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.

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