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Islam and Politics ( 22 Feb 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Brotherhood 's 'democratic Islam' would have jeopardised by comparison the rule of the Saudi leadership, whose practices are neither democratic nor Islamic


By Heba Sewilam

19 February, 2014

Among the criticisms directed at Saudi Arabia for supporting the ouster of former Egyptian president and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 was the astonishing claim that the kingdom was “panicking about the new breed of democratic Islam”.

The implication is that, at the helm of Egyptian politics, the Brotherhood was set to reconcile democracy and Islam in a manner that would embarrass Egypt’s neighbouring Gulf country. Through its paradigm of “democratic Islam,” the Brotherhood would have jeopardised by comparison the rule of the Saudi leadership, whose practices fall short of being democratic or Islamic. To pre-empt this threat, Saudi Arabia, the argument goes, financially backed the post-July Egyptian government in its fight against the Brotherhood.

The question that this criticism raises but never answers is: Was the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt ever democratic or even Islamic? An assessment of the Brotherhood’s one-year rule in Egypt (2012-2013) makes one doubt that the question can be answered in the affirmative.

Earning the qualifications of “democratic” and “Islamic” is contingent on practice rather than on announcing political platforms and redrafting constitutions. Thus far, the Brotherhood’s political manner has lent itself to sham democratic and Islamic processes, claiming the titles but never the meaning.

The organisation’s famous slogan “Islam is the solution,” for instance, has been around for decades, creating economic and political devastation far exceeding its social contribution. It also collected Islamic charity to help the ill and the needy but in a way also increased pauperism by preaching the culture of dependency in place of self-reliance, creativity and the seeking of political change to solve economic problems. There has also been the suspicion of an unannounced deal between the Brotherhood and its charity dependents to buy voters’ support in exchange for altruistic services.

Despite its popularity, the slogan of “Islam is the solution” suddenly disappeared in the face of the 30 June crisis, in which protesters led by the Tamarod Movement demanded Morsi’s removal and a direct intervention in Egyptian politics became a military resolve for the second time in three years.

In his last public speech on 2 July 2013, Morsi spoke of his duty to protect “legitimacy,” presumably that of the ballot boxes which brought the Brotherhood to power, and his partisans formed a “legitimacy coalition” to restore the “lost” presidency. In the run up to the June crisis, neither party implemented “Islam is the solution,” however. Had the Muslim Brotherhood ever meant to practice its slogan or so-called “democratic Islam,” the June crisis would have been a momentous occasion to build its politico-Islamic government.

Representative democracy in Egypt: I start with the criticism’s “democratic” claim.

The Muslim Brotherhood came to power, as is often argued, through six electoral ballots. These included a constitutional referendum, bicameral parliamentary elections and a presidential election. All were carried out in 2012 under pressure from the socialists and the Brotherhood to hasten a military handover of power to civilians following the 2011 ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak.

The year was marked by violent street protests, religious strife and above all by growing suspicions that the military may have been buying time by extending the interim period to concoct a clandestine plan to keep its grip on power. Rumours had it that the military was planning to bring back the old regime, to rule directly, or to find a civilian ruling agent. The rumours heightened fears that after a year of gruelling revolutionary experience the people still had no say over the political leadership of Egypt.

Racing to power, the Brotherhood did not seek confidence-building measures between the ruler and the ruled to placate a disempowered public. It is even doubtful whether the organisation ever contemplated the gap between the ideals of representative democracy, i.e., the first basics of democracy, and the failures of the Egyptian practice, or reasoned that the social turbulence since 2011 could have been partly resolved through new electoral concessions or amendments to the flawed system. Instead, the Brotherhood conceded to the traditional electoral claims to power and sought to benefit from Egypt’s 50-year history of disfigured representative democracy.

In its 2012 ascension to power, the Brotherhood leaned on Egypt’s inherited democratic system. In fact, the organisation still deems its condescension in participating in Egypt’s aging representative democracy to be an achievement worthy of international praise and local thanks. This ostensible attitude of arrogance goes back to the Brotherhood’s habit of weighing its political agenda not with regard to the politics of democratic countries but vis-à-vis colleague organisations and parties within its genre of Political Islam.

For a long time, the Brotherhood’s Salafi colleagues refused to recognise the religious validity of any democratic process or system. The fact that democracy is intended to realise sovereignty for the people and not award it to God made the Salafis distrustful of engaging in any democratic politics. Although the Salafis have been conceding to Egyptian democracy since 2012, the Brotherhood is still in the vanguard of Political Islam in relation to using, or in reality abusing, the Egyptian democratic system. 

Nasser and presidential absolutism: The history books recount that representative democracy has been known in Egypt since the 19th century. The first Egyptian parliament was held in 1866, and the first Egyptian constitution was promulgated in 1882.

After these dates, parliament and a constitution were the main staples of Egyptian politics with the almost consistent existence of a bicameral parliament and a dual executive mechanism. Most recently, the parliament contained the People’s Assembly (an effective lower chamber) and the Shura Council (a consultative upper chamber) and the executive was divided between a ruling government and a head of state. All but the former king before the 1952 Revolution were elected state organs and individuals. The constitutional character of the state has lain in the establishment of a counterbalance between the executive and the legislative powers in order to ensure accountability. Each power has been assigned the responsibility to check the other in order to rule out absolutism and the violation of constitutional law.

However, unfortunately Egyptian politics has not always adhered to its constitutional ideals. For decades, the balance of power has been unbalanced in real political terms. The president held unchecked powers, while his powerless ministers bore the brunt of failed government. This abnormal representative democracy was the product of the 1956 Constitution, which ensured maximum presidential powers for former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser (1956-1970) by combining the best of democracy’s parliamentary and presidential systems.

While the parliamentary system normally gives executive powers to the council of ministers and thus holds the latter solely responsible for bad government, the presidential system gives executive powers to the president alone and does not hold him responsible before the parliament due to its reliance on the total separation of powers. Ministers in the presidential system are unimportant, since those who play this role in the system are but advisors to the sole decision-maker, i.e., the president. Naturally, they do not bear any responsibility before the legislature.

Article 119 of the 1956 Egyptian Constitution acknowledged the president’s headship of the executive power, and Article 131 recognised the presidential right to set and supervise the political, economic and social policies of the state aided by the ministers. Article 113 regulated the process of individual ministerial responsibility before the parliament, and it said that if the parliament held a no-confidence vote against any minister, that minister must resign.

The combination of these constitutional rulings meant that Nasser was the decision-maker of the executive and by virtue of the presidential system was unanswerable before the Egyptian parliament. His ministers, advisors in accordance with the presidential system, were accountable before the parliament. In sum, Nasser was an unaccountable decider and his ministers were responsible non-decision makers. The 1956 Constitution thus twisted the power/ responsibility principle, making the powerless responsible and the empowered immune.

Nasser’s “revolutionary” 1956 Constitution was also a marked political degeneration when compared to its admired 1923 counterpart. In the 1923 constitution, former King Farouk (1936-1952) ruled but did not govern. Hence, the king’s position was a largely ceremonial one. He was neither a decision-maker nor responsible before the parliament. Actual powers, however, were in the hands of the king’s cabinet; it decided on state policy, ratified any royal decree and was solely responsible individually or collectively before the parliament. In short, the 1923 Constitution instituted a true parliamentary system.

Perhaps because they were in line with their military educations, Nasser’s successors as president, Anwar Al-Sadat (1970-1981) and Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011), never adjusted the 1956 constitutional deviations. Inherited presidential autocracy was legitimised in a French-patterned semi-presidential system, which specified a dual executive: an elected president and an appointed prime minister acceptable to both the president and the parliamentary majority party. Both had effective powers, but the president was unaccountable before the legislature while the cabinet was.

The 1971 Egyptian Constitution, however, departed slightly but fundamentally from the stipulations of semi-presidentialism; Article 141 of this constitution authorised the president to appoint the prime minister, but was silent on majority party agreement.

In 2007, a constitutional amendment reopened the rules of semi-presidentialism. Article 131 of the 1971 constitution, which demanded that any new government present its programme to the parliament, was amended in order to give the legislature the right to approve the new government. The 2007 amendment stipulated the approval of the legislature of the new government’s programme; otherwise, the government would have to resign and another would be appointed. This amendment, however, came late in the history of Egyptian semi-presidentialism and could not empower the parliament to defy the five-decade custom of presidential absolutism.

Disempowered as the legislative was before the president, the Egyptian parliament developed an attitude of indifference towards the work of the cabinet. For the last 50 years, cabinet reshuffles rather than a parliamentary withdrawal of confidence or elections became the order of the day for changing governments. The reshuffles, of course, were a presidential decision. During Mubarak’s rule (1981-2011), for example, eight prime ministers came and went mostly by a Mubarak-initiated reshuffle. In short, from 1956 onwards the parliament has been helpless before the presidential absolutism of the “democratic” regime.

One cannot argue that the presidential office is a substitute for the parliamentary one. The expectations of each are different: while voters concentrate on the economic and political policies of the presidential candidate, they tend to focus on solutions to personal and regional problems in parliamentary elections. Also, follow-up in the form of post-election contact with the president is impossible, whereas it is relatively achievable with a parliamentarian system. A 10-minute walk in any street in Cairo immediately reveals the outcome of Egypt’s failed democracy: dilapidated real estate, worn out infrastructure, negligent administration, heaps of garbage, chaotic car-parking and armies of beggars, peddlers, homeless kids and sidewalk squatters.

Until the Brotherhood assumed power in 2012, the political custom was for the cabinet to act as a protective shield for presidential absolutism. The parliament, if innocent of election-rigging, was also a rubber-stamp for the president, and Egyptian representative democracy under-represented a large segment of the population. Despite its nearness to the French system, the Brotherhood’s controversial 2012 constitution also reaffirmed the presidential absolutism of the 1956 Constitution.

Article 132 of the 2012 Constitution recognised the president as the effective head of the executive. Article 125 permitted the parliament to put questions to the prime minister and his ministers. More importantly, article 126 authorised the parliament to conduct a no-confidence vote against the prime minister and his ministers. The article left the president, who was the actual head of the executive and the true decision-maker, untouched. Furthermore, Article 127 gave the president the right to dissolve the parliament, without conferring on the parliament an equal power against the president.

Here again, the legislative was virtually defenceless before the president, and Article 139 of the Constitution delegated the president to select the prime minister. The latter formed the government and proposed its programme to the parliament for a confidence vote. However, a fight over cabinet approval could lead to the presidential dissolution of the parliament. (It is noteworthy that Article 161 of the 2014 Constitution addressed this question by authorising the parliament to hold a no-confidence vote against the president.)

In theory, Article 139 of the 2012 Constitution, following in the footsteps of the amended Article 131 of the 1971 Constitution, brought the system closer to semi-presidentialism. Again, the custom of presidential absolutism was unbroken. During his one-year tenure in office, Morsi, before and after the promulgation of the 2012 Constitution, gave no reassuring signals that the Brotherhood was poised for an end to presidential autocracy. Without constitutional licence, he replaced the prosecutor-general and issued a constitutional declaration, for example, protecting the constitution-drafting committee of 2012 from dissolution.

Although both decisions raised an outcry as a result of their encroachment on judicial powers at the time, the second led to particular protests and polemics. The declaration was understood to pre-empt a likely judicial decision to dissolve the committee after a mass withdrawal broke its quotas on membership. Worse still, it barred the courts from challenging its articles in order to safeguard complete judicial impotence relating to any potential committee dissolution.

Hopes of challenging parliament during Morsi’s time in office were nil. Had a court decision not disbanded the then People’s Assembly in 2012, the Brotherhood would have controlled the bicameral parliament, the cabinet and the presidency. The judiciary, the only institution outside Brotherhood control due to the non-electoral appointment of its members, was already suffering from political attacks. In a televised speech on 26 June, 2013, Morsi insinuated that there was a judicial conspiracy to compromise his rule and accused a named judge of fraud.

Semi-direct democracy: There is no denying that the Brotherhood’s ascension to power was procedurally correct, but the democratic aim of this procedure was unfulfilled.

The aim in this case is to check presidential absolutism, and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a German foundation, has already been disseminating knowledge of this goal in its “Egyptian Democratic Manual” published in Arabic. The Manual warns against the absolutism of representative democracy and recommends the remedies of an interactive alternative. According to the Manual, representative democracy is liable to produce an exclusive governing elite. To ensure power-sharing with the masses, the Manual says, it is essential to reconfigure representative democracy into a mechanism that is more responsive to the people’s wishes, known as interactive democracy.

Defending this proposal, the Manual argues that “modern democracy necessitates finding creative means to a direct political participation of the people that would act as a complementary element to the processes of election and representation.”    

Countries observing these goals have used semi-direct democracy to mitigate the disadvantages of representative democracy, for example. In a classically representative democracy, the people are recognised as sovereign, but their role ends with electing representatives who practice sovereignty on their behalf. After the elections, the delegated members act independently of any voters’ instructions or directives. It is understood, however, that in order to be re-elected, the representatives need to take into consideration their voters’ wishes. This system has its failures: voters have to remain silent about objectionable government policies until the next elections, and the underrepresented for reasons that include a lack of proper organisation or election funding or divided voting among different constituencies remain disempowered.

Semi-direct democracy is one solution to the disadvantages of representative democracy. It is incorporated into constitutions for different purposes: to receive public opinion on issues that are deemed important, to check parliamentary or presidential abuse of power, or to ensure swift legal response to building tensions among the public. The point is that instead of waiting until the next elections for the electorate(s) to redress wrongs, semi-direct democracy allows a minimum number of people, usually in their thousands, to recall the parliamentary member for their constituency, present or thwart a draft law, dismiss elected officials, dissolve the entire parliament or, most importantly, remove the president from office.

Constitutional restrictions, such as the non-violation of minority rights or public order and morals and the right of the parliament to propose a counter-law, are necessary guarantees against the abuse of semi-direct democracy by an emotionally overwhelmed public.

Egyptian legal education and politics have not been oblivious of the doctrines and applications of semi-direct democracy. In Egyptian law schools, the curriculum for the political systems course habitually teaches the basics of representative, direct and semi-direct democracy. Egyptians have also practiced semi-direct democracy in all their plebiscites, whether presidential, as in their approval of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, or constitutional as in their ratification of constitutions since the 1950s.

In the last three years alone, Egyptians have practiced semi-direct democracy in three referendums: the amendment on the 1971 Constitution in 2011 and the ratification of the 2012 and the 2014 constitutions. With this culture in mind, the June crisis, wherein the Tamarod Movement presented the initiative to oust the president, may be read as a plea from the underrepresented to have the right to semi-direct democracy.

Now that we have a count of the underrepresented from the 2014 constitutional referendum (approximately 19 million people or 40 per cent of those who are qualified to vote agreeing to a new constitutional beginning in a post-Brotherhood period), many questions need answers from the Brotherhood. Did the organisation do its political homework and learn the mischief of semi-presidentialism in Egypt? Why did it refuse to consider Tamarod’s action to be a demand for a semi-direct democracy and an opportunity to initiate its practice in order to temporarily adjust the deviation in Egyptian democratic practice?

Don’t the underrepresented deserve a voice in Egyptian politics, even if they failed to organise themselves in former elections? If semi-direct democracy was the wrong solution to the June crisis, why didn’t the Brotherhood suggest a legal alternative rather than defend the type of “ballot-box legitimacy” that originally created the old presidential absolutism?

The Asharism of Egyptian Islam: On the Islamic claim, the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have a historical recollection of Islam, for its clergy denounced the al-Khuruuj Ala Al-Hakem (rebellion against the ruler), yet trumped the entire criminal law discourse on it.

Before attending to this issue, it is essential to highlight two material issues influencing the Islamic discourse in Egypt: the pluralistic nature of Islamic law and the theological background of Egyptian Islam. Sharia, or Islamic law, is characterised by multiple juristic determinations on every legal case. For every legal question, several solutions are articulated. In Sunni Islam, every classical school of law (the Hanafi, the Maliki, the Shafai and the Hanbali) may have a different position on the same question, and within every school there may be more than one viewpoint.

Yet, as much as this plurality enriches Sharia’s juristic discourse, it also threatens the stability of law, especially in relation to crime and punishment. Whereas the criminal law demands legality (no crime and no punishment without the law), Sharia can put forward several contradictory positions on every issue, confusing laymen and legal experts on what constitutes the official law of the state.

Unfortunately, recognising a single Sharia position as the state law through what is known as the codification of Sharia in Muslim-majority countries does not solve the problem. Instead, it further complicates it. The sacred text (the Qur’an and/ or the Sunna) that sources Sharia never ceases to act as a meta-text to state legislation. It lends itself to multiple authoritative juristic determinations that will always pose a challenge to the legitimacy of the state’s chosen Sharia Law. The likely outcome is an eternal strife among Muslims over the truly Sharia-abiding believer and the necessity of waging jihad (struggle/ fight).

The June crisis manifested this strife when the Brotherhood censured the Salafis and the then rector of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, for siding with the July government. The Brotherhood argued the unlawfulness of “rebelling against the imam” (the leader), in this case Morsi. The other side, however, contended that averting a civil war among Muslims was a protected interest in Islamic law.     

Theologically, almost all Islamists, be they Salafis, Azharis or Brotherhood members, are Asharis. Ashari theology upholds an unquestioning adoration of God. It thus forbids any interpretation of His anthropomorphic qualities that are mentioned in the Qur’an. This outlook is mirrored in Ashari legal thinking, which is characterised by being largely restrictive regarding the role of reason in determining Sharia laws in face of a clear divine text. In the presence of a judgement from the text, an Ashari is disposed to apply the text’s literal meaning and to suspend reason’s by-product, i.e. interpretation.

A divine order to sever the hands of a thief (Qur’an 5:38), for example, has to be literally applied to any aggressor who commits theft. Before such a clear ordinance, an Ashari is reluctant, even adamant in refusing, to read the theft punishment as a historical incident liable to the changes of the times or a guideline to the necessity of imposing a severe penalty for a heinous crime without its essentially being corporal.

Having an Ashari proclivity entails a dependency on corporal punishment instead of imprisonment in much Sharia-based criminal law. This is illustrated, for instance, in the Islamic criminal code Al-Tashrii Al-Jinai of the former lawyer and Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel-Kader Ouda (1906-1954), wherein the codifier adopted the corporal punishments of the Hudud (seven crimes with fixed divine punishments: theft, adultery or fornication, slander, wine-drinking, brigandage, rebellion and apostasy from Islam).

The penalties for these crimes are either flogging, severing limbs, stoning to death or capital punishment. The code is still in print (the last I saw was published by Dar Al-Turath in Cairo in 2005), and it has been steadily influencing Sharia learning in Egypt. In one of Egypt’s renowned law schools, a Sharia course instructs freshmen in a literal reading of Hudud crimes and punishments. The course goes as far as to teach uncommon additional penalties, such as tying the severed hand of a thief to his neck in fulfilment of a defamation penalty in addition to that of theft.

The danger escalates with the likes of Article 219 of the 2012 Constitution.  Now abolished by the 2014 Constitution, this article did not only restrict the law to the Sunni rulings vis-à-vis the Shia, but it also limited the reading of the law to the common interpretations of Sharia, which is generally governed by Ashari conservatism. Part of Article 219 dictated adherence to Sharia’s “juristic and theoretical principles and its recognised sources”. The stipulation incorporates the consensus of Sunni jurists, which developed the penalties in Ouda’s code. With 219 in place, it would have been very tough for an Egyptian legislator to introduce a progressive reading of Islamic law even if a lone juristic precedent had supported it.

Rules of rebellion in Islamic law: The historical Sharia treatment of rebellion depends on the bughah (armed dissenters/ political criminals) law. The law is mainly derived from the Qur’anic text that says: “If two parties among the believers fall into a fight, make peace between them: but if one of them transgresses beyond bounds against the other, then fight against the one that transgresses until it complies with the command of God” (Qur’an 49:9).

An elementary reading of this verse imports four steps to rebellion-resolution: Firstly, making peace between two fighting Muslim groups; secondly, an identification of the Baghi (the rebel) group in case of settlement failure; thirdly, a collective fight against the rebels; and fourthly, an end to the fight once the rebels comply with divine law. Juristic exposition of this verse proves that it is deceptively clear. In Ouda’s above-mentioned Islamic criminal code, many technical complexities and conflicting historical reports unfold as Islamic jurists endeavour to set standards for rebellion and rebels and consequently as Ouda attempts to make a decision on the bughah law.             

The first question concerns definitions: Who is a rebel? Jurists quoted by Ouda have several answers. A rebel is a person taking up arms against the rightful imam in defence of an invalid interpretation of the divine law. A rebel is a person who carries the armed threat against the imam but does not have any supportive interpretation. A rebel is an armed group led by a leader going against the imam, with or without an interpretation. Both the jurists and Ouda agree that a wronged armed group cannot be called a rebel, and that the imam should address its grievances at peace talks between both sides. From these definitions, Ouda deduces that a rebel must have Shawka (power) and a wrong Taweel (interpretation).

The second question is: Who is a rightful imam? Ouda recounts a distinction between the personal traits of the imam and his investiture. For the first, the imam must be a male, mature and a just Muslim who would protect Islam, follow the path of the Prophet Mohamed, save the innocent and realise the rights of the people.

Ouda conveys the notion that these traits are ideal standards that can be compromised when the reality of human nature imposes itself. The target trait is the justice of the imam. An unjust imam can still retain office insofar as he attains it through one of the historically practiced means of investiture. Ouda lists four in this regard: first, the allegiance of juristic notables and Muslim elites; second, the nomination of the former imam; third, the nomination of the former imam of a group that would elect a successor; and fourth, the usurpation of the imamate (leadership). Once the imam is appointed through one of these methods, any group taking up arms against him is considered rebellious and ought to be fought by all Muslims until its subjugation.  

A third question is: What is the punishment for being a Baghi? Ouda offers two circumstantial categories: firstly, the punishment of a Baghi before and after rebellion; and secondly, the punishment of a Baghi during rebellion. In the first situation, the rebel receives the regular criminal and civil punishment for stipulated Sharia crimes. If he kills or maims a person, he receives Quisas (equal corporal punishment). If he steals, his hand is severed. If he damages or usurps property, he pays compensation.

In the second situation, Ouda distinguishes between the necessities of war, i.e. actions committed in self-defence, and those that are not necessary in war. On the necessities of war, a rebel may be killed with impunity as a fighting enemy. If the imam defeats him, the rebel does not receive a regular punishment for his crimes. He rather receives a Tazeer (a penalty left to the discretion of the judge or the imam) for rebellion and not for the damages incurred during the war. The imam, as Ouda elucidates, has the right in accordance with the Tazeer punishment to pardon the rebel, to kill him, or to compel him to pay compensation. On the non-necessities of war like committing the crime of wine imbibing, Ouda states that the rebel receives the regular punishment for Sharia crimes.             

A fourth question is: How would an armed dissenter be classified if the standards of a rebel could not be applied to him? Hirabah law (the law of brigandage), as Ouda clarifies, is to be enforced in such a situation. Again, the laws of Hirabah are derived from the Qur’an, which stipulates that “the punishment of those who wage war against God and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land... except for those who repent before they fall into your power. In that case know that God is oft-forgiving, most merciful” (Qur’an 5:33-34).

Based on this text, Ouda marshals a juristic list of punishments for the Muharib (brigand). If a brigand kills and steals property, he is to be killed and crucified. If he only kills and does not usurp any property, for some jurists he is to be killed alone, while for others he is to be crucified. If the brigand usurps property alone, he is to have his right hand and left leg amputated from opposite ends.

As it stands, Ouda’s law on rebellion has loopholes. Firstly, it negates the principle of equality before the law. Because the Qur’anic verse on bughah is a latecomer to the juristic exposition of the laws of rebellion, it does not agree with Ouda’s imam-versus-rebel interpretation. The verse identifies two fighting groups without conceding legitimate privilege to either. The justice process would proceed from there, and the rebel would be the unjust side no matter his status on the political map.

Secondly, Ouda’s standards for a proven imamate are only deceptively binding since they are deduced from historical incidents of investiture rather than from obligatory texts. Thirdly, the law lacks a procedural companion to guarantee the impartial application of the various legal stages of rebellion-resolution. The law, for example, misses a definition of the authorities that can negotiate a settlement between the two parties, decide on the rebelling party, or call for war against the rebels.

For over a century, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist sympathisers have been propagating Islamic criminal law as the legal remedy to crime in Egypt and across the Muslim world. Some legal textbooks promise the total eradication of crime once Ashari corporal punishments have been applied. Ouda himself argues that such penalties are a perfect solution to the disadvantages of freedom-restricting punishments, such as prison overcrowding and the exchange of criminal experience among inmates. For unannounced reasons, the Brotherhood hardly referred to any of Ouda’s Sharia laws in the June crisis, however.

Again, the Brotherhood’s silence on Sharia implementation leaves many questions unanswered. If Islamic law is not fit to solve any legal crisis, why should battalions of local and international Sharia “scholars” spend so much money, time and effort studying the Sharia? Why should Ashari theology be the inevitable decider on Islamic law in Egypt? How does the Brotherhood’s claim to ballot-box legitimacy coincide with the elitist election of the imam in Ouda’s code? More importantly, how can the brutal punishments of Ouda’s criminal law be reconciled with the notions of democracy and human rights?

Was the “democratically elected” Brotherhood really ready to amputate limbs and chop off heads and crucify rebels and brigands in the “Islamic” manner, i.e. publicly after Friday noon prayers and presumably in Cairo’s Tahrir Square?

Heba Sewilam is the holder of a PhD in Islamic studies from the University of California, Los Angeles