Magazine article The Christian Century

Uneasy in Cairo: Egypt's New Constitution

Magazine article The Christian Century

Uneasy in Cairo: Egypt's New Constitution

Article excerpt

CONCERTS THAT were scheduled for New Year's Eve to mark the 2011 Egyptian revolution were canceled in Cairo after a protester was shot that day in Tahrir Square. Instead of attending those events, many people of different denominations and faiths flocked to nearby Kasr E1 Dobara Church, the largest Protestant church in the Middle East, for a prayer service.

"Our land is sick, our thoughts are sick. God, heal us and help us welcome the New Year without fear," prayed Sameh Maurice, the head pastor. "If we do not change from the inside, our circumstances will not change."

Mina Malak, a Christian, said, "We came here to pray and to take a promise from God--that he will heal us and our country in the coming year."

Anan Abdel-Hadi, a Muslim, insisted that the alliance between Christians and Muslims that was evident during the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak remains strong. "It is natural in Egypt for Muslims and Christians to celebrate their holidays together. We have been in Tahrir since the beginning, so we celebrate in this church, which has opened its doors to the revolution. It is impossible for us [Muslims and Christians] to be divided.The crises of our country have only brought us closer together."

But Egypt is divided in many ways. The postrevolutionary election produced a parliament dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafi Muslims. Those forces had the upper hand in selecting the 100-member committee tasked with writing a new constitution. Some liberal members withdrew immediately to protest the Islamist composition of the committee. Others, including representatives of Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic churches, tried to work toward a consensus document, but many eventually resigned as well.

Christians and moderate Muslims are concerned about Article 2 in the new constitution, which establishes the principles of Shari'a as the primary source of legislation. However, since courts have generally interpreted "principles" to mean the ideal of justice in Islam, not more detailed rulings, this clause was not as much of a problem as Article 4, which gives the unelected scholars in al-Azhar, the Cairo-based center of learning for the Sunni Muslim world, a role in consulting on all laws touching Shari'a.

Meanwhile, Article 219 of the new constitution changes the interpretation of "principles" in a significant way: "The principles of Islamic Shari'a include general evidence, foundational rules, rules of jurisprudence, and credible sources accepted in Sunni doctrines and by the larger community." It appears from this clause that legislation must conform specifically to the corpus of Islamic law. …

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