Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
23 - 29 December 1999
Issue No. 461
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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Any old reason

By Amira Howeidy

The platform of Al-Shari'a (Islamic law) Party that was presented to the Shura Council's Political Parties Committee in October was rejected simply because it does not offer anything new. The committee's 34-page report added that the party is "unworthy of having a place on the political scene".

The committee is a quasi-governmental body consisting of seven members, including the head of the Shura Council and the ministers of justice and interior. The committee has been in the habit of rejecting applications to establish political parties since 1977, on the grounds that their platforms are not different from the platforms of already existing parties. However, observers expected a different form of rejection for Al-Shari'a.

The application to establish Al-Shari'a -- a party that explicitly calls for the full implementation of Shari'a -- was presented to the committee by Mamdouh Ismail, a lawyer who had been arrested in connection with the assassination of the late President Anwar El-Sadat in 1981. At the time he applied for a licence, Ismail said that he expected his application would be flatly rejected. But he argued that applying for a party licence must be viewed within the context of the cease-fire initiative made by the Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya in 1997.

This is the reason that Ismail presented a platform carrying the obvious Islamic name of Al-Shari'a, despite the fact that the political parties law prohibits the establishment of parties on religious grounds. Ismail vowed not to give up, declaring that he would apply for a licence using a different name for the party.

Although the Political Parties Committee could have rejected the platform because of its explicit Islamist orientation, it chose to be consistent and turned it down on the grounds that it does not offer anything new.

"The Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled that a [new] party must make an addition to political activity by presenting a platform that is different from the platforms of other [existing] parties in order to enrich national action and enhance the democratic process by having a variety of platforms and trends," the report said.

The platform's primary principle of "endorsing Islamic Shari'a as a term of reference" was shrugged off by the report as "nothing new". The second article of the constitution, it said, "has finalised the state's general terms of reference, stipulating that Islamic Shari'a is the main source of legislation". The report even quoted excerpts from the platforms of other parties, such as the Wafd, Greens, Umma and Liberals, which stress the need to continue the application of Islamic Shari'a.

In refuting Al-Shari'a's call for "ending the monopoly on authority by the National Democratic Party, ending the state of emergency, releasing all political detainees", and "abstention from putting civilians on trial before military courts ... and placing prisons under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice", the report argued that these are not new ideas, given the fact that the Nasserist and Tagammu parties, among others, have made similar calls in their platforms.

The report, however, took issue with a section in the platform entitled "political and social violence". Al-Shari'a attributed political violence to the fact that the "channels of dialogue [with the government] are blocked," and the spread of unemployment, corruption and violations of human rights. "The party, consequently, calls for [the government] opening a dialogue with the Islamic trends and the forces which are denied legality."

The committee responded that "If what is meant here is having a national dialogue, then this is already taking place either on the pages of newspapers or in seminars. But if [the party] is suggesting a dialogue with those who resort to violence to impose their ideas, then one cannot imagine that the party actually means a dialogue between those who communicate with words and good will and those who carry weapons." It also described Al-Shari'a's analysis of the factors that produced violence as "too vague".

Ismail said that he will contest the Political Parties Committee's decision before the Political Parties Tribunal "within days". And should the tribunal support the committee's decision, as is expected, Ismail will follow others' footsteps and apply for a licence using a different party name.

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