Newsreel (July 2007)
Available at: http://www.egypttoday.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=7560
Photo by: Fred Ernst
June saw more religion on the battlefield as a division of the Supreme Administrative Court known as the Circuit of Unification of Principles ruled early last month that the American University in Cairo (AUC) cannot ban women from donning the full niqab face veil on campus.
The final verdict came after a lengthy battle between the AUC and lawyers representing a woman who wore the face veil on campus. The case was filed in 2001 by Eman Taha El-Zeiny, an adjunct professor at AUC and member of the teaching staff at Al-Azhar University who was denied entrance to the AUC library with her face veil on. The Supreme Constitutional Court initially ruled that AUC had to permit women to wear the face veil on campus.
AUC refused to abide the ruling, saying it was not a final verdict, and appealed the case.
Prominent Islamist attorney Nizar Ghorab, El-Zeiny’s lawyer, told the press, “It is considered a violation of human rights to demand a person dress in a certain way. It is freedom of choice and the university should not be differentiating between people according to what they are wearing.”
The AUC maintained that its ban of the face veil was a security issue and not a religious one, asserting the right of students and professors to know whom they were talking to. Despite the appeal, in 2006 the judges issued three reports, once again demanding that the AUC permit the face veil on campus. The AUC appealed again, this time to the Supreme Administrative Court.
Ashraf Kamal, director of the AUC’s security office, told AUC’s student newspaper, Caravan, that even if the appeal was denied, the university would simply accept paying fines rather than accept the ruling.
The AUC released a press statement on the same day as the ruling, explaining that the court ruling allowed the university to request women wearing the face veil to uncover it to prove their identities, “out of necessity or public interest.”
The statement continues, “In addition, the woman wearing a face veil is obliged to abide by the attire imposed by some entities on persons of its community within the circledetermined by such entity, if she wishes to be part of such a circle.”
If You Build It
Making good on President Mubarak’s December 2005 decree to ease regulations on church building, the National Council for Human Rights last month discussed the formation of a unified legislation to construct religious buildings. The roundtable discussions, chaired by Mohamed Fayek, head of the Civil and Political Rights Unit at the Council, revolved around the ways in which to lobby the proposed amendments to Law 106 of year 1976, which deals with regulation of construction work. Also discussed was the possibility of creating a new law altogether, specifically dealing with the construction of religious sites.
Previously, 10 conditions had to be met and a presidential authorization obtained in order for any party to build a church. Mosques, on the other hand, can be built with one simple permit.
The Council’s amendments would stipulate that equal conditions be made for the construction of all types of religious sites. These changes are expected to result in public controversy, since they will be placing both Muslim and Christian religious institutions on equal footage.
Detractors have also pointed out that such a law would go against Islam, which places no limits on Muslim places of worship.
This is not the first time that a lobby has been made to create a unified church and mosque building decree. In 2006, and again in 2007, the Council sent its proposed legislation to the respective Cabinet of Ministers, People’s Assembly, Shura Council and Ministry of State for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, coupled with a request for the creation of a unit in the High Administrative Court to deal with issues pertaining to constructing religious buildings.
Since they received no reply the first two times around, the significance of these roundtable discussions lies in the fact that several high-profile individuals in attendance unanimously agreed to lobby these legal amendments to the table of Parliamentarians for discussion and approval before they recess for the summer vacation.
Who’s Your Brother? (with Marwa Helal)
After winning nearly a fifth of all seats in the People’s Assembly in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood managed to gain a total of zero seats in last month’s first round of mid-term elections for the Shura Council, the upper house of Parliament.
But with the arrest of over 124 Brotherhood members and more than 30 senior Brotherhood figures currently facing military trial on charges of money laundering and membership in a banned organization, the Muslim Brotherhood’s participation was largely symbolic — only 19 Brotherhood-backed candidates were running in the race for 88 seats, of which the National Democratic Party (NDP) won 77.
In total, 587 candidates contested the polls: 109 from the NDP, 19 backed by the Brotherhood and the remainder independents or members of smaller opposition parties.
In May, a Cairo administrative court ruled that the transfer of civilians to military tribunal was unconstitutional and dismissed charges against 34 Muslim Brotherhood members. Pressing accusations that the men were guilty of “membership in a banned organization” and “providing students with weapons and military training,” the government appealed and won, and the Supreme Administrative court subsequently reversed the verdict. The trial has been adjourned until July 15.
Egypt’s National Council on Human Rights said it had received 35 complaints regarding Shura election day, which was boycotted by the secular El-Wafd and Nasserite parties. In a statement to the press, the Brotherhood accused the government of “closing voting centers, denying citizens access to vote, assaulting and beating voters and candidates, threatening and intimidating heads and members of the voting committees, hiring bullies to harass citizens [and] stuffing rigged ballot cards into ballot boxes.”
One man was killed in gunfire exchanged outside a polling station in the Nile Delta, the sole election-day fatality.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior held its own press conference accusing Brotherhood supporters of storming an election station in Giza to stuff boxes with ballots marked with the name of the group’s candidate, Mohammed El-Fiqi. Some 30 supporters were detained by the police.
The government has systematically cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood in the run-up to the elections. Local sources claim around 120 of its members were rounded up on charges including membership in a banned group, holding early election campaigns and the new charge: using religious slogans. Other members were arrested as they glued flyers and banners on the charges that the group’s primary slogan — “Islam is the solution” —is now deemed unconstitutional.
The Muslim Brotherhood has vowed to continue contesting upcoming elections, despite what it refers to as the current “massacre of democracy.”
“We confirm and emphasize that we will never retreat, and no one will drag us to violence,” announced Brotherhood attorney Saad El-Husseini after the elections. “We will continue fighting and revealing the corruption.”