Foreign Policy recently made available online the 2006 “mini-thesis” of Egyptian General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, written during his tenure at the U.S. Army War College, within an essay by Eric Trager.
As documented earlier and re-affirmed in an e-mail exchange below with the U.S. Army War College Library’s acting director, I was first unable to obtain a copy of al-Sisi’s thesis from the Inter-Library Loan office due to its “classification” status:
From: Acting Director, U.S. Army War College Library
Sent: Tuesday, August 06, 2013 12:09 PM
To: Andrew Bostom
Cc: USARMY Carlisle Barracks AWC Mailbox LIBRARYR; USARMY Carlisle Barracks AWC Mailbox LIBRARYC
Subject: RE: Thesis via Inter-Library Loan/pdf?
The U.S. Army War College Library is not able to fill your request. The paper’s caveat, “Distribution authorized to U.S. Government agencies only,” means it cannot be released to individuals or libraries outside the federal government.
The War College Library’s initial rejection of my request Friday prompted a Freedom of Information Act demand for its release by Judicial Watch, which was honored Thursday, August 8, 2013 (thesis available here) — albeit some hours after the thesis had inexplicably appeared online at Foreign Policy.
Over the weekend of August 3, the Washington Post released excerpts from a recent interview of al-Sisi by the Post’s senior associate editor, Lally Weymouth. The initial excerpted comments of the general rationalized the military putsch he helped orchestrate to depose Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Muhammad Morsi:
The dilemma between the former president [Muhammad Morsi] and the people originated from [the Muslim Brotherhood’s] concept of the state, the ideology that they adopted for building a country, which is based on restoring the Islamic religious empire. That’s what made [Mohamed Morsi] not a president for all Egyptians but a president representing his followers and supporters.
Al-Sisi, however, made a series of diametrically opposed statements in his now public 2006 thesis. Yet even al-Sisi’s clear statements extolling Islam’s Caliphate, or “restor[ed] Islamic religious empire,” in the 2006 thesis are mollified, elsewhere, in the same document. These and other clearly conflicting statements in the 2006 thesis render al-Sisi’s true ideological bent “ambiguous,” likely by design. [Note: I want to thank my colleague Stephen Coughlin for his useful input on this salient point.] One notable exception to his equivocating presentation style is al-Sisi’s unambiguous, repeated rejection of secularism. Al-Sisi’s anti-secular stance, as I will demonstrate, is a longstanding, widely prevalent view in Egypt, mirrored by the popularity of the Caliphate ideal amongst the country’s pre-eminent Islamic religious institutions, major religious leaders, and Muslim masses.
Sunday July, 28, 2013, Foreign Affairs published an alarming analysis of al-Sisi’s ideology and political ambitions. Written by Robert Springborg, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, long recognized for his published expertise on the Egyptian military, the essay highlighted al-Sisi’s previously unrecognized (or dismissed) near-term political aspirations—such as running for Egyptian President (also suggested here, here)—and of equal significance, his political ideology. During various interviews he granted in the immediate aftermath of Morsi’s overthrow (see here, here, and here), Springborg had forthrightly summarized al-Sisi’s core Weltanschauung as being essentially identical to that of Egypt’s sacked President Morsi.
Springborg’s Foreign Affairs essay provided hard evidence of the general’s, and potential Egyptian Presidential candidate’s, Sharia supremacist ideology: al-Sisi’s own written words, from 2006, recorded in his U.S. Army War College mini-thesis, which, at that time, was still not in the public domain.
Although, as Springborg noted, innocuously entitled “Democracy in the Middle East,” al-Sisi’s mini-thesis, he insisted, “reads like a tract produced by the Muslim Brotherhood.” Springborg based this assessment on al-Sisi’s alleged harsh criticism of secular governance, coupled to the general’s simultaneous championing of the classical Islamic Caliphate.
Sisi’s thesis goes beyond simply rejecting the idea of a secular state; it embraces a more radical view of the proper place of religion in an Islamic democracy.… The central political mechanisms in such a system, he believes, are al-bi’ah (fealty to a ruler) and shura (a ruler’s consultation with his subjects).
Following the release of extracts from al-Sisi’s Washington Post interview (8/3-4/13), Professor Springborg was interviewed again (Monday, 8/5/13), and he proffered a possible alternative explanation of the pro-Caliphate views the Egyptian general had putatively enunciated in his 2006 thesis. Springborg conceded that al-Sisi may have envisioned his own Caliphate ideology as having its central (or even entire) locus within the context of “Egyptian nationalism”—at least for the near term. This “constrained” Caliphate ideal of al-Sisi, Springborg argued, might be distinct from the unconstrained, aggressive transnational Caliphate pursued by the Muslim Brotherhood, in keeping with the traditional, orthodox Islamic doctrine of jihad. Springborg then alluded to the discussion of the Caliphate within Egyptian Islamic society’s religious hierarchy during the first half of the 20th century, but failed to report the decisive doctrinal resolution of the matter, which I will elaborate below.
I agree with the crux of Professor Springborg’s original (7/28/13) analysis, despite certain ambiguities in al-Sisi’s presentation, inserted, in my estimation, by design, to allow for “flexible,” contingent interpretations of the general’s words. Springborg’s Foreign Affairs essay did include the following apposite, if rather understated, final commentary on al-Sisi’s romanticized depiction of the Caliphate:
Apologists for Islamic rule sometimes suggest that these concepts are inherently democratic, but in reality they fall far short of the democratic mark.
What are the key ideological statements—verbatim—in al-Sisi’s mini-thesis, totaling a mere 11 pages of text, with an additional 2 pages, containing 31 footnotes? In the section (from pp. 3-6) entitled “The Conception of Democracy from [an] Islamic Perspective,” al-Sisi most clearly (although hardly without inherent ambiguity!) articulates his Weltanschauung, as follows:
Democracy, as a secular entity, is unlikely to be favorably received by the vast majority of Middle Easterners, who are devout followers of the Islamic faith.…Although concerns exist, for the most part, the spirit of democracy, or self-rule, is viewed as a positive endeavor so long as it builds up the country and sustains the religious base, versus devaluing religion and creating instability.
Democracy cannot be understood in the Middle East without an understanding of the concept of El Kalafa [the Caliphate]. El Kalafa dates back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. During his life and the seventy year period that followed the ideal state of El Kalafa existed as a way of life among the people and within the governing bodies. This period of time is viewed as a very special period and is considered the ideal form of government and it is widely recognized as the goal for any new form of government very much in the manner that the U.S. pursued the ideals of “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” From the Middle Eastern perspective, the defining words governing their form of democracy would likely reflect “fairness, justice, equality, unity and charity.”
Related to the El Kalafa are the roles of the Elbia and Elshorah. [Note: Both Springborg and Trager modify al-Sisi’s confused discussion of these two concepts] Both of these processes were represented in the early years of the Muslim faith and therefore considered important and respected processes. The Elbaya’a [Elbia] is the election process for choosing the El Kalifa, while the El Shorah [is the] advisory and oversight body to the El Kalifa or Califate [Caliphate]. The El Shorah performs its role from a religious viewpoint, in that it ensures that the Califate [Caliph] is carrying out his duties in accordance with Islamic teachings. Although these processes have religious historical ties, they also represent processes by which a democracy can emerge.
Given the religious nature of the Middle Eastern culture, how might a Middle Eastern democracy [be] structured? Will there be three or four branches of government? Should a religious branch be added to the executive, legislative and judicial branches to ensure that Islamic beliefs and law are followed? A simple answer might be yes, but that is probably not the best means. Ideally, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches should all take Islamic beliefs into consideration when carrying out their duties. As such, there should be no need for a separate religious branch. However, to codify the major themes of the Islamic faith, they should be represented in the constitution or similar document. [Note: See subsequent discussion of the constitutional road map issued July 8, 2013, under al-Sisi’s aegis] This does not mean a theocracy will be established, rather it means a democracy will be established built upon Islamic beliefs.
Al-Sisi equivocates on Hamas, insisting defiantly, at first (on p.5), that Western support of “democracy” must include,
…allowing some factions that may be considered radical particularly if they are supported by a majority through a legitimate vote. The world cannot demand democracy in the Middle East, yet denounce what it looks like because a less than pro-Western party legitimately assumes office. For example, the Palestinans recently elected members from the Hamas group. This group is not on favorable terms with the US or other Western countries, yet they have [been] legitimately elected. It is now up to Hamas and the rest of the world to work out their differences.
Subsequently (on p. 9), al-Sisi acknowledges:
As groups such as Hamas emerge, they are likely to reach power through democratic means, but may not fully represent the population, particularly the religious moderates, who they [also?] represent. So even with an elected Hamas, there are likely to be internal governance challenges down the road; however there is hope that the more moderate religious segments can mitigate extremist measures.
But al-Sisi never retrenches on his anti-secularism, frontally attacking even governments that “tend toward secular rule,” and their media mouthpieces, for allegedly “fomenting” Islamic religious extremism (on p. 9).
The control of the media by government further presents problems to moderate Muslims. The media is managed via a secular philosophy. The secular media secures control for the government and further disenfranchises the religious moderates. It spreads a philosophy of liberal living that many moderate Muslims do not support and it also provides a vehicle for extremists to exploit because it enables them to relate to the religious moderates on a shared theme. This has the effect of strengthening the extremist philosophy.
Pious Muslim hagiography, such as al-Sisi’s (or this effusively ahistorical drivel from the Muslim Association of Britain, which lionizes both the Caliphate and the concomitant institution of Sharia as promulgators of “a peaceful and just society”), notwithstanding, the prototypical Caliphate under Umar Ibn al-Khattab (d. 644), the second “rightly guided” caliph of Islam, merits summary examination. During his reign, which lasted for a decade (634-644), Syria, Iraq and Egypt were conquered, and Umar was thus responsible for organizing the early Islamic Caliphate. Alfred von Kremer, the great 19th century German scholar of Islam, described the “central idea” of Umar’s regime, as being the furtherance of “…the religious-military development of Islam at the expense of the conquered nations.” The predictable and historically verifiable consequence of this guiding principle was a legacy of harsh inequality, intolerance, and injustice towards non-Muslims observed by von Kremer in 1868 (and still evident in Islamic societies to this day, nearly 150 years later):
It was the basis of its severe directives regarding Christians and those of other faiths, that they be reduced to the status of pariahs, forbidden from having anything in common with the ruling nation; it was even the basis for his decision to purify the Arabian Peninsula of the unbelievers, when he presented all the inhabitants of the peninsula who had not yet accepted Islam with the choice: to emigrate or deny the religion of their ancestors. The industrious and wealthy Christians of Najran, who maintained their Christian faith, emigrated as a result of this decision from the peninsula, to the land of the Euphrates, and ‘Umar also deported the Jews of Khaybar. In this way ‘Umar based that fanatical and intolerant approach that was an essential characteristic of Islam, now extant for over a thousand years, until this day [i.e., written in 1868]. It was this spirit, a severe and steely one, that incorporated scorn and contempt for the non-Muslims, that was characteristic of ‘Umar, and instilled by ‘Umar into Islam; this spirit continued for many centuries, to be Islam’s driving force and vital principle.
With a strong hand, he held the reins of spiritual and worldly power, commanded with unlimited full authority over the political and religious activities of Muslims, already many millions in number.
The jihad campaigns waged in the era of Umar’s Caliphate, consistent with nascent Islamic Law (Sharia), spared neither cities nor monasteries if they resisted. Accordingly, when the Greek garrison of Gaza refused to submit and convert to Islam, all were put to death. In the year 640, sixty Greek soldiers who refused to apostatize became martyrs, while in the same year (i.e., 638) that Caesarea, Tripolis and Tyre fell to the Muslims, hundreds of thousands of Christians converted to Islam, predominantly out of fear.
Muslim and non-Muslim sources record that Umar’s soldiers were allowed to break crosses on the heads of Christians during processions and religious litanies, and were permitted, if not encouraged, to tear down newly erected churches and to punish Christians for trivial reasons. Moreover, Umar forbade the employment of Christians in public offices.
The false claims of Islamic toleration during this prototype “rightly guided” Caliphate cannot be substantiated even by relying on the (apocryphal?) “pact” of Umar (Ibn al-Khattab) because this putative decree compelled the Christians (and other non-Muslims) to fulfill self-destructive obligations, including: the prohibition on erecting any new churches, monasteries, or hermitages; and not being allowed to repair any ecclesiastical institutions that fell into ruin, nor to rebuild those that were situated in the Muslim quarters of a town. Muslim traditionists and early historians (such as al-Baladhuri) further maintain that Umar expelled the Jews of the Khaybar oasis, and similarly deported Christians (from Najran) who refused to apostasize and embrace Islam, fulfilling the death bed admonition of Muhammad who purportedly stated: “there shall not remain two religions in the land of Arabia.”
Umar imposed limitations upon the non-Muslims aimed at their ultimate destruction by attrition, and he introduced fanatical elements into Islamic culture that became characteristic of the Caliphates which succeeded his. For example, according to the chronicle of the Muslim historian Ibn al-Atham (d. 926-27), under the brief Caliphate of Ali b. Abi Talib (656-61), when one group of apostates in Yemen (Sanaa) adopted Judaism after becoming Muslims, “He [Ali] killed them and burned them with fire after the killing.” Indeed, the complete absence of freedom of conscience in these early Islamic Caliphates-while entirely consistent with mid-7th century mores-has remained a constant, ignominious legacy throughout Islamic history, to this day.
Finally, S.D. Goitein, a renowned expert on the subject of non-Muslims [“dhimmis,” as per Koran 9:29] under Islamic rule within the classical Caliphate, contrasted this system, unapologetically, circa 1970, with the secular principles and governing systems that evolved in the West, including the United States:
[A] great humanist and contemporary of the French Revolution, Wilhelm von Humboldt, defined as the best state one which is least felt and restricts itself to one task only: protection, protection against attack from outside and oppression from within . . . in general, taxation [by the Muslim government] was merciless, and a very large section of the population must have lived permanently at the starvation level. From many letters one gets the impression that the poor were concerned more with getting money for the payment of their taxes than for food and clothing, for failure of payment usually induced cruel punishment. . . . [T]he Muslim state was quite the opposite of the ideals propagated by Wilhelm von Humboldt or the principles embedded in the constitution of the United States. An Islamic state was part of or coincided with dar al-Islam, the House of Islam. Its treasury was mal al-muslumin, the money of the Muslims. Christians and Jews were not citizens of the state, not even second class citizens. They were outsiders under the protection of the Muslim state, a status characterized by the term dhimma, for which protection they had to pay a poll tax specific to them. They were also exposed to a great number of discriminatory and humiliating laws. . . . As it lies in the very nature of such restrictions, soon additional humiliations were added, and before the second century of Islam was out, a complete body of legislation in this matter was in existence. . . . In times and places in which they became too oppressive they lead to the dwindling or even complete extinction of the minorities.
As elucidated in the seminal analysis of Charles C. Adams, eight decades ago (i.e., “Islam and Modernism in Egypt,” 1933), the “Caliphate question” was settled by Egypt’s (and arguably Sunni Islamdom’s) most authoritative institution of religious education, Al-Azhar University, during August, 1925. On August 12, 1925, a court consisting of 24 of Al-Azhar’s most important Islamic legists, headed by the institution’s Grand Sheikh, met to hear charges against Ali Abd al-Raziq, an Al-Azhar certified Sharia judge, regarding his book “Islam and the Fundamentals of Authority,” which openly advocated the abolition of the Caliphate. Adams recounts the concordant decisions reached by both the Al-Azhar panel, and a Sharia Court Judiciary to whom al-Raziq appealed, claiming the Azhar panel lacked jurisdiction over matters of personal conduct:
The [Azhar] Court rendered a unanimous decision confirming the charges of unorthodoxy in what he had written and declaring him guilty, on that account, of conduct “unbecoming the character of an ‘alim [cleric]”; sentence was therefore passed, dismissing him from the body of the Ulama [clerics], and directing that his name be expunged from the records of the Azhar and the other mosque schools, that he be dismissed from office and henceforth be incapacitated from filling any office, religious or otherwise.
…the [Sharia] Court sustained the jurisdiction of the former court, since the “expression was not limited in any way and might logically be held to include matters of belief as well as conduct.” When Sheikh ‘Ali [al-Raziq] pleaded the right of “absolute freedom of belief” as guaranteed by the constitution of 1922, the Court replied that the guarantee of freedom was limited by the clause “within the limits of the law,” and could only be held to include freedom from civil or political disability on account of beliefs, and the right to maintain any belief that one chooses, so long as it is “within the limits of the law”; moreover, the constitution does not interfere with the right of special regulation by such bodies as the Azhar concerning its ‘Ulama, or by the courts concerning its employees. The decision of the Azhar Court was therefore sustained; and since by that decision Sheikh ‘Ali is no longer to be considered “one of the men of religion,” and the position of judge in the Sharia Courts being a religious officem the decision of removal from office was also confirmed.
In brief, what egregious heresies against mainstream Islamic doctrine had al-Raziq professed? Adams enumerated four:
First, the Caliphate as an Islamic institution should be abolished…[E]ven when the proofs, which are commonly adduced in support of this institution are examined, they are found insufficient to sustain the claim of this specialized form of government.
Second, the very idea of the Caliphate, as both a civil and religious hegemony in succession to and behalf of the Prophet, rests upon a mistaken conception of the Prophet’s purpose and the nature of the Apostolic office which he filled.
Third, since the authority of Muhammad was spiritual and not political, and the unity which he came to establish was religious not political, the conception of a “succession” to his authority falls of itself…He had exercised no political authority and therefore transmitted none…
Fourth, it follows from the spiritual character of the Prophet’s authority as just described, that the Divine Law which he brought for the guidance of his followers was concerned only with religious affairs, intended to regulate the relation between God and man; it did not have in view the regulation of civil affairs. [quoting al-Raziq] “All that Islam prescribed as law, and that the Prophet imposed upon the Muslims in the way of regulations and rules and moral principles, had nothing at all to do with methods of political rule, nor with regulations of a civil state.”
Thus al-Raziq’s modernist Islamic argumentation, which offered plausible theoretical bases for Egypt’s authoritative Muslim institutions—and masses—to reject theocratic Islam’s ossified, liberty-crushing paradigm of governance, and advance to a secular consensus treating all Egyptian citizens equally, placed him, according to the Azhar Court, “in the category of the [violent, puritanical “heretic”] Kharijites, not the majority of Muslims.” Adams notes, appropriately, that what al-Raziq had espoused:
…with reference to the Caliphate is manifestly contrary to the general Muslim belief, which has cherished the doctrine of the Caliphate to the present day.
In support of this contention Adams refers to the views of the much ballyhooed “reformist” orthodox Muslims, Muhammad Abduh, who attained Egypt’s highest religious office, state mufti, in 1899, held till his death in 1905, and Rashid Rida (d. 1935), founder of the periodical Al Manar [The Lighthouse], an influential mouthpiece for the propagation of his mentor’s, Abduh’s, doctrine. Adams observes that Abduh defended Islam’s fusion of religious and civil authority “explicitly and unequivocally. ” Abduh claimed:
The assertion that the Government and the State should be separated from the religion, is one that necessitates the blotting of Islamic authority out of existence, and abrogating entirely the Islamic Sharia.
Abduh added, that if Muslims adopted the position of Christianity on the matter, i.e. a comparable separation of mosque and state, “we should have laid aside half our religion.” Some four decades later, in 1939, another orthodox Muslim “reformer,” Mustafa al-Maraghi, while serving as the rector of Al-Azhar, reiterated Abduh’s mainstream Islamic viewpoint:
As for the celebrated maxim: “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s”—it is no way related to the principles of Islam.
Muhammad Abduh also made plain his Sharia-based, jihadist predilections, inspired, explicitly, by the original Caliphate:
[Islam’s] Divine Law (Sharia) regulates in detail the rights and duties of all, both ruler and subjects. . . . It is a duty incumbent upon all Muslims to aid in maintaining the authority of Islam and Islamic rule over all lands that have once been Muslim; and they are not permitted under any circumstances to be peaceable and conciliatory towards any who contend the mastery with them, until they obtain complete authority without sharing it with anyone else. . . . The only cure for these [Muslim] nations is to return to the rules of their religion [Islam] and the practice of its requirements according to what it was in the beginning, in the days of the early Caliphs.
Abduh’s influential pupil Rida, was a full-throated avatar of a formalized, traditional Islamic Caliphate system, who vociferously rejected the abolition of this institution by Republican Turkey.
The Caliphate State is both spiritual and temporal; it is founded on justice and equity. . . . When they attack religious law, Turkish secularists, relentlessly attack with stubborn ferocity the freedom Sharia grants to the Ahl al-Kitab [“People of the Book,” typically Jews and Christians subjugated by jihad, as per Koran 9:29].
The orthodox Muslim “reformer” Rida, was quite unabashed in describing one of the traditional Caliphate’s (and Caliph’s) tasks, in its “modernist” guise: waging jihad for the propagation of Islam (even concluding his 1923 pronouncement with the Koranic verse that would become the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood).
Make war against anyone who declares his hostility to Islam, after first inviting him to adopt it [Islam] or accept its protection, in such a way as to pay his debt to Allah and proclaim the shining superiority of Islam. . . . Put in charge of your interests—may Allah guide you—a man with an iron fist who knows how to make war, who can resist the seduction of luxury in times of prosperity and is not discouraged when misfortune strikes him. . . . [J]ihad . . . means the canonical war imposed on the individual and the collectivity. Jihad is not a strict obligation for every responsible man except when the enemy has seized a piece of Muslim territory and general mobilization is required to expel him. In normal times jihad is waged by those designated by the Imam [supreme leader; Caliph] for that mission according to needs. Jihad may also be accomplished in the form of a financial contribution, or an apostolate [office of a mission or apostle]: he who sends out the call to Islam with supporting proof is a mujahid [holy warrior; jihadist]. The Imam must be obeyed in all matters connected with military training, recruiting and organization. The Imam must use of all the resources of the Community to fight the enemy with equal or superior arms. He will supervise the construction of warships, submarines, fighter planes and weapons. The Imam [Caliph] must be strictly obeyed by all, and every man must be prepared to sacrifice his goods and his life in virtue of these words of Allah (Koran 8:60): “Make ready for them whatever force and strings of horses you can, to terrify thereby the enemy of God and your enemy, and others besides them that you know not; God knows them. And whatsoever you expend in the way of God shall be repaid you in full; you will not be wronged.”
Muhammad Abduh, and Muhammad Rashid Rida directly influenced the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, who, in fact, succeeded Rida as the publisher of Al-Manar. Brynjar Lia’s 1998 analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood’s formative years (1928–1942) points out how Al-Banna’s, and the Brotherhood’s, vision remained steadfastly Islamic—hence its deep resonance with the timeless aspiration of the Muslim masses to establish a transnational Muslim Caliphate via jihad.
Quoting the Qur’anic verse [2:193] “And fight them till sedition is no more, and the faith is Allah’s,” the Muslim Brothers urged their fellow Muslims to restore the bygone greatness of Islam, and to re-establish the Islamic empire. . . [T]hey even called for the restoration of “former Islamic colonies” in Andalus (Spain), southern Italy, Sicily, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean islands.
Over the intervening three-quarters of a century, it is not merely Muslim Brotherhood ideologues—most notably, at present, Yusuf al-Qaradawi—who have echoed these traditional Islamic goals. Al-Azhar University continues to inculcate such views, as reflected in the Islamic jurisprudence manuals it sill uses for teaching Islamic Law within the institution. Hence it is unsurprising that 67% of Egyptians recently affirmed their support for the eventual (re-) establishment of a Islamic Caliphate.
Al-Azhar also endorses these Sharia-based teachings for worldwide dissemination to Muslim communities across the globe. Regarding the latter, for example, Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy certified (in February, 1991) that the English translation of Islamic Law manual “The Reliance of the Traveller,” by Nu Ha Kim Keller, “corresponds to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community.” According to this currently authoritative manual,
The Caliphate is a communal obligation, just as the judgeship is, because the Islamic community needs a ruler to uphold the religion [Islam], [and] defend the sunna [traditions of Muhammad, and the nascent Muslim community]
In turn, as Reliance of the Traveller highlights, one of the Caliph’s primary “obligations” is to wage jihad against non-Muslims, and thereby propagate Islam:
The Caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, until they become Muslim, or pay the non-Muslim poll tax (in accordance with Koran 9:29)…The caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslims, because they are not a people with a Book, nor honored as such, and are not permitted to settle with paying the poll-tax (jizya).
The late, brilliant political scientist, P.J. Vatikiotis (d. 1997), educated at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and author of many important analyses of Egyptian socio-political history, opened his seminal 1981 study, “Religion and State,” with these words:
“Religion and State” is not a new preoccupation in the study of Egyptian or any other society where the faith of Islam predominates.
Vatikiotis adds that this “difficult and largely unresolved problem”—which dated from the 7th century advent of Islam—derived from, and continued to manifest, in Egypt, the
…curious “marriage” between a universal religious truth or message and an otherwise very parochial community that held it and fought for it or in its name
Three decades later, despite widespread euphoria regarding the mass movement which prompted a military coup deposing Egypt’s first popularly-elected President, Muhammad Morsi, and his coterie of Muslim Brotherhood ideologues, the ancient-cum-modern conundrum elucidated by Vatikiotis, remains tragically unresolved within this Muslim-dominant society. Vatikiotis’ sobering and remarkably compendious 1981 analysis also explodes the instantly manufactured (and popularized) canard that Morsi’s ouster somehow “discredited and marginalized Islamism”—a chimerical Western construct invented to avoid dealing forthrightly with mainstream, traditionalist Islam, and its votaries in Egypt, and beyond.
Friday, 7/5/13, alone, in the aftermath of the coup which toppled Morsi, internecine clashes between pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi Egyptian Muslim groups (along with predatory Muslim violence targeting Coptic Christians), killed 46 people, and wounded 1404, according to a local (Al-Hayat) television report. Understandably, such chaotic violence has inspired prevalent sentiments akin to those expressed by Cairene Headwaiter Attef Abdelghalil. Interviewed by Der Spiegel following the coup, Abdelghalil acknowledged that he and most of the staff at perhaps Cairo’s best known teahouse, Café el-Fishawy, had voted for the Muslim Brotherhood due to their perceived honesty and reliability, after 30-years of kleptocratic rule under Mubarak. Now, in the wake of the economic failure wrought by Muslim Brotherhood governance under Morsi, Abdelghalil has no confidence in the “anti-Morsi opposition,” either—or “democracy” itself.
The army should not be in a rush to give up power. Democracy isn’t important at the moment. Only the economy matters. Currently, all we have is chaos. It has to end.
Abdelghalil concluded by arguing that new elections be delayed for 3-years. But Egypt’s interim military caretaker rulers, and their appointed minions, will likely orchestrate a considerably more rapid timetable for drafting a revised Constitution, and holding new Parliamentary and Presidential elections. There seems to be little appetite within the military to govern directly given management errors which occurred during the transitional military rule following Mubarak’s sacking in 2011, till Morsi’s election in 2012. Transitional military rule then was punctuated by abusive custody of civilians, their trial in military courts, worsening crime, and economic stagnation, resulting in public ire directed at the governing generals.
Valid—and irrefragable—evidence of Egypt’s overwhelming, vox populi support for al-Sisi’s anti-secular, Caliphate-extolling Weltanschauung, as expressed in his thesis, derives from the published findings of independent polls based on face-to-face interviews with large, population-based samples of Egyptians. While, as noted before, 67% desired to re-create the transnational Caliphate—whose goal is the universal application of Sharia via bellicose jihad conquests, these data also reveal that 74% of Egyptian Muslims supported making Sharia the official state law of their society; 70% favored Sharia-based mandatory (“hadd”) punishments “like whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery”; 80% supported the hadd punishment of stoning for adultery; and 88% favored the hadd punishment of execution for “apostasy.” Lastly, at present, as opposed to a merely “aspirational” goal of Sharia supremacim, female genital mutilation (FGM) is sanctioned by the predominant Shafiite school of Islamic law in Egypt, leading to current rates of this misogynistc barbarity among Egyptian women of more than 90%.
Vatikiotis lucidly chronicled Egypt’s 150-year experience (through 1981) of failed experiments with secularization imposed by forceful despots, beginning in the 1820s with Muhammad Ali (and including his equally “vigorous” grandson, Khedive Ismail). The process reached its apogee with the adoption of a constitutional parliamentary system in 1923. However, as Vatikiotis observes, the “very small group” attempting to impose this “borrowed secularism” never tried to resolve the contradiction between their adopted foreign ideology and “the native religious tradition.” Worse still, a more fundamental defect in the process emerged, which, unresolved ever since, continues to plague Egyptian society, engendering sectarian violence against the non-Muslim minority Christian (primarily Coptic) population, and bloody internecine conflicts between members of Egypt’s dominant Muslim majority.
Neither authority nor the source of law, despite all the state-promulgated and decreed legislation, was clearly divorced from its ultimate divine source and sanction. The constitution itself proclaimed Islam as the official religion of the state, inevitably undermining its other provisions relating to the rights of citizens such as freedom of worship or belief, speech, and so forth. Thus, such a provision was fundamentally contrary to the conception of a secular state because under the constitution the latter still sought and recognized a legitimacy based on divine sanction. The transcendent reference for authority and political power remained partly divine and not purely secular. The uniformity of individual citizen rights therefore remained unattainable.…[T]he more fundamental problem of the relation between religion and state remained unresolved. It was put in abeyance only to return to plague the Egyptian body politic. A concept of citizenship based on a clearly secular idea of identity for the individual and the society did not materialize, and the alienation of both from the state persisted.
Vatikiotis added, rather presciently 30-years ago, considering the dissolution of Egypt’s recently approved Constitution (a more overtly Sharia supremacist document than its now “halcyon” 1923 antecedent), which accompanied President Morsi’s removal from power:
The absence of a constitution or its precarious state is a measure of the difficulties. As long as Egypt has no political order that is clearly based on a secular consensus, it will remain afflicted by religious and communal antagonisms. Depending on the ability of the state to satisfy the economic and other needs of its public, these antagonisms, though usually muted or subterranean, will surface periodically. Until a secular formula of identity and social cohesiveness is found that is acceptable, the religious or traditional one will dominate the social order. And to this extent the question of religion and state will remain unresolved. But that will require a commitment on the part of the leadership to remove religion from the public realm altogether.
Egypt’s Coptic community was understandably alarmed over the constitutional road map issued on Monday, July 8, 2013 by interim president Adly Mansour—appointed by Egypt’s military caretaker, General al-Sisi. This road map indicated the stubborn persistence of the Sharia closed circle that has stifled Egypt’s efforts since the 1820s to produce a pluralistic society, based upon a secular consensus.
A Coptic activist group, Egypt’s Maspero Youth Union—named after the brutal Maspero massacre, during which the Egyptian military targeted and killed dozens of Coptic Christians, and injured some 300—responded with understandable anguish to the announced draft constitutional declaration. The Maspero Youth Union characterized as “shocking,” the 33-article document, which outlines the roadmap for the transitional period, anticipated to last six months.
The declaration’s first article combines Articles 1, 2 and 219 of the suspended constitution—article 219 having been added by avowed Muslim Sharia supremacists to clarify the meaning of “principles of Islamic sharia” mentioned in the second article. Here are the aforementioned articles from Egypt’s recently suspended Constitution, which, it should be noted, had been approved, just this past December, 2012, by a total of 64.0% of Egyptians, (10,543,893/ 16,472,241), including 67.5% (162,231/240,224) of Egyptian expatriates.
Article 1: The Arab Republic of Egypt is an independent sovereign state, united and indivisible, its system democratic. The Egyptian people are part of the Arab and Islamic nations, proud of belonging to the Nile Valley and Africa and of its Asian reach, a positive participant in human civilization.
Article 2: Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic its official language. Principles of Islamic Sharia are the principal source of legislation.
Article 219: The principles of Islamic Sharia include general evidence, foundational rules, rules of jurisprudence, and credible sources accepted in Sunni doctrines and by the larger community.
According to an Al-Ahram report of Wednesday, 7/10/13, the “new” and “hybridized” article 1 now,
…states that the Arab Republic of Egypt is a democratic system based on citizenship, that Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language and the principles of sharia law derived from established Sunni canons are its main source of legislation. [emphases added]
Although I do not share, at all, Maspero Youth Union’s hagiographic assessment of the true impetus behind Morsi’s removal, I fully agree with their understanding of the “new” constitutional declaration, and its dire, tragic implications for them, and any hope of establishing the long elusive modern secular consensus Egypt so desperately requires.
Maspero Youth Union has issued this plaintive statement:
The [constitutional declaration] is not compatible with the ideals of the 30 June uprising… that went out for a civil state that upholds religious and cultural diversity
Ignoring all of the doctrinal and historical evidence adduced herein, Eric Trager’s brief analysis of al-Sisi’s mini-thesis, grudgingly conceded that Springborg’s prior assessment that the General was “ an Islamist”, i.e., anti-secular, Sharia-supremacist, “may prove accurate.” But Trager concludes he is more likely “a Mubarak clone.”
Trager’s conclusion thus ignores the most important—and striking—difference between al-Sisi, and Mubarak: al-Sisi’s unequivocal rejection of secularism, and Mubarak’s embrace of it.
Then US Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey’s Tuesday, May 19, 2009, confidential assessment of Mubarak emphasizes his support for a secular model of governance:
Mubarak is a classic Egyptian secularist who hates religious extremism and interference in politics. [emphasis added] The Muslim Brothers represent the worst, as they challenge not only Mubarak’s power, but his view of Egyptian interests. As with regional issues, Mubarak, seeks to avoid conflict and spare his people from the violence he predicts would emerge from unleashed personal and civil liberties. In Mubarak’s mind, it is far better to let a few individuals suffer than risk chaos for society as a whole. He has been supportive of improvements in human rights in areas that do not affect public security or stability. Mrs. Mubarak has been given a great deal of room to maneuver to advance women’s and children’s rights and to confront some traditional practices that have been championed by the Islamists, such as FGM [i.e., female genital mutilation, sanctioned by not merely “Islamists,” in Egypt, as noted earlier], child labor, and restrictive personal status laws.
Now publicly revealed, in full, al-Sisi’s expressed ideology—in both his 2006 mini-thesis, as well as its “leavening” by the recent comments he made to the Washington Post—must be featured prominently in the debate on military, and all other forms of aid to Egypt. Moreover, the fulfillment of his Islamic, Sharia-based vision—which will surely result in the ongoing abrogation of fundamental Western freedoms of conscience and speech, and continued legal discrimination against non-Muslims and women, that have plagued modern Egypt for two centuries, now—also merits serious consideration.