November 21, 2012
Egyptian Churches Give Up on Helping to Create New Constitution
Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics jointly withdraw, saying assembly marginalizes non-Islamists.
In another blow to Egypt’s democratic transition, representatives of the Muslim nation's three main Christian bodies jointly decided to end their participation in writing a new constitution.
“The constitution ... in its current form does not meet the desired national consensus and does not reflect the pluralistic identity of Egypt,” said Bishop Pachomious, acting patriarch for the Coptic Orthodox Church. The announcement was made one day before Pope Tawadros II assumed the papal throne of St. Mark, the gospel writer.
A primary complaint is over the role of shari'ah. Article Two of Egypt's 1971 constitution, as well as the current draft of the new constitution, enshrines the "principles" of shari'ah to be the primary source of legislation. Pope Tawadros does not dispute the article as currently defined—including its designation of Islam as the religion of the state. But all churches reject its expansion.
“They left Article Two as is, but then added another article defining the principles of shari'ah,” said Safwat el-Baiadi, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt and now a former member of the constitutional assembly drafting the new constitution. “The only ones who can understand this article are graduates of al-Azhar [the Cairo-based center of Islamic scholarship].”
Baiadi explains the assembly is a group of 100 members appointed by the now-dissolved parliament, and reflects its overwhelming Islamist majority. As a result, the draft constitution includes articles guaranteeing basic freedoms and women’s rights—to the extent they do not violate shari'ah law. Freedom of religious practice, for example, is limited only to the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
If an upcoming court case does not subsequently dissolve the constitutional assembly, a finalized draft of the new constitution will proceed to a national referendum and must pass with 51 percent of the vote. In fact, the referendum may precede the court ruling.
Egypt's church leaders have announced their decision is final; several liberal members have followed suit and also resigned. Some remaining liberal members limit the impact of these resignations. Others say negotiations continue for their return.
For the church, however, the issues are clear. “We will not participate any longer,” said Baiadi. “The only choice left is for the people to say yes or no.”