Monday, April 30, 2007

Constitutional Position of Islam Questioned

An interesting article on the position of Islam in Egypt!

CAIRO, Mar 21 (IPS) - Another constitutional debate has erupted this month after a number of academics and rights activists called for the amendment of Article 2 of the national charter that defines a role for Islam.

The Article states that "Islam is the religion of the state" and that "Islamic Law constitutes the principle source of legislation."

Critics of the amendment proposal say the demand will only serve to inflame passions between the country's minority Christian community and its Muslim majority.

Safwat el-Sherif, head of the Shura Council (the consultative house of parliament), said that diluting the role of Islam in the constitution "would only lead to sectarian strife" between Muslims and Christians.

"Islam is the religion of the state, but that doesn't mean that it is forced on non-Muslims," El-Sherif said in on state television. Constitutional issues have been at the forefront of public debate since December, when President Hosni Mubarak called for the amendment of 34 articles of the national charter.

While Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) has portrayed the move as marking "a new era of political reform," most opposition figures say the proposed changes will only further cement the NDP's grip on political authority.

The articles up for amendment cover a number of contentious issues, ranging from the limits of presidential authority, judicial supervision of the electoral process, to anti-terror legislation. Article 2, however, is not on the list of proposed changes.

The role of Islamic Law as "a main source" of legislation has been stipulated in Egypt's constitution throughout modern history.

In 1980, however, former president Anwar Sadat -- while also changing the article governing presidential term limits -- altered the text to "the main source of legislation."

Now a handful of liberal reformers are calling for the relevant article to be changed, saying it has led to a policy of official discrimination against non-Muslim citizens.

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