Have you been wondering why Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi (of the Muslim Brotherhood) is so anxious to have the draft sharia constitution submitted to a public referendum? Wondering why Islamists win all elections in post-Mubarak Egypt — usually by a landslide — even though the Western media keeps telling you that the “Arab Spring” is all about young, secular, Facebook revolutionaries? Here is a clue. The sharia jurists of al-Azhar University, the seat of Sunni learning since the 10th century and the most influential institution in Egyptian life, have decreed that participating in the upcoming referendum is a religious duty for all Muslims.
Further, a member of the al-Azhar fatwa committee, Sheik Hashem Islam, explains that Islam forbids both (a) objections to Morsi’s declaration that the draft constitution be submitted to a public vote, and (b) the efforts of secularist judges to derail the referendum by refusing to supervise it (Egyptian law mandates judicial supervision of elections). Note that objection to Morsi’s declaration and the threat of a strike by the judges are two of the principal strategies employed by the draft constitution’s non-Islamist opponents.
Morsi has now decided to bifurcate the referendum. It will start on schedule this Saturday (ex-pats are already voting), but this will only be a first-round, limited to ten governorates. This ameliorates the threat of a judicial strike (less judges needed for monitoring) and allows the Brotherhood to concentrate its prodigious get-out-the-vote machine in fewer places. A second round will be held for the rest of the country on the following Saturday, December 22.
So al-Azhar’s sharia masters are greasing the wheels for adoption of the new sharia constitution (which just happens to give them Iranian mullah-style authority over the interpretation of sharia). And as is always the case in the new Egypt, the campaign is proceeding in harsh sectarian terms: opponents of the constitution are portrayed as “against God’s law” and “the enemies of Islam.”
Gee, I wonder how the vote will come out.