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Fri Nov 9, 2012, 10:29 PM


A Vague Role for Religion in Egyptian Draft Constitution

Published: November 9, 2012

CAIRO — After months of fierce debate over the place of Islam in government, the assembly drafting a new constitution for Egypt has settled on a compromise that opens the door to more religion in governance but mainly guarantees that the issue will continue to roil politics, the Parliament and the courts for many years to come.

The compromise would insert religion more deeply into the legislative and judicial process by elaborating new guidelines to interpret “the principles of Islamic law” that the old Constitution had recognized, at least nominally, as the main source of Egyptian legislation.

But the new constitution would also leave the final authority to apply those principles with the elected Parliament and civil courts, making the long-term consequences hard to foresee. Little is expected to change under the current courts and Parliament — dominated by Islamists who mostly favor a relatively flexible or gradual approach to adopting Islamic law — but the potential long-term consequences are already a subject of impassioned debate.

If literal-minded ultraconservatives — known as Salafis and who currently hold about a quarter of the seats in Parliament — gain more influence in the legislature and eventually the courts, they could someday use the provisions to try to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law. If Islamists gain more power across the Parliament, courts and religious institutions, “I would see a real possibility for evolutionary change,” said Nathan J. Brown, an expert on Egyptian law at George Washington University.


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