According to reports, Egyptians have endorsed a controversial draft constitution in a two-stage referendum. The approved charter gives Islamists the mandate to decide the future of Egypt, which has a considerable Christian population and other minorities.
The new constitution, drafted by a predominantly Islamist group to exclude the aspirations of Christians and liberals, is expected to come into effect this week. The final endorsement of the constitution by Egyptians has crystallized the fears of liberals, religious minorities and women that all is not well in the state of Egypt.
The new constitution may provide Egypt’s transition period an ostensible closure. However, with violence, lawlessness and disapproval simmering from a large chunk of Egypt’s minority, there are apprehensions that the Arab world’s most populous nation is sliding into a state of civil strife.
Ever since the constitutional draft was passed without any consensus from secular groups and liberals, the Coptic Christians have taken an unprecedented approach in the constitutional struggle. The Coptic Orthodox Church withdrew six of its members from the Constituent Assembly as a mark of protest, and later declined to join the “national dialogue” staged by President Mohamed Morsi.
Despite the protests and violence that engulfed the cities of Cairo and Alexandria, the Muslim Brotherhood has managed to sustain its will in influencing the Egyptians, especially the conservative, uneducated and traditional sections to vote in favor of the new draft.
The manner in which supporters of Muslim Brotherhood swept down on anti-Morsi protesters on Dec. 5 outside the presidential palace—trying to dismantle the protests with violence—predicts a new Egypt that stretches beyond the politics of the constitution itself.
There’s no doubt that the draft constitution finalized by the Islamists has polarized Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, accuses liberals of attempting to curtail a right to bring Islamic law, which they earned with election victories the past year.
According to a report in the Washington Times, the new constitution now openly seeks to “establish dictatorial arrogance with a blatant disregard for religious freedom” within Egypt.
The new legislation can now endorse religious discrimination, and there are apprehensions that that once the constitution takes effect, Egypt will witness a new phase of repression. Sharia, or Islamic religious law, will be the basis of legislation, and some of the doctrines in the constitution essentially relegate non-Muslims to a position of second-class citizenry.
Coptic Christians are among the major casualties as Morsi’s constitution insists on Egypt’s religious identity and not the nation’s secular identity. The legal framework meant to ensure equality for all Egyptians, including the Coptics who comprise nearly 10 percent of Egypt’s population, has been severely compromised.
The single largest Christian community in the Middle East now looks at a future that is uncertain, unstable and filled with peril. The apprehension is that it will be worse with the Islamists who have dominated Egypt’s political landscape since the dismantling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.
For the rest of the world, it is crystal clear that the despite the Muslim Brotherhood emerging victorious in the referendum, the new constitution displays a sharper dichotomy between democratic groups and Islamists.
The Islamists have definitely gained legitimacy by operating anti-democratic forces during Egypt’s transition, and the world has no reason to endorse the victory just because the Muslim Brotherhood gained acceptance through elections.