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mediazioni e arbitrati, risoluzione alternativa delle controversie e servizi di mediazione e arbitrato
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» 07/13/2012
ISLAM - EGYPT - LIBYA
Secularists and moderate Muslims against Islamist-backed Sharia
In Egypt, Salafists want to include direct references to Islamic law in the constitution. Al-Azhar University, state institutions and moderate forces oppose them. Islamists are losing support among Egyptians who do not want to go back to the Middle Ages, Muslim scholar says. In Libya, progressive forces reject religious interference in politics.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - Forced into hiding for more than 40 years, Islamists now want to impose their radical vision of Islam in the countries that experienced the Arab spring. In Egypt, Salafist members of the constituent assembly are pushing to change the first three articles of the constitution in order to add direct references to Sharia. If this is done, Egypt would become a religious state. In Tunisia, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali spoke at his party's congress, Ennahda (Muslim Brotherhood), where he said that the new constitution would be inspired by Islamic principles but would remain secular and democratic. Libya is the exception. Progressives within Mohammed Jibril's National Forces Alliance (NFA), which emerged as the first political force in recent elections to the constituent assembly, said emphatically that religion would be kept out of politics in order to build a secular and democratic state based on the rule of law, not judgements of religious authorities. Still even in Libya, the NFA's position has proven divisive for some former members of the National Transitional Council (NTC). A few days ago, former NTC chief Mustafa Abdul Jalil said that the new Libya would include refers to Sharia and the Qur'an anyway.

In all these countries, religious minorities, especially Christians, are quite concerned. If Sharia were to be enforced, they would become second class citizens. Muslims too would be at risk. In Egypt and Tunisia, a majority of voters backed the Muslim Brotherhood in reaction to the "secular" regimes of Mubarak and Ben Alì; nevertheless, they are deeply worried about radical shifts that might plunge post-Arab spring nations back into a Muslim Middle Age.

In an interview with AsiaNews, Wael Mohammed Farouq, a professor with the Arabic Language Institute at The American University in Cairo, said, "Islamists are in power, but Egypt has been a secular state for more than 200 years and it will not be easy for politicians to transform the country without clashing with popular opposition. No one wants to turn the country into an Islamic state." The same goes for Tunisia.

The ongoing battle in Egypt's constituent assembly centres on amendments to the first three articles of the 1971 constitution. Salafists, who have a big contingent in the assembly, were able to change the first article, adding 'shura,' a term used in the Qur'an to refer to consultative bodies, in the section that refers to the democratic basis of the state.

According to Wael Farouq, the real battle will be over the second article, which says, "Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic its official language. Principles of Islamic law (Sharia) are the principal source of legislation." Islamists from the al-Nour party want to replace 'Principles' with "rulings", binding legislation to Qur'anic legal opinions.

"Although it refers to Sharia, that article was never applied in 30 years because the constitutional court only relied on general Islamic principles like democracy, justice and freedom. Now Salafists want to change the article and subordinate legislation to legal rulings made by 14th century imams. If that happens, Egypt will turn into a religious state, turning the clock back to the Middle Ages.

For the Muslim scholar, Salafists are facing the opposition of moderate forces, especially the leaders of Al-Azhar University, government institutions and until recently, even the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Al-Azhar is doing everything I can to prevent changes to Article 2," Farouq said. "As the constitution itself says, it [al-Azhar] is the only institution that can interpret the principles of Islamic law. The Islamic university is respected by all Egyptians and represents moderate islam, but in the future the grand imam could be a Salafist. For this reason, many, including myself, want the article removed so that the state has no religious bases. Society can have a religion, not the institutions of the state."

The debate that developed in the assembly shows how hard it will be for Salafists to impose their views on today's moderate islam. "They might get a majority but without support from the various institutions, they will not be able to rule. Despite their power, I do not believe Islamists can get the changes they want. Without such support, the constitution will never be changed. This occurred in recent months, when the constitutional court dissolved the assembly. They same could happen again in the next few days."

According to Wael Farouq, Libya appears to be an exception to the general rule, and this despite the presence of powerful extremist Muslim groups who rode on the coattails of the anti-Gaddafi revolution. "Progressive and moderate Libyan forces are lucky because they never cooperated with the Gaddafi regime."

In Egypt, the opposite is true. Most moderates were involved with the regime or collaborated with Mubarak. People voted for the Islamists just to keep out cronies of the old regime. The presidential vote is a case in point. Islamists can claim 24 per cent of support, which is what they got in the first round of vote. About 66 per cent are moderate and want a modern and secular state.

The power of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists suffered a major blow following President Mohammed Morsi's decision to convene parliament after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled it unconstitutional.

Ordinary Egyptians, who have great respect for the institutions of government, did not take gladly to the new president's action, Wael Farouq explained. Many saw it as an attempt to hold onto to absolute majority in parliament and avoid a defeat in the next elections.


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See also
03/12/2013 EGYPT - LIBYA
Christian dies in Benghazi: wrath of Egyptian Copts against Libya explodes in Cairo
07/20/2012 EGYPT
Al-Azhar calls on constituent assembly to adopt a separate article for Christians
09/13/2013 EGYPT
Minya, Islamists seize a Protestant church and turn it into a mosque
03/13/2013 EGYPT - LIBYA
Benghazi, Coptic Christians denounce torture and attempts to convert them to Islam
09/12/2012 LIBYA-EGYPT-USA
Attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and embassy in Cairo. One dead

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pp. 176
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