Egypt Struggles for Consensus On the Role of Islamic Law

Article Summary
The head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm stirred Egypt's debate over the role of Islamic law. At issue is whether to "apply" Islamic law as the Brotherhood wishes, or make it "the main source of legislation," as previous constitutions stated. Separately, Ahmad Rahim reports on the defense minister's visit to the scene of the Sinai border attacks.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt said that one must respect the right of the majority to apply Islamic law in the country; however, the group did not clarify boundaries for applying this law. This led civil forces to wonder what exactly the Brotherhood is requesting, while expressing their support for what successive Egyptian constitutions have said of "Islamic law being the main source of legislation."

The Defense Minister, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, on Aug. 20 visited the Sinai town of Arish and the border city of Rafah, where the army and police confronted armed groups who have settled in mountainous areas and established training camps. Al-Sissi vowed to eliminate the militants and to "cut off the hand" of anyone who raises his weapon. He stressed that in a few days he will be announcing the names of those involved in the Aug. 5 Rafah attack, in which 16 soldiers were killed.

Dr. Essam el-Erian, the acting head of the Freedom and Justice Party — the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood — tweeted that "no sane person can eliminate religion from the lives of the Egyptians, who are older than the temples. A person who believes in democracy cannot object to the majority’s right to apply Islamic law."

The Brotherhood long ago agreed with civil forces to keep unchanged the constitutional article saying that "Islamic law is the main source of legislation," which is different from the Salafists’ demand to "apply" Islamic law and abolish man-made laws. So Erian’s talk of "applying Islamic law" without him providing further explanation has worried the civil forces.

The head of the Freedom Egypt Party, Dr. Amr Hamzawy, told Al-Hayat that "no Egyptian is calling for the abolition of religion from public life, but the matter requires regulation. We should not allow the mosques to become an arena of political polarization." He added: "Does it make sense to turn the country’s mosques into places where they call for supporting the president instead of calling for national consensus? Does it make sense for the mosques — where people are celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday — to be divided among the Islamic groups? This is an exploitation of religion."

Hamzawy said that there is a general consensus that Islamic law principles should be a source of legislation, but to say that the majority wants to apply Islamic law is not true. He said that the majority agrees that Islamic law be "a framework upon which other laws are based. Meaning that no law can be contradictory to Islamic law. But this is different than applying Islamic law, which has been experienced differently by different countries."

The head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Dr. Mohammad Abou el-Ghar, told Al-Hayat that successive Egyptian constitutions have said that Egypt is an Islamic state, that its religion is Islam, that its official language is Arabic and that Islamic law is the source of legislation. He said that everybody agrees on that. He added that "the law of the land should not contradict Islamic law. All laws should be made consistent with Islamic law. But a judge cannot rule except according to the country’s laws, which are to be consistent with Islamic law. But we reject applying Islamic law. Throughout Muslim history, there has never been a unified interpretation of Islamic law. Islamic law was applied to varying degrees and depending on the circumstances of each community." Abou el-Ghar said that it is impossible to apply Islamic law in modern times because each individual understands the law and religion differently. He said, "I do not think that Dr. Essam el-Erian called for the literal application of Islamic law."

The head of the National Progressive Unionist Party, Dr. Rifaat al-Saeed, said that no sane person can abolish religion from Egypt or from any other country and that "there is no majority and minority in religion." Saeed said that "Islamic law is one thing and applying it is another. ... People should interpret Islamic law and then apply that interpretation. ... Interpreting the law varies between individuals. For example, some extremists do not recognize certain rights for women. Islamic law cannot be applied to commercial and criminal matters. But we can make laws that do not contradict Islamic law. ... People disagree over how Islamic law is interpreted."

Constituent Assembly spokesman Dr. Wahid Abdel Majid told Al-Hayat that all Egyptian constitutions have declared Islamic law to be the basis of the legal system and that Islamic law does not stop at the border. He said that Egypt already applies Islamic law in a more sophisticated way and in a way that is more in line with society than do other countries. He added, "There is no problem in applying Islamic law." He explained that the aim of Islamic law is justice and equality and that these are achieved when the law applies to everyone.

Abdel Majid indicated that the prevalent opinion in the Constituent Assembly is to keep unchanged the constitution’s Article II, which says that "Islamic law is the main source of legislation." But others want to add something to it. He said that, "The main battle is that some want to make al-Azhar the final arbiter in interpreting Islamic law. But this will lead to the death of the country. The Sunni sect does not allow for a final arbiter. ... We reject this text in defense of Sunni Islam and so that we do not become a state like Iran."

With regard to the "second revolution," which former deputy Mohammed Abu Hamed called for for next Friday and which is primarily directed against the Muslim Brotherhood, Erian said that "if the protesters remain peaceful and civilized, they will force everyone to respect them. ... But the calls for violence and the actions taken by the 'sons of Mubarak' have stoked emotions."

Abu Hamed stressed that the "second revolution" will be peaceful and he pointed out that the demonstrations will be launched from in front of the presidential palace in Heliopolis and the Defense Ministry in Abbasiyya. He said that the rumors that there will be violence, arson and sabotage of state enterprises are attempts to "abort the revolution."

Abu Hamed firmly rejected "'Brotherhoodizing' state institutions" and called for a law criminalizing "political appointments" in order to maintain the country’s administrative structure. He called for changing the status of the Muslim Brotherhood to a civil society association affiliated with the Ministry of Solidarity and Social Justice, so that the Brotherhood’s funding sources can be scrutinized, and, since it is a civil organization, to ban it from involvement in politics, directly or indirectly. He called for an investigation of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice party focusing on "the group’s and party’s funding sources, especially after the January 25 revolution." He also called for the dissolution of Dr. Hisham Qandil’s government since it is "a sectarian and non-qualified government."

Defense Minister Abdel-Fatah al-Sissi on Aug. 20 visited the towns of Rafah and Arish for the first time since succeeding Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. He met with soldiers and military officers involved in Operation Eagle, which aims to track down armed groups in the Sinai in the wake of the Rafah attack.

Sissi was accompanied by the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Lt. Gen. Sidqi Subhi, Air Force Commander Younis al-Masri, Maj. Gen. Ahmad Wasfi, and Maj. Gen. Mohammad Zamlout. They met with Sinai notables.

During the meeting, the defense minister stressed that the crackdown will continue in order to cleanse the Sinai of armed elements and that in the next few days the names of those involved in the Rafah attack will be announced. He pointed out that security and stability is a shared responsibility between the security agencies, the citizens and the elders. He stressed the need for cooperation by everyone in tracking down outlaws, reporting them and educating the citizens on the seriousness of what is happening in Sinai. Sissi said, "We are not against the Islamic movements but we are against those who raise arms against innocent people and terrorize citizens. We will cut off the hand of anyone who raises his weapons and we will not allow the Sinai to become fertile ground for militants." He pointed out that the Sinai Development Authority was given one billion Egyptian pounds ($164 million) to support development in the Sinai and start projects in various sectors. He agreed that it was wrong to "have neglected the Sinai’s development."

Tight security measures were taken during Sissi’s visit. Special forces were deployed at Arish airport and soldiers were deployed to guard the security headquarters and the roads. Military helicopters flew above various Sinai cities and villages.

Found in: al-qaeda, sinai, sharia, rafah, border, al-azhar

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