Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The state and religion

The British Independent newspaper has recently published a report on a conflict between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is a Hindu religious party and the opposition parties in the state of Karnataka in South India over a new policy that desires the teaching of religious text from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita for three hours every week in the state schools. The opposition parties were concerned that this new proposal is against the secular constitution of India which does not endorse a specific religion in spite of the massive Hindu majority in India. The Indian constitution demands equality amongst all the citizens regardless of religion, gender, race, cast, or place of birth. Imposing the teaching of one religion at schools even if it is the religion of the vast majority is considered against the spirit of the Indian constitution and would encourage demands for teaching other religions from the different religious communities within India. No agreement has been reached and the issue was referred to the high court of India for a judgement.
The Indian political system impresses me as a good example of how secular democracy can succeed in a deeply religious country. India has achieved remarkable political and economic progress while the majority of Asian and African countries have struggled post colonisation. These struggling countries have failed because they replaced external colonisation by internal ones in the form of military or single party dictatorship which created more corrupt and less efficient administrations than the previous imperial ones with all the inherent evils of foreign occupation. India on the other hand has succeeded because Gandhi, Nehru and the other leaders of the Congress Party were committed from day one after the independence of creating a secular democratic society that gives equal opportunities to its entire population and refusing the dominance of one group or sect. Gandhi lost his life because of his strong believe against the dominance of Hinduism and was shot dead by a Hindu fundamentalist. For several decades now all the citizens of India enjoy practicing their chosen religion freely without imposition of the values of the majority Hindu religion on the rest of the population. Although in Hinduism cows are considered sacred and the Hindu religion demands from its followers to be vegetarians there are no restrictions on the practice of eating cow’s meat within India. Muslims, Christians, non-believers or other minorities can eat meat freely in India whenever they want and wherever they want.
Should the state be actively involved in promoting religious teaching and practices? In my view the main responsibility of the state is to ensure the security of the country against foreign forces and the safety of its people within secure legitimate borders. The state should protect the human rights of its citizens, freedom of expression, social justice; provide equal opportunities for honest living, and work to achieve the happiness of its people. Religious education is the responsibility of religious institutions which should have the full freedom to educate and preach their followers and full freedom of the believers to express and practice their religions’ under the protection of the state laws. The Indian example shows us that majority religion can survive and flourish without state interference or attacks on those who don’t adhere to its rules and accusing them of apostasy. In addition, the state sees no needs for reminding the believers of religious practices through TV channels or other state media. True believers often do not need these intrusive reminders.
Religious society can be maintained without state promotion and the Indian example should be carefully studied by all politicians in Egypt who are interested in maintain the religious identity of Egypt and achieving a fair and free society.
SK Morcos
July 2011

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Free Egypt: The road to enlightenment

Free Egypt: The road to enlightenment: "Dare to know - Immanuel Kant, (1724-1804)) The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking-..."

The road to enlightenment

Dare to know - Immanuel Kant, (1724-1804))
The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking- M Heidegger (1889-1976)
After the excitement of the revolution of 25th of January there is a concern that the revolution would be undermined by reactionary forces within Egypt. It is the duty of the intellectuals in Egypt at this critical point of time to unite and act to reach the Egyptian people who have been systematically misinformed over the last 60 years through bad education and corrupt media. More recently they were inculcated with wrong dogmas and ideas by fanatic misguided preaching. It is time for the intellectuals of Egypt to wake up and communicate directly with the masses by all available means to counteract these backward forces that damaged our society. It is the duty of those who claim knowledge and wisdom to spare no effort to ensure that the light of enlightenment shines again in Egypt our great homeland.
Here are some thoughts inspired by eminent philosophers such as John Locke, Thomas Paine, B Russell and Khalil Gibran. They might interest those who appreciate reason and knowledge in shaping their views and believes.
On Education and Knowledge
The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge. People who are better informed are more reflective and more likely to be considerate than those who are allowed to remain ignorant, narrow minded, selfish and uncivil in their conduct with others.
Good education requires freedom to think, question and use of reason publically. It refines the capacity for judgement and evaluation. It produces people who go on learning after their formal education ceased, who think, questions and know how to find answers.
On Media
Individuals are not born into a desert; they are inculcated into a tradition and believe. Media in particular which are currently available in many forms have a tremendous power in influencing morality and human perception of reality. Corrupt media therefore, have a massive power in radically undermining knowledge, believes and duties of individuals. There is no doubt that  misguided media and some religious satellites have played a substantial role in breeding fundamentalism in Egypt especially amongst those who seek knowledge through the easiest means. Unfortunately, the use of reason and empirical methods in acquiring knowledge are pursued only by the minority.
On Fundamentalism
Fundamentalism is uncritical acceptance of doctrine or tradition. It substitutes emotion for evidence. It demands a closed mind and suspension of rational faculties. Its power to reassure is irresistible to its adherents.
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts- B Russell (1872 – 1970)
Religion has two principal enemies, fanaticism and infidelity, or that which is called atheism. The first requires to be combated by reason and morality, the other by natural philosophy- Thomas Paine (1737-1809).
A message to fundamentalists
My religion is to do good-Thomas Paine (1737-1809).

All mankind; being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions- John Locke- (1632-1704).

Finally, the darkness of ignorance one day will be lifted and the light of knowledge will shine again in Egypt. However, enlightenment requires social justice, individual liberty, pursuit of knowledge, and sense of belonging to human communities.
Sameh Morcos,
May 2011

Free Egypt: A notice to the Egyptian people:Make sure that our...

Free Egypt: A notice to the Egyptian people:Make sure that our...: "In 2009 David Owen (Psychiatrist and past Foreign Secretary in the UK) and J Davidson of Duke University, department of psychiatry published..."

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Free Democratic and Secular Egypt

Currently there is a committee of senior judges under the chairmanship of the learned judge Tarek El-Beshry is drafting the new constitution of Egypt which will determines the future of Egypt in the 21st century. I hope that the new constitution will ensure the creation of a democratic and secular society controlled by fair laws that apply equally to all the citizens regardless of gender, race, social status or religion.

A constitution that specifies the religion of the nation or the religion of the president is exclusive, divisive and not compatible with the basic rules of a free civilised nation that should treat all its citizens equally. The late Dr Ahmed Abdallah a leading figure in the field of political science always stated that countries have no religion only people who have a religion. A fair society has the duty to protect the right of its citizens to choose and practice whatever religion each individual desires. Civilised nations are also judged by the way they treat the minorities of their societies.

We are at a critical moment of our history and I trust that this highly esteemed committee we will be able to get it right this time. Europe has progressed and achieved modernity and produced civilised societies since it succeeded in separating religion from the constitution and abolished the influence and the power of the Roman Church and other religious organisations on the public affairs and laws of the European nations.  However, the constitution of some European and Latin American countries still indicates Christianity is the official religion of the country. It surprised me to discover that this item is part of the constitution of some Scandinavian countries which are very secular communities and  the influence of religion on the law of the land is marginal. Their laws clearly protect and acknowledge the right of the existence of other religions and believe within their communities. Since religion’s influence on public life in these countries is not prominent my guess nobody bothered challenging this item of the constitution.
The way the Greek stated the role of the Church within their constitution seems reasonable and can be copied in the new Egyptian constitution which can state “The prevailing religion in Egypt is Islam”. However, personal I prefer much more the Spanish constitution (see below) which is compatible with the aspiration of modern times and believes

Spain, Article 16  [Religion, Belief, No State Church]
(1) Freedom of ideology, religion, and cult of individuals and communities is guaranteed without any limitation in their demonstrations other than that which is necessary for the maintenance of public order protected by law.
(2) No one may be obliged to make a declaration on his ideology, religion, or beliefs.
(3) No religion shall have a state character.  The public powers shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and maintain the appropriate relations of cooperation, with the Catholic Church and other denominations.

Finally, I am fully aware of the apprehension and concern amongst many Egyptians about the term “Secular Democratic Egypt” and they prefer the term “Civil Democratic Egypt”. There is serious misunderstanding that secularism implies atheism which is far from the truth. In a secular society the source of values is much wider and more inclusive than in a closed religious community. The right of belief and practice of any religion is protected, and  the cultural identity of the country is protected. Secularism is not anti Islam or any other religion, secularism is inclusive of all identities and beliefs. Egypt has been and will always be a religious country with Islam the predominant religion, but the laws of the land have to be inclusive and protect the rights of all the people regardless of religion, gender, race or ethnicity and without dominance of one group over another.

Well, what matters now is not losing the momentum of the revolution and we should be accommodating and tolerant to all the views of honest citizens who love Egypt and wishing the best for its people.

Clean Free Egypt

Congratulations to the young people of Egypt for their efforts to clean the country as they have cleaned it from a corrupt regime.
Rwanda, in East Africa is an example to be followed.  It suffered terrible civil war 15 years ago caused the death of more than a million of its people. The current administration introduced several good schemes to heal the wounds of terrible past and build a modern affluent society. One of the impressive schemes the government introduced is on the last Saturday of every month from 8am to 12am everybody including the president is obliged to clean the streets of the area where they live. Kigali the capital of Rwanda is currently a spotless city with clean streets and tidy beautiful gardens everywhere. I hope we can copy the same policy in Egypt, so one day all the cities, towns and villages of Egypt become clean without heaps of rubbish and dirt accumulating in our streets and lanes.
Thanks again to the young Egyptians for igniting the efforts to clean Egypt as they have ignited the 25th of January revolution. Well done my brothers and sisters,  keep up the good work!!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A notice to the Egyptian people:Make sure that our new president does not develop the Hubris Syndrome!!

In 2009 David Owen (Psychiatrist and past Foreign Secretary in the UK) and J Davidson of Duke University, department of psychiatry published a paper with the title “Hubris Syndrome”. The syndrome is defined as “exaggerated pride, overwhelming self-confidence and contempt for others”. Another definition which I obtained from the internet states: “Hubris indicates a loss of touch with reality and overestimating one's own competence or capabilities”.
The sufferer of Hubris syndrome may exhibit the following:
·         Messianic zeal
·         Exaltation in speech
·         Conflates self with nation
Is Hubris syndrome of presidents preventable? The answer is yes, and the following measures could be helpful:
·         No president should be allowed to stay in power beyond 8 years
·         Treat presidents as human beings with the same virtues and vices that we know ourselves posses.
·         The president should always be reminded of his all –too-human frailty. King Philip of Macedonia allegedly employed a man with a stick, the main job of this man is to walk into Philip’s quarter at any hour and hit him over the head with the stick to remind him that he was only mortal.
·         Free press and media should play the role of the man with the stick reminding the rulers that they are humans with flaws and short comings like the rest of us. In modern Egypt the official press and media (TV, radio) has to change its role from being a cheerleader of the president to become the voice of the people and the guardian of free and democratic Egypt. Free press and media should aim at the following:
o   Faire and objective monitoring of the president and government performance.
o   Offering constructive critical analysis of the work of the ruling elites.
o   Ensuring that the rulers are in continuous contact with reality and fully aware of the needs of the ordinary and voiceless citizens.
o   The nauseating tradition of daily praise of the president and his achievements should be avoided. Free media and press are not propaganda tools in the hands of the rulers to magnify their achievements and hide their failures.  
·         The culture and practices of worshiping the ruler should stop:
a.    There is no need for the president’s photo to be displayed in every public and private office in the country.
b.    There is no need to fill the news paper with adverts costing large amount of money to congratulate the president in every religious or national occasion.
c.    There is no need to have big posters displayed in our streets and squares citing the wonderful qualities of the president and stating the unconditional support of all the people.
d.    There are no needs for songs that worship the president. We need more songs that reflect the achievements and also the suffering of our people, songs that can give us hope in a better future, and songs to encourage us to work harder for the sake of our country and discourage us from selfish behaviour and abuses of power.

Finally, it is the duty of all of us to ensure that the old culture and practices that breed presidents with Hubris Syndrome are avoided. We already had three presidents over the last 6 decades with Hubris Syndrome, this is more than enough for Egypt and the Egyptian people and we certainly should not allow the creation of another one!!       

[NB: hubris syndrome was detailed in an article written by Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times on 13/2/2011]