drafting of the constitution, is likely to be disbanded by the Egyptian judiciary due to the fact that it is dominated by Islamic factions and therefore does not reflect the plurality of the Egyptian people.
On the other hand, Mohammed al-Saghir, the former leader of the Building and Development Party — the political wing of the Islamist Gamma al-Islamiyya Group — has confirmed that his party is keen to apply Islamic Shariah in Egypt. However, he emphasized that "the party wishes to preserve Article 2 of the 1971 constitution, which stipulates that the Islamic Shariah shall form the basis of legislation."
Therefore, the political party will not oppose this article, and does not favor any amendment to it under the new constitution. "The party is keen for the constitution to be consensual and representative of all the Egyptian people. The party's position reflects its strong sense of nationalism as it has waived its seats in the Constituent Assembly in favor of other political parties in order to achieve national consensus and to comply with the norms of the assembly's formation."
In the same context, adopting Article 2 under the new constitution has raised the fear among civil forces, as Salafist movements are demanding that the principles of Islamic Shariah be the main source of legislation and that the sovereignty of God should prevail instead of the people's sovereignty under the new constitution. What's more, the Constituent Assembly members have demanded that the interpretation of Islamic law as it relates to legislation be under the jurisdiction of al-Azhar University. Nevertheless, some civil forces fear that the Muslim Brotherhood would dominate the state's religious institutions, thus it would interpret the constitution article in accordance with its own doctrine.
Constituent Assembly spokesman Wahid Abdel Meguid said those claiming sovereignty is for God alone and making other demands in regards to applying Shariah law have yet to be approved by the Assembly. He added that Article 2 is not likely to be amended under the new constitution. However, another article could be added allowing people of other religions to apply their own religious principles and laws with regard to their personal status.
On the other hand, Mohammed Beltagy, a prominent member of the FJP, said that his party approves the al-Azhar document and acknowledges the documents that were issued by the Democratic Alliance for Egypt in 2011. He said that these documents must be referred to in the preparation for the new constitution, including the article addressing the issue of the Islamic Shariah, "which all Egyptians agree on applying in legislation, since religion is deeply established in the heart of the Egyptian people. Article 2 of the 1971 Constitution reflects this fact and therefore it should be unanimously approved."