Thu, Nov 01, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Newly democratic Egypt divided on Islam’s role in politics

The Muslim-majority country is at a critical juncture in its democratization, where it must draft a constitution that some want to be based on Shariah law, while others want a purely secular document

By Aya Batrawy  /  AP, MECCA, Saudi Arabia

Anwar Saad, a 32 year-old teacher from Egypt’s Beheira Province, stood on Jabal al-Rahma, or Mount Arafat, in the desert outside Mecca, during a rite of prayer on Thursday last week that many feel is the pinnacle moment of hajj.

“The Brotherhood have moderate views. They are not conservative like the Salafis. We hope they will apply a moderate form of Shariah for Egypt,” he said. “We want God to help Morsi succeed ... There were 30 years of corruption and this will not be fixed in 100 days. Be patient with the president.”

Notably, hajj itself shows the variety in interpretations of Islamic rules. For example, in most of the Muslim world, men and women are segregated during prayers. However, in the Grand Mosque the two sexes pray side by side. For most of the hajj rites, women are not allowed to wear the veil that covers the entire face, even though ultraconservative Muslims insist a woman’s face should be hidden from males not related to her.

Bagnied, the media professor, said she does not fear Shariah, but those who would try to interpret and apply it.

“What kind of Islam do they want to apply? Afghanistan, Iran or Saudi Arabia?” she said.

Bagnied, who does not wear the headscarf that many Egyptian Muslim women don to cover their hair, said she can resist her family’s urging her to start wearing it. However, she worries that an Islamist government will start to apply political pressure as well on such personal choices.

She said many people voted for Morsi hoping that because he is a pious Muslim and will apply “God’s law,” their lives will improve.

“I think many Egyptians don’t know the content of the constitution,” she said. “Egypt is full of people talking about politics, but there is a large amount of ignorance in the country and you can convince people [by using Islam] that they have to obey their leaders, who are sheiks and politicians.”

Ihab Abdel-Aal, 47, is among those who voted for the former Mubarak regime-era official who ran against Morsi in the past summer’s presidential race. Morsi won by slightly more than half the vote. Abdel-Aal has performed the hajj more than 25 times, since he is a tour operator bringing other Egyptians on the pilgrimage.

He fears Egypt is turning to a theocracy.

“Democracy and freedom are new to Egypt,” he said. “There should be no religion in politics and no politics in religion.”

Abdel-Aal, like many who work in Egypt’s vital tourism industry that was hard-hit because of political turmoil over the past year, said he believes Shariah cannot be applied in all aspects of life.

“This will tank the economy and other sectors and just won’t work,” he said.

Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, who runs a Cairo tourism company, says he has performed hajj more than 30 times. He said the number of Egyptians wanting to perform hajj and umrah, the smaller pilgrimage to Mecca, increased this year.

“In any crisis, the first thing a person does is pray to God,” he said. “We are in a crisis.”

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