Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

No compromise

Salafis vow to escalate action until the Constituent Assembly bows to their demands, writes Amani Maged

Al-Ahram Weekly

Salafis are piling on the pressure for Islamic Sharia to be imposed on the new constitution. Although there is not the slightest chance Islamic law will be eliminated from the Egyptian political lexicon — no one has ever suggested as much — Salafi leaders continue to insist the word “principles” be struck from Article 2 of the draft constitution and the new draft read that the “rules” of Sharia are the main source of legislation.
Their campaign can best be understood in the context of Egypt’s current crossroads. They view the fall of the Mubarak regime and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power as presenting a historic opportunity which they are determined to grab. The most recent step in their campaign was the march Salafist movements organised last Friday.
 The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour Party absented themselves from the event. The Muslim Brothers felt no need to make a showing. For one, they and their political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), are eager to finalise the draft constitution. Secondly, they have no bones to pick with the word “principles” and are perfectly content with Article 2 as it stands. Some argue that “principles” is synonymous with “rules” so there is no reason to change the wording.
Nour Party spokesmen have said they prefer to wait until the final draft of the constitution is produced, believing it is possible to reach accommodations with the Muslim Brotherhood. Mohamed Mansour, a Nour Party representative on the Constituent Assembly which is drafting the constitution, explained the party’s reluctance to take part in last Friday’s demonstration in a statement to the press.
“We haven’t taken a decision yet with regard to participating in the ongoing demonstrations. We want to wait until a final draft is produced, at which time we will go to the people and proclaim that the forthcoming constitution violates the people’s desire for the application of Sharia.”
Last Friday’s march marked a new escalation in the Salafist drive for Sharia law. According to Sheikh Magdi Al-Sayed, a prominent Salafi leader, it won’t be the last. His camp has vowed to keep up the demonstrations until the word “principles” is struck from Article 2. Indeed, a mass demonstration has been called for tomorrow.
Salafis are also collecting signatures on a petition that they will then submit to the Constituent Assembly and the president. The petition calls for the application of Sharia to be stipulated explicitly in the constitution, without qualifying terms such as “principles” and without explanatory notes embedded in subsequent articles. The petition is being conducted over the Internet and signatories are required to upload a photocopy of their national identity card.
High on the Salafis’ list of priorities is to ensure that Sharia prevails over all articles pertaining to civic, human and personal rights, not least any articles relating to gender relations. Formulas they had insisted be included in early drafts were subsequently omitted and the Salafis want them reinstated. They are also insisting the constitution include an article prohibiting any legislation that violates the rules of Islamic Sharia and that reaffirms that God is the source of authority, not the people, as is the current wording.  
The Islamic Law Organisation has issued a statement urging Islamist forces “to express the value of Sharia and the great place it has in Muslim hearts” by having imams and preachers deliver sermons in mosques aimed at “acquainting the people with the tolerant properties of their Sharia and urging the need to abide by it and defend it against suspicion”.
The Shura Council of Islamic Theologians, headed by Abdallah Shaker and his assistant Mohamed Hassan, went further. It has demanded an explicit inviolable constitutional article stating that Islamic Sharia is the source of legislation and that any law that violates Islamic Sharia is null and void. The council has not issued a full response to the draft constitution, though it maintains that there is no need for Article 3 in the constitution following the provision that guarantees the rights of non-Muslims to appeal to their own religious rules. The council also rejected the idea that any official would be exempt from dismissal. As a spokesman framed the council’s objection, “No human being is infallible except for the prophet. It is therefore unacceptable for the constitution to state that any official is immune to dismissal.”
Hazem Abu Ismail’s participation in Friday’s demonstration came as a little surprise. The former presidential hopeful, disqualified because his mother held US nationality, told the throng of Salafis that he opposed the word “principles” in Article 2 and vowed to sustain peaceful pressure on the Constituent Assembly until the application of Islamic law was incorporated into the constitution.
Organisers of Friday’s demonstration posted large signs in various parts of Tahrir Square stating the following: “I, the undersigned, accept the addition to the second article that Sharia law is the foundation of the constitution and cannot be pre-empted or contradicted by any article, and that Sharia law is the source of all law making.”
This statement, which looks like a petition, is to be distributed in mosques over the coming days.
Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, whose members were on hand last Friday, argues that Mohamed Morsi, as the first president to come out of the revolution and the first president from an Islamist movement, should take up the call for the application of Islamic law and not leave its fate to liberal and secular parties.
Views were divided over the value of last Friday’s march. Some political analysts, such as Amr Al-Shuweiki, described the Salafis’ pro-Sharia call as a “fabricated” issue since no Egyptian opposes the application of the principles of Sharia law. This accounts for the relatively low turnout, he said. There were no more than 20,000 participants and the demonstration’s only achievement was to drive home the lack of justification for its being held in the first place.
Mosaad Mohamed, a member of the Coalition for the Application of Sharia Law, insists the march was successful “at all levels”.
“It sent a clear message that there will be no compromise on the application of Islamic Sharia and that the pressure will be sustained through all means and methods,” he said.
Some politicians believe that the campaign should be seen in the context of Salafist-Muslim Brotherhood tensions. Many of them charge that the new government has snubbed the Salafis when it comes to government appointments. Although President Morsi met with several Salafi leaders following last Friday’s demonstration they were not mollified. They emerged from the meeting to declare that they would persist in their demands for the application of Islamic Sharia and its incorporation into the new constitution.
Some of the banners and signs that protesters carried last Friday echoed the demands of the 25 January Revolution. There were placards reading “Revenge for the martyrs”, “the rights of the poor”, “dignity for the people”, “the people want a just distribution of wealth”. But they were far outnumbered by placards demanding Islamic Sharia, such as “The People want God’s law” beneath which was a photo of Omar Abdel-Rahman, “85 million Muslims want Islamic Sharia. There is no god but God,” and “We don’t want a change in faces, we want a change in the system of government with Sharia law.”
Some of the signs went further. Not a few demanded the revival of hisbah litigation abolished following the Nasr Abu Zeid case. Under hisbah the state and/or members of society may file “moral accountability” suits against people in the name of the Quranic exhortation to “enjoin what is good and forbid what is wrong”. Other protesters called for the establishment of religious courts which would rule on the basis of Sharia law. Such courts, these protesters argued, would disseminate justice and establish the principles of Islamic Sharia in society.
Observers may differ in their assessment of the efficacy of last Friday’s demonstration but there is no doubt that the Salafis themselves are persistent. They are determined to stand against “liberals and secularists” and impose their Islamist vision.

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