The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) has sent to the President and both houses of the Parliament an appeal signed by more than 100 Egyptian public figures calling for amending Article 2 of the Constitution that states that Islamic Sharia law is the main source of legislation. Signatories include a number of prominent intellectuals, writers, journalists, academics, politicians, authors and human rights defenders.
Earlier, on 12 February, the CIHRS had submitted a memorandum to the speakers of both houses of parliament on the issue of amending the Constitution. The memorandum suggested the amendment of Article 2 and Article 77 (suggesting a maximum term of office for the President) and expressed objections to cancelling judicial supervision of elections. The memorandum also expressed opposition to bestowing constitutional protection on the exceptional powers given to the security forces under the pretext of combating terrorism, and objected to the ban on forming religiously orientated political parties. Hereinafter is the text of the appeal.
Appeal for Amending Article 2 of the Constitution
The undersigned call for amending Article 2 of the Constitution that states that “Islam is the religion of the state” and that “the principles of the Islamic Sharia law are the main source of legislation.” The undersigned address their appeal to the President of the Republic, the speakers of the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council, political parties, civil society institutions and leaders of public opinion, in the hope that the President and the legislative councils incorporate this demand into the constitutional amendments underway.
The call for amendment based on the following:
First: specifying a certain religion as the religion of the state implies a breach of the presumed state neutrality toward its citizens who belong to different religions and beliefs that are not mentioned in any way in the Constitution. This has led to the handing down of court rulings that deny Egyptian citizens their right to embrace their adopted beliefs and that leave them no option other than changing their beliefs in order to get their identity cards or official papers.
Second: the amendment made to this same Article in 1980 making “the principles of Islamic Sharia law the main source of legislation” does not mention any other sources for legislation, which makes the Sharia in effect the sole source of legislation. In fact this is borne out by the memorandum of the parliamentary committee that had prepared the final draft of the amendment: in the introduction it states that the will of the constitutional legislator meant these principles to be “the sole source,” and that in this way the amendment seeks to oblige legislators to not resort to “other sources,” even if no answers are provided by the Islamic Sharia to the problem being tackled. Indeed the Higher Constitutional Court mentions this in its relevant rulings.
This development was a grave setback for the principle of citizenship and for the civil state project to the benefit of the religious state project.
Third: in all countries legislations combine inspiration from their own cultural reservoirs with addressing the needs of the development of their societies in time and space. Needless to say, no one disputes that the Islamic civilisation constitutes an essential component of the cultural makeup of the Egyptians, but it is not the only one. We would otherwise be eliminating or overlooking the contributions of other civilisations, such as the Pharonic and the Coptic, to the making of the Egyptians’ culture and deepest sensibilities. Moreover, the Islamic civilisation cannot be reduced to merely the legal provisions it produced in a certain historical period, nor to a particular school of thought from among the many that flourished in its context. Hence it was necessary that the text reflected such historical fact (the varied sources of the Egyptian’s civilisational heritage) and contemporary ones (the diversity in the Egyptians’ religions and beliefs). This way the constitutional legislator would have avoided the charge of endeavouring to impose one religion’s provisions on those who do not believe in it, in contravention of Egypt’s commitment according to international human rights instruments.
Fourth: despite the fact that Islamic legal jurisprudence school is among the most outstanding in the world, the constitutional text is characterised by serious ambiguity and restrictiveness. Its construction depends on the legislators and legal interpreters in the Constitutional and other courts, and thus is subject to their political, doctrinal and jurisprudential affiliations. In any case such principles can not be accorded the same stature as holy books (such as the Quran and the Bible), as they are the product of human endeavours that took place around ten centuries ago in the context of the specific historical, political, cultural, social and economic conditions of those times.
Fifth: the Constitutional text, in its present form, ignores the presence of other religions and beliefs in Egyptian society that have their own provisions, which in effect downgrades those other beliefs and their followers. This reflects itself in everyday social and political life, in court rulings, and in deepening the marginalisation and injustice felt by the followers of the other religions and beliefs.
Sixth: the experience of twenty-five years in which this Article has been in force shows that it has been a factor, inter alia, in the decline of the presumed even-handedness of the state towards its citizens. It has also contributed towards the violation of the right to equality without distinction based on religion, which has become a fact no one mentions any more (however varied assessments are of the extent, nature and indications of such inequality). The same text has been used to justify the overwhelming encroachment of religious formalities on all aspects of social, cultural, political and economic life (including the stock exchange and banks). It has been also employed to create and spread an atmosphere of extremism to the detriment of the freedom of scientific research, the freedoms of thought and literary and artistic creation, and the spiritual nourishment of Egyptians. Education curricula as well as state-owned media have become a principal source of propagating religious extremism, to the extent that the Ministry of Religious Endowments published recently a book calling citizens who follow religions other than Islam infidels and stating that their property and lives can be taken without punishment!
Accordingly, the undersigned call for the amendment of Article 2 taking into consideration that:
1- Islam is the religion of the majority of citizens;
2- The general values and principles of religions and beliefs constitute one of the principal sources of legislation, in conformity with Egypt’s commitments according to international human rights instruments, and without prejudice to the rights of citizenship or the right of equality before the law;
3- The enjoyment of civil rights and liberties should not depend on one’s religious beliefs;
4- All state apparatuses should observe neutrality toward the different religions and faiths and the citizens who follow them.
Finally, the undersigned reaffirm their respect for all religions and beliefs and their appreciation of the religious sensibilities of all citizens. By making this appeal they try to make a contribution to the debate on the amendment of the Constitution and seek to stop the homeland sliding into ruptures along confessional lines and religious extremism that are breaking up certain neighbouring countries. They also hope to contribute to setting Egypt on the course of progress to face up to the challenges of the twenty first century. The undersigned, while appreciating the good intentions behind the President’s proposal to add “the citizenship principle” to Article 1 of the Constitution, note that such an addition does not imply any concrete constitutional safeguards, especially in the light of the persistence of Article 2 in its present form.
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