Egypt: Christians threaten to walk out on constitution rewriting over Islamic law dispute

Originally published in Washington Times

Christians on a committee rewriting Egypt’s constitution threatened to walk out Thursday after disputes over portions dealing with Islamic law.

Egypt’s ultraconservative Al-Nour party — which has one member in the 50-person panel — has been pushing for adding an article defining Islamic, or Shariah, law, which critics warn could allow for stricter interpretations of what Shariah is later.

Under ousted President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist-dominated panel pushed through a constitution that strengthened the role of Islamic law. The military suspended the constitution after the popularly backed July 3 coup. Now the panel is rewriting portions of it to offer to voters in a referendum.

Secularists, liberals and leftist politicians dominate the new panel. However, representatives of Christian churches say it’s difficult to remove contention items, like the Islamic law portion, even with just one Islamist on the panel.

“There is pressure,” Safwat el-Bayadi, one of the three church representatives on the panel now threatening to quit.

Christians, who represent nearly 10 percent of Egypt’s population, saw churches attacked and looted by Islamists after the coup. While Egypt’s constitution has included a mention of Shariah law since 1971, opponents of the portion put in place say it could allow for stricter interpretations and trample non-Muslims’ rights.

The panel has been trying to push for amendments against discrimination, inciting hatred and forced displacement, as well as not allowing political parties to be banned on religious grounds.

Committee members have begun approving a final draft, voting amendment by amendment. However, they’ve left the most contentious changes for the end of their voting — meaning the real argument over the Islamic law portion has yet to come.

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