A win for secularism in Egypt


Celebration reigned on the streets of Cairo this week at the news that Egypt’s constitutional assembly had been suspended. ‘Illegitimate! Illegitimate! Illegitimate!’ cried jubilant campaigners outside Egypt’s Administrative Court, where the ruling was made to scrap the Islamist-heavy assembly.

The chosen 100-member assembly had been heavily dominated by the notoriously anti-women Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim ‘women should not be allowed to rule the country’ Brotherhood. Just last month the Freedom and Justice Party condemned the 1978 U.N convention against gender discrimination saying it was ‘incompatible with the values of Islamic sharia’ – on International Women’s Day – and called for a national council of families to replace the existing National Council for Women, replacing equality with terms like ‘complementary roles’ between men and women.

Egyptians have been protesting against the former panel since it was chosen a month ago, fearing that such an Islamist bunch would inevitably draft a constitution along the lines of Islamic rulings, rather than the wishes and needs of the Egyptian people. Protestors argued that parliament’s decision to select the assembly itself and to give half the assembly’s seats to sitting MPs violated Article 60 of the constitutional declaration.  Al-Azhar University – one of the country’s most important Islamic institutions – outright rejected the assembly and announced a boycott, as did the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church. Secular and liberal parties withdrew from the assembly out of protest and some of its members are drafting an alternative that would represent all parts of Egyptian society.

The court ordered that a newly created assembly must be representative of Egypt’s ‘political and social map’. Egypt has shown that an assembly dominated by Islamists is not qualified to represent its modern and diverse society, and that it will not tolerate the outdated rulings and blanket identity of political Islam. It is now crucial that parliament agrees with all political forces on the criteria for a truly representative new assembly.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party have rather amusingly described the court’s decision as ‘political’.


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