Morsi’s bid to impose Shariah
- Last Updated: 12:02 AM, December 1, 2012
- Posted: 10:47 PM, November 30, 2012
In a race against time, the assembly writing Egypt’s new constitution sent what it calls “the final draft” to President Mohammed Morsi yesterday.
Initially, he’d given the assembly until February, but he had to shorten the deadline when it became clear that his decision to rule by decree was provoking widespread opposition across the country.
Further reason to hurry came when secular forces opted to boycott the assembly’s proceedings in protest against Morsi’s rule-by-decree decision. That gave Morsi a two-third majority in the assembly, enough to endorse his Muslim Brotherhood agenda.
The final push came when the Constitutional Court, full of former regime appointees and thus hostile to Morsi, served notice it would declare the assembly “illegal” by tomorrow.
The Constitutional Court, which has already disbanded an elected parliament, may still declare the draft null and void, putting the fight between the president and the judiciary several notches higher.
A glance at the draft reflects contradictions at the heart of Egyptian society.
For starters, a good constitution is supposed to be short and vague; the Egyptian draft is neither. Anxious to provide “precise limits” to the executive power, the draft has become the longest constitution in the world. It has 234 articles, some divided into several subsections.
The result is the creation of countless loopholes that Egypt’s rulers, steeped in a culture of despotism, could exploit to their advantage while providing lawyers with a permanent feast of suits and counter-suits.
Because Egypt has a substantial Coptic Christian minority, logic would dictate steering clear of attempts at imposing the Islamic Shariah as the law of the land. Just such an attempt in neighboring Sudan led to that country’s eventual breakup between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
To circumvent that problem, the Egyptian draft declares Shariah to be “the main source of legislation” — a strange phrase, if only because Islamists claim that all the laws that humanity might need are already present in the Koran, leaving no need for Western-style legislatures. Rather, the people need only listen to Islamic scholars who dig into the ocean of Islam and discover the laws needed at any given time.
Thus the constitution’s lengthy dealing with such Western concepts as separation of powers and elections are at best irrelevant and at worst a challenge to Islamic rule.
Since Shariah mostly deals with personal rights in a very clear (not to say simplistic) way, it’s hard to see how it could be used in a manner vague enough to satisfy both the Islamists and those who prefer the modern code of human rights.
For example, under Shariah, the punishment for apostasy is death. At any given time, quite a few Egyptians are declared to be “apostate” in fatwas issued by self-styled guardians of Islam. Will the Egyptian state carry out those fatwas in the name of Shariah ? Or will it set up special courts to decide who can be put to death as an apostate?
Similarly, the draft pays lip service to freedom of expression but drops dangerous hints about dealing with insults to religion.
Compared to the constitution in force in the Mubarak era, the draft is a step backward. True, Mubarak and the despots before him cared little about what any constitution said — but that doesn’t justify an attempt at imposing a constitution that, legally speaking, could put Egypt back to medieval times.
Egypt’s democrats have committed every political mistake in the book. They failed to agree on a candidate in the presidential election and ended up boycotting the whole exercise. That enabled the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Morsi, to win with the support of less than 10 percent of those with the right to vote.
Next, the democrats tried to fight Morsi in the streets rather than through institutions, or whichever part of them was still functioning. Last week, they announced a new boycott, this time of the process of writing a constitution.
If they continue sulking and boycotting, the draft will be put to referendum without them and approved by a massive majority in a low-turnout vote.
Rather than sulking and walking away, Egyptian democrats should come back and fight.Follow @NYPostOpinion