In commemoration of the assassination of Farag Fouda: Debate on the civil state and sectarian problems in Egypt

In Salon Ibn Rushd by

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) held a symposium on June 12th 2007 entitled “In commemoration of the Assassination of Farag Fouda, The Remainders of Civil State in Egypt”. Participants included Mr. Sameh Fawzy, writer and researcher, Mr. Sobhi Saleh, Member of Parliament for the Muslim Brothers, and Mr. Helmy Salem, poet and editor-in-chief of Literature and Critique Magazine. Mr. Bahey El Din Hassan, CIHRS Director steered the symposium.

Mr. Bahey reviewed Dr. Fouda&#146s preoccupation with the civil state and his analytical contributions, characterized by boldness and audacity regarding the status of Copts, Shiites and Baha&#146is in Egypt. Bahey denounced the absence of official commemoration in Dr. Fouda&#146s honor and government&#146s fallback from its former pledge to reprint his works. Bahey linked between Fouda&#146s defense of civil state and the heated discussions that accompanied the recent constitutional amendments regarding citizenship and the enhancement of civil state against the threat posed by the religious state. He indicated that the period following the endorsement of these amendments witnessed practices that were far from the civil society, such as incidents of civil strife, in addition to security pursuit of the “Qur&#146anists”, the continued sequestration of researches contradicting the opinions of the official religious establishment, and the widespread usage of terms such as the Christian sect, our Copt “community” for the first time in official discourse. Furthermore, a number of creative works have been confiscated and investigations are ongoing with their authors, and the official religious institutions declared their standpoint against women&#146s appointment as judges.

On his part, Sameh Fawzy criticized the method the sectarian file has been addressed, and condemned official disregard of the “Oteify Commission” recommendations of 1972 despite their importance. He also censured what he deemed as “intensive religious contention” in Egyptian life, and relegated this phenomenon to satellite channels and websites which devote themselves to such contentions and to casting doubts over the doctrinal beliefs of others. Furthermore, the religious parliamentary committee is almost playing no role at all, official supervision of religious “tapes” is almost absent, and school curricula include many misleading notions in this respect. Fawzy pointed out to the growing situation of Copt “reclusion” and their detachment from the wider social space and the fact that they became subjects to the state and the religious establishment.

Mr. Helmy Salem, Editor-in-Chief of Literature and Critique magazine maintained that decades of the twentieth century witnessed well-known and flagrant incidents that contravened principles of the civil state, demonstrating his argument by incidents of intellectual and political sequestration of works belonging to great thinkers such as Taha Hussein, Ali Abdel Razeq, Khaled Mohamed Khaled, and Najeeb Mahfouz. He indicated that most of these sequestrations were due to the religious frame of reference. Salem argued that the Egyptian society has been witnessing since the mid-seventies of last century, a situation of fissure and schism between religious opinion and law. He also asserted that the argument about constitutional safeguards to freedoms of thought and belief are illusions that should be eliminated.

Salem criticized the repeated statements regarding the revival of religious rhetoric and maintained that this rhetoric has been renewed tens of times over the past fifteen centuries. He considered that the major predicament is that this revival has not been put into effect, in addition to the absence of the political authority and will to achieve this revival. The reason, according to him, was the power and ferocity of the reactionary line of thinking and the alliance it strikes with the existing political power. Salem contended that there is no substantial difference between the extremist and moderate lines in Muslim thought, as a result of the philosophic and theoretical ceiling that cannot be surpassed. He illustrated his argument by Dr. al-Ghazali&#146s confiscation order of Najeeb Mahfouz&#146s famous novel “Children of our Alley” (&#146Awlad Haretna), in addition to his famous testimony in the case of Farag Fouda&#146s assassination. Salem indicated that Islam is two-folded: one aspect gives the enlightened the essence they need and the other provides despots with the requisite tools. He also considered that Egypt bears the elements of civil state but they are “filled with the items of a religious state”. He requested the abolition of the fatwa institution conclusively in favor of the law, and the renunciation of al-Azhar&#146s custody over creativity and free thinking as well at the institution of Hisbah (“verification”, an Islamic doctrine of keeping everything in order within the laws of Allah) either with regard to individuals or public prosecution. He also called for the amendment of Article 2 of the Constitution, and to a confrontation of thought, opinion and treatises with their counterparts and not with guns or imprisonment.

Mr. Sobhi Saleh emphasized that Dr. Farag Fouda was the victim of his own thinking and that he was murdered in full and unjustified perfidy. Meanwhile, he denoted that Fouda had been engaged in debates with intellectually deviant groups and vowed himself to a partial rather than comprehensive perception of civil state. Saleh also argued that Fouda&#146s thoughts have already been raised with the same amount of courage in previous eras such as the twenties of last century.

Saleh considered the circumstances that Egypt is currently undergoing as syndromes of the loss of state landmarks, philosophy and political project, where the form and characteristics of the political system were blurred. He asserted that the Islamic movement believes that parliamentary government is the closest form to Muslim thought, which rejects theocracies because they are built upon divine proxy. He stressed that every human community has a governing reference and philosophy, and that in Islamic thought there is no extremist and moderate lines but moderate and deviant.

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