In Debate Over Egypt's New Constitution, Muslim Law Sparks a Holy War of Words

Muslim Brotherhood's recent announcement that the country's forming constitution will be based on Sharia law represents an attempt to appease both liberals and Islamists.

Avi Issacharoff
Avi Issacharoff
Avi Issacharoff
Avi Issacharoff

An announcement by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, that Islamic law will serve as the basis of the country's newly drafted constitution, comes amid attempts by the ruling party to deflect pressure from both Islamist and secular blocs.

In a statement published on Wednesday, the Brotherhood said that a country ruled by Shariah would not become a theocracy, in an attempt to clarify the group's position toward the country's most contentious issue - the extent of Islamic influence in governance and legislation.

However, it seems that the vaguely worded statement was meant in reality to accomplish two goals, having to do with Egypt's internal politics.

On one hand, the release was meant to ease pressure from the Salafi movement, who criticized the Brotherhood in recent for backing down from their intention to base Egypt's new constitution on Shariah law.

On the other, the statement was meant to diminish secular and liberal concerns from an full-on Islamization of the constitution.

Controversy on the issue is focusing on the wording of the constitution's reference to the Shariah.

The constitution due to be replaced by new legislative measures stated that the "principles of the Sharia" would serve as the basis of Egyptian law, a wording most in the secular and liberal bloc prefer since it allows civilian law more space to deal with Sharia law.

However, the Egypt's Salafi bloc would like to see the current wording changed so as to say that "Sharia verdicts" will serve as the basis of Egyptian law, effectively turning Muslim clerics into the country's legislators.

In their statement on Wednesday, the Muslim Brotherhood reiterated the current phrasing, according to which Egyptian law would be based on the "principles of the Sharia," adding, however, a clause that indicates that these principles include the "rulings" made by clerics and in the "accepted sources" of Koran interpretation.

Yousri Hamad, the official spokesman of the Al Noor Salafi Muslim political party, said in response to the Brotherhood's statement that the "clarifications are acceptable."

The Salafi movement intends to hold a march during the upcoming weekend, meant to pressure the government into basing the constitution on Muslim law.

At the end of the year, a referendum is due to take place to approve the constitution, which is currently being drafted by a 100-member panel dominated by representatives of the two Islamist movements.

Protests in Egypt.Credit: AP
Egyptians chanting against the Muslim Brotherhood and demanding the constitution to be dissolved; Cairo, October 19, 2012.Credit: Reuters

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