The Second Article of the Egyptian Constitution
and its implication on minorities
Mina Fouad Tawfike
Freelance Coptic Writer, Blogger and Lecturer
The parliament elections are now finished, and the problem of setting the new constitution is now rising especially because the islamists have gained the majority of the parliament.
It has been along debate between the Liberal and the Islamists since the addition of the second article to the constitution in 1971. The second article of the Egyptian constitution states that:
"Islam is the religion of the State and Arabic its official language.
Islamic law (Sharia) is the principal source of legislation."
These two parts of the article have many bad implications.
The first part: "Islam is the religion of the state"
Even till now there's no academic consensus on the most appropriate definition of the state, but what's agreed upon is that the 'State' is a "Legal Person (artificial person, juridical person", not a natural person.
Religion is faith (belief system) and ritual action which relates to the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities. Only a natural person can do that, it's something personal.
According to the definitions of "State" and "Religion", the state should be neutral towards its citizens, it can't adopt any religion as its official religion or as its source of legislation or otherwise it would lose its neutrality, and this neutrality is the real guarantee for the application of the rules of justice to all citizens regardless of their loyalties, religious.
This is not a detracting from any religion as it is not linked to religion mainly.
The state having a certain religion as its religion means that everything in the state and every person is related to this religion. We can see a recent implication of this, in Bani Mazar, in El Menya governorate (upper Egypt), on the 17th of September 2011, a young Christian girl was banned from entering her school because she wasn't wearing a veil, the girl whose name is Ferial Soryal Habib was banned for 8 days, till her father went to the police to solve the problem, this issue was also repeated in a school in El Aiat in Giza, Cairo.
The Second part: "Islamic law (Sharia) is the principal source of legislation."
This part has very dangerous implications that minorities are suffering from, for example:
- Restriction on building and repairing Christian places of worship, banning the building of any places of worship for other religions like Baha'i, Buddhism … etc. We can see thousands of cases which illustrate very clearly the obstruction to building and repairing churches and in some cases an application to build a church has taken 28 years in villages with no churches with several thousand Christian populations. As a result Christian funerals and weddings take place in the middle of the village streets. And of course, there are no places of worship for the other religions.
- The religion of each citizen is written in his/her identity card. In country where only three religions are considered legal (Islam, Christianity and Judaism), a person who embraces any other religion (Baha'i, Buddhism ...etc) finds himself/herself in a very bad situation, and at the end he/she is forced to write Islam as his religion in his/her ID card, and so he'll be treated in everything as a Muslim.
Also, recognizing a person's religion in the ID card is a very effective way to exercise discrimination against religious minorities
- No leadership of a non-Muslim over Muslim, This is a direct application of the Islamic teaching that “A Muslim must not be subordinate to a non Muslim” and "Let not believers take disbelievers as mandates (superiors, jurisdictions) rather than believers." (Quran 3:28, and 4:144)
So, no Christian is appointed as a prime-minister, a leader in the army, no Christians are in the intelligence ...etc
- Marriage of Non-Muslim man to a Muslim woman is prohibited, although the opposite is allowed. According to the Egyptian law based on Islamic Jurisprudence, the court of law would annul a marriage between Christian husband and wife upon one of them changing his/her religion to Islam with terrible consequences to children as a result, with parents forced to split.
In addition that is very possible and very familiar that after the splitting of the parents the court would rule that the Muslim parent will take the children in his/her custody. As the minor children of converts to Islam, and in some cases adult children, automatically become classified as Muslims in the eyes of the state regardless of the status of the other spouse.
Also, if a husband converts to Islam his wife and children cannot inherit him unless they also convert to Islam.
- Gender inequality, the Islamic law hinders women from being judges, and from testifying in courts. A woman can't be a judge and can't testify in a court because she is inferior to man.
- Apostates (riddah) lose their possessions; a convert from Islam would lose his/her worldly possessions as well as other rights. In addition it's nearly impossible for them to change their religion in their IDs, and they have to be hidden from people in order not to be killed as according the Quran and the Islamic law the apostate should be killed (Quran 2:217)
- Witnessing in courts, A “Just” witness has to be a “free Muslim, i.e. not a slave Muslim”; non-Muslims witness in court is not admissible according to Islamic law. (Quran 2:282), on example happened in Shubra El Kehma court (case number 1824/year 2008), when the judge refused to hear the testimony of a Christian person Samy Farag in the case of a death of a Muslim old man.
- The killing of Non-Muslim does not lead to the same punishment as killing a Muslim; this requires taking a look at some modern history.
Since the Muslim-Arab conquest of Egypt in the seventh century the Muslims have always been the dominant, and the Copts the subordinate group. Within the basic framework of “zhimmi أهل الزمة” status, which held until the mid-19th century, the Copts as a protected "people of the book" experienced many changes in their relationship to the Muslim community as few periods of tolerance were interspersed by many times of persecution.
The relationship between the Muslim and the Coptic communities in Egypt is obviously very complex and multifaceted, with roots lying deep in past history, and modern problems being clothed in traditional idiom.
In the modern era, especially after the military coup of 1953, the actions of distinctions against Copts started to be fixed in the society particularly after the rise of the radical Islamic groups like the Muslim brotherhood.
Regular attacks on Copts have occurred since the 1970s, and they continued throughout the Mubarak period. It was and still very difficult for Copts to build or repair churches or even repair a bathroom inside a Church.
Yet, whenever Copts were being attacked the government remained passive and refrained from intervention or action. Police seldom arrived at the scene on time, and few perpetrators were ever prosecuted or punished. Justifications for the attacks thrived: a village dispute, two merchants fighting, Copts had raped a Muslim girl. Attacking Christians became the new normal.
From 1970 till 2010 more than 250 attacks on Copts and Churches occurred, and resulted in more than 327 Copts killed. No one was caught or charged in these incidents, and the doers were unknown till now. Of course after 2010 many other incidents occurred as the bombing of the Church in Alexandria that resulted in killing of more than 21 person and hundreds were injured, and attacking the Church in Nagh Hammadi and killing the people while getting out of the Church in the New Year.
Let me give you some detailed figures, and you can check through the internet later if I’m exaggerating or what. In June 1981, in a district called El Zawyah El Hamrah, in Cairo, Christians were attacked and 81 of them were killed. No one was caught or accused for killing them. In 1992, in a village called El Manshyia in Asiut in Upper Egypt, 14 Christians were attacked and killed. In 1994 St Mary monastery El Maharaq in Upper Egypt was attacked and 5 monks were killed. In 1998 and 2000 a village called El Kosh, in Sohag in Upper Egypt, were attacked twice resulting in killing and slaughtering more than 21 Christians and burning down their houses. No one was caught or accused of doing this.
Every time the Christians were killed by the radical groups, the killers were never caught.
After the revolution, and the rise of the radicals the attacks on Christians increased rapidly, for example the burning of the Church in March in Atfih, the church of St Mina and St George was attacked, burned down and demolished, you see the videos of this accident on You Tube, then came the burning of the church of Imbabah, the attacks on the church of Ein Shams and many other (about 6 more attacks), you can search the You Tube and Google for these news and videos.
Even when the Copts demonstrated in Masbero in front of the national television building, they were attacked in Masbero and in El Moqatam.
In the thirties of this century, Fekry Abaza stood in the parliament and said: "Isn't it enough to be Egyptians to indicate our identity? Egypt is before any religion, as Religion is for God and homeland is for all. So why is the discrimination? And why is the need for the religious discrimination?"
All nations are rooted in Nationalism, which is people's psychological attachment to a particular nation, based upon a common history, common language and literature, common culture, and a desire for political independence (Austin Ranney, Governing: An introduction to political science, Prentice-Hall 1996, p. 40)
Religion has nothing to do with Nationalism and homeland, and it has nothing to do with the constitution.
The only solution then is a civil liberal country with a constitution based on the international declarations of Human Rights. Egypt already had this constitution in 1923, and then it was replaced after the military coup of 1953.
For those who fear the separation between the religion and the state, their fear is based on reasons that aren't real, because this separation doesn't mean the country will be immoral, or against religion. The religion will still exist through its institutions and through the people who believes in it.
The Civil Liberal state with a constitution based on the international declarations of human rights will ensure the freedom of thought and religion. For example Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights states (ECHR) that:
"1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, and to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."
Also Article 18.3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that:
"Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others."
The only case of one’s religion or belief can be limited can be for certain legitimate aims, such as public safety, order, health, or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.
The equality before the Law can't be done without a law based on a constitution that equates between all people without any religious or gender discrimination.
Thank you Mina, I linked to this at my blog. I will pray for Egypt, as I always have.ردحذف
Also, I see that you mention the question of apostasy (rida/irtidaad). I have written an article on the topic of why Muslims become Christians, and perhaps you will find it interesting. I would love your comments if you know anything about the topic.
Thank you so much Abu Daoudردحذف