Not even the MB really thinks the new constitution that great

One of the controversies about Egypt's new constitution is the way it has an ambiguous reference to al-Azhar having an advisory role as part of the expanded role of religion in state affairs. In January, we had the spectacle of the FJP's much-ballyhooed new Islamic finance law being twice rejected by al-Azhar, to the dismay of the Brothers, because it allows for (Islamically-correct) financial instruments to be used to raise investment in public infrastructure projects. Al-Azhar did not like the idea of foreigners owning such public infrastructure, and thus rejected the draft law — what seems like a secular rather than religious objection, although perhaps they had a religious reasoning too.

This was a great illustration of my fundamental problem with the constitution — the lack of forethought that went into it, and the unintended consequences of it. I think it's just the beginning, as this example unearthed by Nour the intern shows. She writes in first about the ongoing debate about the police (the Brothers' new best friends) but the second item speaks to my point:

Fast forward to minute 4, where Al-Qahira Al-Youm reporter, Mohamed Saad Eldeen, explains the Shura Council's session where MOI representative specifically stated that it is the police's job to "protect the legitimacy of the President" and they intend to do so. An outraged Wafd party member objected to their shamelessly political stance arguing that it's the exact same, wrong, stance they took for Mubarak. Instead of the MOI representatives defending themselves, Freedom and Justice party members did it for them, saying that it's the MOI's job to protect the regime and that the police should be using more force with the protesters. Eldeen added that the Minister of Interior didn't attend the session and sent a deputy instead, like every other minister who has been asked to attend for the past two weeks. The council later moved on to the European agreement with Egypt in the works. The agreement is worth €60 million, and includes loans and interest, which irked Salafi members who demanded the agreement be referred to Al-Azhar first, before they formally reject it. That's when Essam el-Erian intervened to stress the government's need for the money and that, with all due respect to Al-Azhar, "this is a legislative council." At that point, Salafi Nour party members reminded him of the continued existence of the constitution.

So many sessions are going to sounds like this one — one of the many factors that will add to the politicization of al-Azhar, because it has the potential to become a veto power (especially over Islamists, who can't very well just ignore the advisory opinions of the country's leading Islamic scholars the way secularists might) and that, therefore, controlling al-Azhar will become part of getting your ducks in a row when you want to pass legislation.

This is why I think the recent controversy over the election of the new Mufti is just the beginning of a long fight, as do Nathan Brown and Hisham Hellyer

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.