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Middle East and Africa

Division in the Muslim Camp

There is only an ‘i’ of difference in the recent slogans of the Brothers and it is known that in Arabic vowels do not usually matter. But this time the shift from appeals to legality (sharʿiyya) to the obligation envisaged by the Law (sharîʿa) to support the deposed President Morsi mark an important turning point. Without abandoning references to democratic procedures, the position of the Brothers is veering decidedly towards the religious. The impetus to this has been given by Shaykh al-Qaradawi, an octogenarian Egyptian television preacher who moved to Qatar and the absolute reference point of al-Jazeera for everything connected with Islam. A leading figure of the Brotherhood, he has on a number of occasions refused to accept its political leadership in order to play a religious role for all Sunni Muslims. But there is very little that is universal in his juridical opinion (fatwa) of 7 July last. Al-Qaradawi affirms the legal obligation to support President Morsi, intertwining, without being concerned about internal consistency, passages of democratic language and arguments based on a number of hadîth. The following passage is significant: ‘God does not want Egypt to act unjustly in relation to its Constitution and its elected President and the Law of Our Lord because this will lead only to the ire of God and His punishment: ‘Deem not that God is heedless of what the evildoers work’ (Koran (14:42).

 

 

When reading this text one cannot hold back a question: is this hybrid of hadîth taken out of their context, concepts deduced from classical Islamic law and constitutional terminology what one wants to pass off as the Islamic path to democracy? Al-Qaradawi, when the rhetorical concessions to the revolution and its freedom are removed, in essential terms does not manage to go beyond the ideology of the sultanate (an effective phrase of the Moroccan philosopher Abed al-Jabri) and its recent quietism. In his vision, the will of the people and the will of God necessarily coincide (of significance here is the juxtaposition of ‘the Pact of God’ and ‘the Pact of the People’) and democracy involves electing every so often a semi-absolute sovereign under whose government one should ‘be patient’ until the next elections, at the most engaging in some cautious advice, but not exhorting to explicit rebellion against God. There is no reference to mechanisms of control or the defence of minorities.

 

 

It was precisely the weakness of this theoretical approach which amongst other things harmed Morsi. The constitutional decree of November 2012 inflicted a severe blow on his democratic legitimacy. But although that date and not 30 June 2013 marked the end of the first democratic experiment in Egypt, there remains today the need not to repeat the errors of that first mandate, involving in the debate all those political forces that accept the rejection of the use of violence. This is something on which the Brothers today are divided, just as in recent months they have oscillated between explicit threats against their opponents and openings at the level of words.

 

 

Lastly, one element still deserves to be noted: in his fatwa al-Qaradawi targets not only Pope Papa Tawadros and al-Baradei but also Shaykh al-Azhar, alluding to his past with the Mubarak regime. The response of the Shaykh, who only a few days earlier had presented with al-Qaradawi himself a document on the rights of women in Islam, was not slow in coming. The Shaykh accuses al-Qaradawi of incitement to sedition and factionalism, contesting his method of reading the religious texts without any consideration of contemporary reality. In particular, the polemic centres around the ‘black or white’ vision which is typical of al-Qaradawi to which the Shaykh opposes the need to know how to choose, in politics, the lesser evil. In their turn various figures of Azhar have disowned the response of the Shaykh.

 

 

The deflagration of 30 June continues to produce its destabilising effects, within the Islamic religious field as well.

 

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