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Egypt a nation fighting to survive

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A wise Arab once observed that everything man does, thinks or believes is written in the dessert sands, waiting for the for the winds of time to blow it all away.

With greater than 5000 years of civilized history. Egypt is clearly one of the oldest existing countries in the world today. Since 343Bcc the Egyptians have been subject a line of no less than 10 separate foreign occupations. From Sunni invasions of 639 AD through to the French[1] under Napoleon (his gunners shot the nose off the Sphinx).

It is easy to see why Nationalism is so important that its five major parties are nationalistic in nature. Dr Samuel Johnson noted that “patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel”

Recent Human Watch reports would seem to confirm this. Along with summary arrests and torture, religious intolerance is being justified as public order under the umbrella of Shari’a law. Under their public order laws the Civil Status Dept (the equivalent of our Hatches Matches and Despatches)  there are only 3 permitable religions in order of population-- Islam (90%), Coptic Christian (7-8% depending on your source) and Judaism (2%)[2]. All three have similar biblical origins.

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Egypt has a “plural” legal system in that it applies religious law as well as civil law. Egyptian statutory law doesn’t address apostasy (the sin of converting away from Islam). In practice, the legal repercussions of apostasy generally have been limited to matters of personal status, where religious law (Shari‘a or canon law) applies for most Egyptians instead of civil law.

Matters of what we would broadly call family law are covered here including marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, and so forth [3].

This Plural legal system has been interpreted such that individuals need to have their religion on such documents as drivers’ licenses, marriage and birth certificates, even for schooling. The consequences extend to much broader consequences that range from civil, economic, political and even social And this is where it gets sticky.

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As the government only recognizes three possible alternatives and as Islam is the national religion, all citizens are assumed to be Muslim.

This determination is often made on the basis at the time of a child’s birth and in the case of a mixed marriage the child is deemed to be ‘of the better religion i.e. Muslim). This is regardless of the practices in the home. If a person wishes to correct/alter their registered religious determination and if it’s from Muslim to something else then it is deemed as apostasy (a sin) and subject to Shari’a law.

Those who suffer the most discrimination are those of unrecognized faith i.e. Baha’is. Between 2004 & 2007 no less than 211 Baha’i and 89 Coptic Christians are known to have attempted to ‘change’ their allotted religion. It is widely believed that this is the tip of the iceberg.

The process to make this change is both costly and difficult. Navigating a maze of hearings and finally court. Since a particular single judge has retired from the Cairo court of Administrative Justice bench earlier this year no further decisions have been handed down.During the 4 years covered by the HNW report only 7 have been successful.

The Government explains this system by referring to public order a matter or maintaining social harmony. “After all the State religion is Islam” .as one Embassy official told me. According to both HNW and the local editor of the Muslim Times (and Muslim scholar) Shari’a law has no universally agreed right to hand out civil punishments to those ‘guilty of Apostasy’.

It is interesting to note that Egypt’s constitution is similar to that of Turkey in that they are both nominally secular societies. It can be argued that this is a mandatory prerequisite for democracy. [4]

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Both states are arguably tending towards becoming theocracies with growing power of the radical Muslim base. This base has become radicalized due to various internal factors that are adversely affecting the average Egyptian. With burgeoning population that has led to Egypt becoming a net importer of food, with growing urban areas it is understandable that the Muslim Brotherhood have gone from being banned as far back as 1954 when they tried to kill Nasser[5], suppressed in the 1990 because of their rhetoric being loosely aligned with Iran (Shi’a Theocracy)[6] to now holding 20% of the seats in the 454 seats in the parliament[7] thanks to America’s pressure on the Egyptian government to democratize.

During those years the brotherhood set up and ran Islamic services through mediums all the time gaining grassroot support.

As a consequence of Egypt’s failing economy, many young well educated Egyptians were unable to get work, many being forced overseas. Many of those stayed radicalized. Some went to fight in Afghanistan influencing Osama Bin Laden and are still influential in al Qaeda today. That wise Arab also observed that the biggest, tallest sand dune is only a pile of grains of sand.

[1] Wikipedia : History Egypt
[3] The human rights watch report:


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