Egypt, Fundamentalism and Democracy Mariam Elias Published Spring 2005
Mariam Elias 900020055 SOC 210 To Dr Said Sadek
Egypt, Fundamentalism and Democracy Probably, you might be familiar with this title. Actually, I have been reading Saad Eddin Ibrahim‘s book, Egypt, Islam and democracy. This book has really inspired me to write this paper and thus, I have a title that resembles the books title. I will start my essay with the last word in the title that is democracy. In fact, after amending the constitution and changing Article 76, word like “reform”, “democracy”, and “democratization” started to be in style. Press, Media, and public in general consider this step a breakthrough in democratizing Egypt. In fact it is a huge step in the democratization process. Yet, it is still a process that needs several developments and transformations. However, one of the main requirements of democracy is that every one would have equal political national rights. This is not the case in Egypt, this is because the rights of some sects in society such as women‘s and Copt’s rights are profoundly violated and neglected. Worse, after understanding the Islamic fundamentalist’s ideology I concluded that democratization and political rights are impossible in their presence. That’s why I will highlight first why women and Copts do not enjoy equal citizenship and political rights like others. Then I will explain how the presence of these Islamic fundamentalists has exacerbated the issue more.
Women: Although women are given the right to vote and to be elected for presidency, society and religion seem to be an obstacle to this right. Nawal El Sadawi, a prominent psychiatrist and a novelist, whose writings have been translated to many languages and taught at different universities, is thinking of running for presidency because it is her right as an Egyptian citizen. Still, when conducting in-‐depth interviews with AUC students, “A man is a man” or “women are too emotional” were typical answers that the interviewer received. These interviews gave me a lot of insights on how the Egyptian population thinks and why they believe it is impossible for a woman to rule. It seems that the difficulty of accepting a female president can be traced to religious, social and traditional reasons. All three factors are, of course, interrelated, but each of them has a huge effect on Egyptians. One of the very important influencers on Egyptians is religion. Since the majority of Egyptians are Moslems, Islam may influence their thought, ideas and behavior. However, many passages in the Quran or at least the way they are interpreted challenge the presence of democracy in the Egyptian society. Afaf Al –Sayyid, for instance, author of “Women in the Eyes of Men,” notes that some sayings of the Quran encourage the male dominance in society (p.9). “Men are caretakers of women since God favored some over others and because they spend of their wealth,” is one of those passages that the author refers to. She adds, that other passages grant the man double the portion of a woman in inheritance and also specify that two female witnesses are needed to testify in court (Al-‐Sayyid, 9). This shows that males are positioned and perceived as
superior to females, especially as the formers are given more rights and appreciation in different fields of life. So, no wonder that Egyptians, who are Muslims in majority, are very critical of Nawal el Saadawi or any other female that has the courage to run for presidency. Also, this stresses the fact the equality, which is one of the fundamental principles of democracy, is not present even between the different genders in society. So, how come we are talking about democratizing Egypt through the modification of an amendment, when we can’t really implement democracy in our daily lives and in our simple relationships with one another? Further, Al-‐Sayyid explains that control over females would not exist if women “like men could inherit property and manage it, thus, competing with men in the marketplace” (p.11) The inequality by the Islamic law imposed on women intensifies the negative and degrading perception of women in the Egyptian society in specific and the Arab society in general. If religion puts women in an inferior position to men, why then would any Egyptian dare and let a female rule over a whole country with all the males in the society? So, it seems that religious beliefs encourage the population at large to degrade some citizens of their rights and told hold them unworthy of enjoying their benefits as Egyptian citizens. In one of the Hadiths, for example, it is said that “women lack brains and religion” or “naquisat aql wa din,” reported Al-‐Sayyid (p.10). This means that no one can entrust a woman with responsibility and a president, of course, carries the responsibility of a whole nation. So, the way religion is perceived and interpreted in our society is a great obstacle to having females as
leaders. It’s an obstacle to making democracy an integrated part of the Egyptian society. Not only religion but also society affects the way many Egyptians think. Haidi Meleka, Mass Communication senior, for instance, noted that many people assume that women cannot deal with emergencies and pressure and would therefore, be reluctant to vote to a female president. This was very clear in one of the interviewees’ statements. One of them said that he would not elect a female president because females are too emotional. Also, Bassem Meleka said “I don’t think a female can rule a whole country.” So, there are certain embedded beliefs in the Egyptian society that are shared by many people from different backgrounds and with even different levels of education. These beliefs assume that women are incapable of dealing with responsibility and making good and effective leaders. Most of the beliefs ruling in our society make a woman running for presidency look bizarre and she may be perceived as a too rebellious person. So, how likely is it that someone may stay apart from the majority’s opinion, stand out in the Egyptian society and vote for el –Saadawi or another female candidate? So, Egyptians are not used to the ideas and principles of democracy. We are not used to respect others and recognize their rights as citizens. We seem to have strongly held beliefs that we use to judge others and to make excuses for stripping people of their rights. Tradition is also one of the important factors that students referred to and that is very much related to the issue of a female president. “We do not like change, we refuse any change even if it was good,” reported Engineering Senior Ramy Abu-‐El-‐Yazeed. Also, Engineering Senior Mourad Makram, agreed with
Abu-‐El-‐Yazeed on the fact that Egyptians fear any change adding, “We vote only for those we know.” This is also why many attacked Qasim Amin, reported Meleka, especially as his views were very different from traditional ones held by the majority. So, Egyptians like the status quo even if it is not perfect. “A lot of girls I know are happy with the current trends in culture,” said Rafla. This implies that the fact the women are degraded in the Egyptian society and prevented from occupying influential positions in not challenged by the majority. Even those who have access to liberal and high education abide by the traditions. In an Arab Society class at AUC, for instance, the instructor asked male students if they would let their wives work and most of them denied this. So, even though these students are among the best educated in Egypt, their views and perceptions of women are influenced by the traditions of our society more than anything else. So, even if the government opened the road to democracy and gave the people all the facilities needed to exercise and make use of their rights, society and tradition will still prevent this change from happening. When asked in one of the television interviews why Egypt was not a democratic country, President Mubarak answered that Egyptians were not ready for democracy. Even after the constitution has been changed to allow for more freedom and democracy, it seems that the problem really lies with the Egyptian people. We have strong embedded, anti-‐democratic beliefs that guide most if not all of our actions. That is why a new law that gives everyone, even women, the chance of being elected to presidency, will not be taken advantage of by the population just because we fear change or anything that challenges our
traditional ideas. Another minority in the society that doesn’t enjoy its full citizens’ rights are Copts. Copts: The issue of “political reform” and Copts tackles with two important aspects. The first, concerns with nationalism and political rights. According to Saad Eddin Ibrahim, “Islamists naturally, base the political bond of culture society and state on religion.” (Ibrahim, Saad Eddin). This excludes non-‐Muslims from having any top post such as heads of state, governors and member of the judiciary. Not only, top officials, but also deans of universities, top officials or police, (mamour), 2% only are in the military school. “Their rationale is that holders of such offices not only perform temporal rules but also carry out religion duties.” ( Ibrahim, Saad Eddin ) . Article two ,in the constitution states that “ Islam is the religion the state and that Arabic is its official language ,Islamic jurisprudence is the principle source of legislation” . This means that head of state must be a Muslim, and that the Islamic sharia would be a source of legislation, both interpretation did not seriously “Impede the integration of non-‐ Muslim in the polity” (Ibrahim, Saad Eddin). Another aspect of his debate is how the Islamic groups see Copts . Do Islamic groups consider them citizen and thus have ,full and complete political rights or does they consider ( ahl el Zima ) ! The purist Islamists, for example, exclude Copts from the polity because for them they are “ protected communities” ( ahl dihma ) , thus they would run their own communal affairs ,pay Jizya as long as they recognize the souvernity of Islamic state . ( Ibrahim , Saad Eddin ) . According to sameh Fawzy , vice manager of
watny newspaper that in august ,80 , MB published a fatwa that violates Christians rights and that the assembly of guidness and political reform ( maglis llarshad oaleslah al syasy ) . “ The Islamic movement decides their position for Copts nationalism or citizenship.” Said sameh . Two similar terms were emerged to illuminate religion from the state . The first is “ Arab nationalism” . It stared last decade of the Ottoman Empire . It emerged as a reaction of both ottoman despotism and young Turks taurine chauvinism.” Saad said . ( Ibrahim ,Saad Eddin ) . It states that Arabic identity would be based on culture and language . Arab nationalism is a good solution for the political system in Egypt . It allows the non-‐Muslim community to be integrated in the polity . Secularism , in my opinion is parallel to democratization . It helps all citizenships enjoy equal rights of citizenship regardless of race ,religion and sect . The question is why we include religion in our identity ? . Identification of people by creed and religion is trait of demodernization. Surely , it is impossible to implement Arab nationalism in Egypt especially with the presence of Islamic movements . A very similar term is Egyptianness . “ Egyptian nationalism was born on the eve of World War I and become popular in the country during struggle against foreign domination ,Christian leaders were among its chief advocates and ideologues , as it was both constant with Coptic historical legacy and political beneficial.” ( Aylon ,Ami ). Another aspect in the Copts dilemma is Copts civil and social rights . Several problems encounter this issue . First, according to Ami Aylon is “the mist engulfing the question of Coptic demography?” (Aylon, Ami). How many Copts are there in Egypt and what is their share in the population. According to Ami
Aylon, the church claims that no less than 18% of all Egyptians are Christians; the government on the other hand claims that they are around 6%. Other scientists claim that it is 10% . This has created a puzzle since there are any claims about Copts demography. The second problem was the rise of Islamic militancy . Actually, the root of violent clash started on November 1972 when a Coptic church was set on fire in Khnaka north of Cairo (Ami, aylon). The problem was exacerbated under the presidency of Anwar Al Sadat. Firstly, the Islamic groups including the brother gained much support from Sadat as he tried to counter balance the opposition of the Nasserites and the leftist. Secondly, the banish of the pope Shunda by Sadat in 1981 (Aylon, Ami). Moreover, around the death of Sadat the Islamist under the authority of “Umar”Abdl Al Rahman released a Fatwa , which stated: “Christian belongs to three categories: those who kill Muslims, Those who support church with money and arms in order to harm Muslims, and those who do not cause any harm to Muslims. An eye or an eye must be exacted from Christians in the first category, while Christians in the second category must be deprived of their wealth. But no harm should come to Christians in the third category.” (Aylon, Ami). Worse, in 1934, the Egyptian government specified ten restrictions for building the churches including minimum distance between churches and between churches and mosques, churches cannot be built if Muslim neighbors objected. This is totally unfair to give to others the right to ban practicing religion for others.
Moreover, in the mid 1970 “ apostasy law” (qanun al-‐ridda ) that apply the sharia-‐ prescribed death penalty to apostates . In may 1980 the government dropped the “apostasy” because of the Copts uproar , but they proclaimed the sharia as “ the main source of legislation” in Egypt as a result of Muslim pressure .lastly , According to Mirit butrus – Ghali , a leading Coptic thinker , it is unbearable scandal and an assault on public order for a single Muslim to adopt Christianity . When a Muslim becomes Christian he is violently prosecuted and abused . On the other hand , “ while it is permissible ,acceptable and desirable for hinders of Copts to convert to Islam . The state makes things easy for such converts to Islam providing them with benefits and gifts and joyful celebrations and parades are organized for them in the streets .” Mirit butrus Ghali noted. To conclude, without Copts as a minority enjoys citizenship rights , without political and social ones, all claims about democratization will be in vain. Islamic Fundamentalism The second word in the title is “Fundamentalism.” Fundamentalism and religious fanaticism is a serious problem in the Egyptian society. According to Mohammed Sid Ahmed, a writer in Ahram Weekly, the Moslem Brotherhood have been working quietly behind scenes and avoiding confrontations with authorities. “Their actions over the recent period point to a shift in tactics, as they move out of shadows to assert their presence more forcefully,” he continued. The Islamic group has always longed to control the presidency and authority. Essam El Erian, a jailed leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, is planning to elect himself in the coming elections. Worse, the Egyptian government has
released 135 members of the banned group including EL Erian and three others who were arrested at his flat. Muslim Brotherhood has 17 members sitting in parliament as independents. The regulations associated with amendment 76 have raised the MB’s uproar. Mohammed Mahdi Akef, leader of Egypt’s MB, for example, rejected the amendment to the constitution and said: “We ask the People’s Assembly to reject the constitutional amendment…and to take out every prohibitive condition to fielding one’s candidacy to the presidency.” The dilemma of the fundamentalist movement is that on one hand they don’t have their inalienable citizenship rights and on the other hand, even if they were given these rights, they still wouldn’t implement democracy because of their anti-‐democratic belief. To justify my arguments here is an explanation of Islamic Fundamentalism and different approached to it. There is confusion in Egypt between interchangeable terms such as Islamic fundamentalism, militancy, fanaticism, extremism and violence. The Egyptian society suffers form all of the above as there are different Islamic groups with variable degree of radicalism. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Group, and the Jihad are the three primary organizations. The Islamic Fundamentalism means “the belief in the precepts of the commandments of Islam as stated in its holy book, the Quran and as enunciated and practiced by Prophet Mohamed-‐known as Sonna,” said Saad Eddin Ibrahim (Ibrahim, Saad Eddin).
Fundamentalists believe that Islam doesn’t only provide guidelines for individual living, but regulations for all aspects of life including business, politics and law. This movement represents a religious revival in the modern world that is influenced by Western values. The radical part or groups of this movement use violence to establish the “correct Islamic government.” Their ideology is “rebuilding of a new social order based on Islam.” Since “Islam regards itself as the repository of the word of God, which has to be acted out on earth through a political order.” To illustrate more, as Islamic fundamentalist tries to seek the will of God through building a government based on Sharia and applies it in all aspects of life. Islamic fundamentalists should line a fight to establish this government. Islamic fundamentalism has different approaches. The Military Academy Group (MA): Although they condemn the political system and society at large, yet they see society as a victim of “God-‐fearless” leaders. “We believe that the Egyptians are basically the most religious of all Islamic peoples. They were so before Islam, for time of the Pharaohs, they have continued to be very religious. Egypt would be a good start for the world of Muslim Revival. All what the religious Egyptian need is a sincere Muslim leadership,” said one of the surviving leaders of the attack on technical Military Academy.
The Repentance and Holy Flight (RHF) Group: According to them, “a corrupt society needs a corrupt political system, and vice versa.” “Jahilia” is the term they use to describe redemption of the political system. This term means infidelity, decadence and ignorance. Muslim Brotherhood: “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, Quran is our law, and Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is sour highest Hope.” MB (Muslim Brotherhood). They were founded in 1928 by Hasan-‐al-‐Bana. El Bana based his ideology on the Wahhabism and his supplemented the traditional Islamic education with the Jihadia training. The MB gained much popularity in the following 20 years after their foundation. Then they were banned and re-‐ legalized in 1948. Ten they were banned again in 1954 for their insistence to implement the Sharia in governmental affairs. �� The Islamic Liberation Organization (Monazamet EL Tahrir AL Islamy) and The Jihad Group: These are anti-‐regime activists. Some of them are factions that drifted away from the MB since the early 1970’s. The believe hat the ruling political elite is the reason of the decadence and corruption of society. So, they use violence to remove the rulers and force them to submit to the Islamic law. They believe the duty of the believer is to fight the ungodly rulers. Mohammed Abdel Salam Farag wrote a booklet called “The Absent Commandment” which is the Jihad. He stated the following:
“This state is ruled by heathen laws despite the fact that the majority of its people are Muslims. Infidels who compelled Muslims to abide by them formulated these laws. And because they deserted Jihad, Muslims of today live in subjugation, humiliation, division, and fragmentation. The Quran has aptly scolded them in verse, Thou believers, why if told to rise up for the sake of God, you hedge closer to the ground? Are you more content with the earthly life than with the hereafter? The pleasure of the earthly life is little compared with to those of the hereafter. If you do not rise up, God will torture you most painfully. Thus the aim of our group is to rise to establish an Islamic state and restore Islam to the nation. The means to this end is to fight against heretical rulers and to eradicate the despots who are no more than human beings who have not yet found those who are able to suppress them with the order of God Almighty.”
According to Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who believes that Islamic activism with its various tendencies is dominating much of the political space and discourse of Egypt. Moreover, the Egyptian society has drifted towards a more fanatic way of approaching religion, in the current years and especially after September 11. With the American pressure to reform and impose democracy on the Middle East and with the modification of the constitution, increasing the margin of democracy to all sects and giving them their political and citizenship rights is a must. Yet, if the MB or any of the above-‐mentioned Islamic groups reached presidency, democracy will stay as an unreachable dream because of their ideologies explained in the above paragraphs. So, if they rule the countrywomen’s and Copts rights will be denied. And even of they don’t rule, their strong presence in society will still challenge the minorities’ rights because they are a threat to the government. According to Saad Eddin Ibrahim “ in the absence if a credible, secular national vision, and effective means to repel external encroachment, Islamic movements exert a strong attraction. To enhance the present and future socioeconomic prospects of the middle and lower classes and to galvanize the imagination of the educated youth and give them a sense of being essential parts of a grand design , Islamic militancy offers the alternative.”
So, it becomes clear after observing and analyzing different segments of the society that democracy cannot just come form above, i.e. from the government. The Egyptian people need first to be educated about and convinced of the principles and fundamentals of democracy. When asked in a Television interview why Egypt was not a democratic country, President Hosni Mubarak said that Egyptians were not prepared enough for democracy. Also, Egypt needs to be transformed to a secular system, because as noted above, religion seems to be one of the biggest challenges and obstacles to democracy. Also, Egypt needs to be transformed to be a secular system, because as noted above, religion seems to be one of the biggest challenges and obstacles to democracy. Especially, that the Egyptian society started to have tendency for fanaticism with their socioeconomic conditions and the global changes happening. Building a well-‐established civil society can be a good start for democratizing the country.
Works Cited Ibrahim,Saad Eddin. Egypt Islam and Democracy. Cairo:The American University in Cairo press,2002 Aylon,Ami “ Egypt’s Copts Pandora Baox” Minorties and the State in the Arab World By ofra bengio and Gaberia ben-‐Dor.(Eds.) Al-‐ Sayyid Marsot, Afaf Lutfi. “ Women in the Eyes of Men : Myth and Reality.” Women and Men in Late Eighteenth Century Egypt. Austin : University of Tesxas Press,1995,P.5-‐16. “Egyptian parliament Approves Controversial Election Restructuring”. Muslim American Society. 12 May. 2005 Http://www.masnet.org/news.asp?id=2419 “Muslim Brotherhood leader to run for president” Http://www.aljazeera.com/me.asp?services_ID=8467 Mohamed Sid, Ahmed “ The Muslim brothers and the elections”.12 May 2005 Http”//weekly.ahram.org.eg/print/2005/742/op5.htm “Muslim brotherhood” . Intelligence resource program,7/5/2005 HTTP://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/mb.htm