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Egypt's new constitution and 'divine religions'

By-Samer Soliman | 20 July 2012

 My brother, member of the Freedom and Justice Party, Al-Nour, Al-Assala, Construction and Development parties, or any other party based on religion, imagine if circumstance forced you to live in a European country or the US, which is not a far-fetched assumption since President Mohamed Morsi lived many years in the US while studying for his doctorate. Imagine you are living in the US and want to hold Friday prayers but you can’t because all the mosques have been shut down.

The candidate of God’s Army, a right-wing Christian movement, won the presidential race and the radical right controls Congress. This results in radical constitutional amendments and the addition of an article stating “freedom of religion is absolute and the state guarantees the freedom of religious practice for followers of divine religions.” Based on the new constitutional text, the federal government shuttered all the mosques and chased down anyone who tried to practice Islamic rituals in a centre, hotel or public place.
 
How would you react? You would be saddened and angry. You would make a fuss because fundamental human rights were violated. You will naturally file a motion with the US Supreme Court to exact justice, and of course human rights organisations would rise to defend the rights of Muslims in the US and demand respect for the constitution that states that freedom of religious practice for followers of “divine religions” must be protected. But to no avail.
 
The Supreme Court, which is infiltrated by followers of God’s Army, decides to research Muslim doctrine and ask the opinion of major churches and a representative of the Jewish faith. They all agree that divine religions are only Christianity and Judaism. Therefore, followers of Islam have no right to practice their religion in public. Accordingly, the decision of the Supreme Court causes the federal authorities to shut down mosques and pursue Muslims who practice their religion publicly.
 
At the same time, the court states that freedom of belief is sacrosanct in the US and citizens have the right to follow divine and other religions, but practicing religion is linked to public order and national security. The court adds that if the authorities allow free religious practice there would be a new sect every day, such as fire worshippers (pyrodulia), and foreign agents would infiltrate ranks and meddle in the US’s national security by destabilising the genuine religious beliefs of the American people.
 
Meanwhile, many media outlets launch a fierce campaign on human rights groups, secular political parties and some Christian and Jewish sects that rejected the Supreme Court’s ruling and who advocated the right of Muslims to equal citizenship. The media accuses them of betraying the supreme interests of the US because the issue of Muslims in the US is not about freedom of belief, but a matter of national security since the allegiance of these Muslims lies outside the US.
 
My brother, member of the Freedom and Justice Party and other parties based on religion, do you think that this imaginary scenario would be a nightmare for Muslims in the US? Actually, no. Not only is it a nightmare for Muslims in the US but also a nightmare for the US itself. The persecution of Muslims there would cause millions of American Muslims to flee the country, including great minds such as Ahmed Zuweil and Farouk Al-Baz.
 
The persecution machine would not stop at Muslims alone, but will steamroll Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and other sects. Once God’s Army, a Millennium Protestant movement, has wiped out all of these it will turn around and attack the Jews, Catholics and even other Protestant denominations. The court rules that although Baptist Protestants, Anglicans, Catholics and Jews follow divine religions, they have drifted away from true faith and therefore the authorities can close their churches and synagogues. In the end, the state will be distracted by prosecuting non-divine religions and neglect education, healthcare and security which eventually leads to the ruin of the country.
 
My brother, member of a party based on religion, if you disapprove of this happening in the US then how could you agree to it occurring in Egypt? The inclination of the Constituent Assembly to meddle with Article 46 in the old constitution, which commits the state to safeguard freedom of belief and freedom of religious practice, is a serious threat. The proposed text limits the right to religious practice to followers of “divine religions,” which is a calamity. The revolution took place to attain the trinity of freedom, social justice and human dignity. The national consensus among political forces after the revolution unfortunately did not converge into expanding individual freedoms, but at least it was based on maintaining what was accomplished under Mubarak’s regime.
 
The declaration by the Democratic Coalition for Egypt (founded by the Muslim Brotherhood) advocates: “Freedom of belief and worship and supporting national unity. Also, confirming the principles of equality among all citizens of all faiths.” Surely amending Article 46 and limiting freedom of belief to followers of “divine religions” is a breach of the Muslim Brotherhood promise made in the coalition declaration?
 
The problem is that you, members of parties based on religion, want everything. You want state agencies to be dedicated to persecuting those who have different beliefs than you, but at the same time — lo and behold — you want to claim that you respect freedom of religion and human rights. What is the meaning of freedom of belief if it is not linked to the right of the followers of the religion to declare their true identity and practice their religion? What? You said that freedom of belief means that every individual has the right to believe what they want, even apostasy, as long as they don’t declare it or preach it. This is in fact an invitation for cheap hypocrisy.
 
If the state will forcefully pressure followers of “non-divine beliefs,” do you expect any outcome except that they will not reveal what is in their hearts and that many of them will disguise themselves in your ranks? Do you plan to give every citizen a lie detector test to find out who truly believes in divine religions? Or are outward appearances all that matter?
 
Why don’t we learn from our past? Mubarak’s regime failed in its attempt to eliminate Bahaais in Egypt, who were registered in their ID cards as Bahaais until the 1990s. In its last years, Mubarak’s regime had the genius idea that Egypt only recognises “divine religions” and therefore asked Bahaais to choose between Judaism, Christianity or Islam. When they refused, the state denied them ID cards.
 
The conflict continued for many years until a court ruling granted Bahaais the right to leave the religion box empty. This was not based on any human rights or national principle that recognises the citizenship of this sect based on their Egyptian identity alone, but the court decided to grant the right to leave the box empty to separate Bahaais from Muslims in order to prevent the forbidden act of marriage between the two groups.
 
Why don’t religious currents take this as a good example? If you refuse to grant Bahaais, Shias, Quranists and others citizenship rights under the pretext that they are not your equals, then give them citizenship rights to serve your own interests so they are identified by their true identity and you cleanse them from your ranks.
 
How difficult is it for our politicians to be honest or address the problems of the people with courage? Do the people who are drafting Egypt’s constitution after the revolution know that they are putting the state in a tight spot when they insist on limiting freedom of belief and worship to followers of “divine religions”? Do they know that they are pressuring the state beyond endurance when they inundate and drain it with losing battles? Do they know that they are implicating themselves in deception and fraud or even contradicting their own beliefs?
 
Yes. The new text in the constitution will make you contradict your own beliefs. If the new constitution dictates that the state will guarantee the right of free religious practice for followers of “divine religions,” what will you do with the Copts? You don’t believe that their religion is divine, which is your right; and they in turn do not believe in your religion, which is their right also.
 
There is no need for duplicity and claims that you recognise Christianity because you do not believe that Christianity today is the original religion. So, would you change your beliefs to adapt to the new constitution and add the adjective “divine” to Coptic practice? Or will you ask the state to prevent Copts from practicing their religion because their current beliefs are not divine enough? Where are we going with this? Do you realise the havoc you will wreak in Egypt?
 
If we wanted clarity and resolve, the answer is simple. We should all maintain our faith and have the right to believe it is the sole true religion, and the role of the state would be limited to facilitating religious practice for all citizens without discrimination. Also, that our brothers in parties based on religion become convinced that the state’s admission of the existence of Bahaais, Shias and others in Egypt, and recognition of their rights in practicing their religion, is not equivalent to recognition by the Muslim majority that these are divine religions.
 
It is not the role of the state to assign “divine” branding of its citizens. What a great loss for Egypt; a glorious revolution that inspired the world is followed by a Constituent Assembly that is wasting its energy in an absurd debate that most of humanity has already moved beyond.
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