Cairo (AsiaNews/ Agencies) - The heated debate between Islamists and moderate Muslims over Egypt's constitution has led al-Azhar University to propose a new article to protect Christians in case Sharia is adopted. Earlier this month, a Constituent Assembly committee drafted Article 2 to state, "Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic its official language. Principles of Islamic law (Sharia) are the principal source of legislation." However, the assembly drafting the new charter is considering adding a line that reads, "Christians and Jews shall resort to legislation derived from their own religions."
Mohamed Abdel Salam, adviser to the Al-Azhar grand sheikh and member of the Constituent Assembly, said that, as it stands, the article is ambiguous, since it does not say which Sharia principles it should refer to and references to Christians could be misleading.
Al-Azhar would prefer that a separate article be added to the constitution to stipulate that Christians be subject to their own religious laws, rather than including this provision in Article 2.
Despite the steadfast defence of Christian rights and moderate Islam by al-Azhar and certain Muslim groups, the situation in post-Mubarak Egypt has not changed. Religion, not civil rights free from religious interpretations, dominates the debate, which is not what many of those who protested in Tahrir Square wanted. Notions like citizenship, the rights of the individual and the separation of state and religion are still excluded from the debate.
For some experts, a separate article or law would protect Christians as a minority, but would lead to their total isolation, a trend already visible in many Cairo neighbourhoods and villages, where residential segregation along religious line prevails.
This has slowed down Egypt's march towards modernity.
Orthodox and Catholic Copts represent about 10 per cent of the population. Many are in favour of religion-based rights. This is already the case in Ira, Syria and Lebanon, where the population is defined by religious affiliation rather than shared citizenship.
This has favoured the progressive ghettoisation of minorities, who face the danger of total isolation, which is counterproductive and damaging to universal civil rights.
Article 2 of the constitution has not yet been changed. In order to stem the Islamist wave, al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb has called on his representatives in the assembly to leave Article 2 of the 1971 Constitution as it is since it was agreed upon and accepted by all national forces.