Civil Disobedience

Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed in this and all my blog entries are my own personal views and not representative of Ashoka, ADEW or any organisation with which I am affiliated.

Tomorrow, Egyptians of all ages are taking to the streets once again to fight for a semblance of freedom for our future. There are not as many of us as there should be; not everyone has the conviction, the courage or the understanding of how important it is to make our voices heard, now more than ever. There were nearly a million of us in Tahrir Square last Tuesday 27th November, united in opposition to the draft Constitution produced by the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, which – if ratified – will enshrine policies and principles designed to protect the interests of Islamists at the expense of religious minorities and the many Egyptian Muslims, liberal or conservative, practicing or non-practicing, who do not believe that our faith should govern the social and political life of our country.

There were a million of us then. How many will there be tomorrow? Many of us see this as the last chance to stop the draft Constitution from being approved. Mohamed Morsi has called for a constitutional referendum to be held in less than two weeks and the chances of us stopping the adoption of this insult to human rights, women’s rights and freedom of speech and behavior are slim. But we will not go down without a fight.

Yesterday I went with three female colleagues to the High Constitutional Court to offer support to the judges due to rule on the legality and constitutionality of this hurriedly-assembled draft. We – two Christians, myself an unveiled Muslim and my recently veiled Muslim colleague – were among the only women there. What I saw made me ashamed – not of the faith I love, but of the image of it being portrayed to the outside world and mirrored within pockets of Egyptian society. Aggressive, male-dominated, ignorant groups who seek control, not dialogue. The only thing they wish to protect is their own current position of privilege and to impose their own narrow view of the world on our diverse and multi-layered society, some 85 million people.

We are in such a surreal situation. Our country is being run by people who cannot reason and analyze. People who do not understand that rather than blindly following the directives of our Prophet (PBUH) to the letter, despite the fact that he lived hundreds of years ago, we should be using the spirit of his Sunna (teachings) and Hadith, adapted to our own social and cultural context, as our guide. People who see progress as contradictory to Islamic values; rather than strengthening our country through reform they wish to diminish us through suppression and rejection of any progressive measures as “western” and therefore “un-Islamic”. Their suggested policies are rooted in fear and a desire to control and totally removed from what is rational, logical, fair or even possible.

Take the idea that all education should be in Arabic, and Arabic alone. Yes, we should preserve our language and our traditions, but not at the expense of improving our education system and eventually producing a workforce able to compete on a global level. Who would take on the task of translating all the material of the existing curricula into Arabic? How can we cope with and reach scientific discoveries if our scientists and students won’t understand? How would the next generation, educated without a knowledge of foreign language, be able to participate in global trade or economic initiatives? How would we attract overseas investment to stimulate our ailing economy? How would the tourist industry, which we rely on, even survive? Why should preserving our traditions mean impeding progress? It simply makes no sense.

A more sinister example of the direction the Muslim Brotherhood wishes to see our country go in can be found in the decision of the Constituent Assembly to retract the statement in our existing Constitution forbidding slavery. Under the new Constitution, forced or imposed slavery (however you define that) will be forbidden but if a man, for example, wishes to buy an underage girl from her father to live with him as a servant or concubine, it will be legal and considered acceptable. What kind of twisted reality are we living in where state-sanctioned paedophilia is endorsed? How can a government that imagines this to be acceptable be allowed to be responsible for “safeguarding family values and morality”, as the draft Constitution claims it will?

A few days ago, our President was interviewed talking about the Planet of the Apes. I am starting to feel that this film is our reality. Only a small minority of our huge population really wishes to see the changes proposed in the draft Constitution become legalized – the fundamentalists, I still believe, do not represent the true desires of most Egyptian people. So how are they managing to strengthen their grasp in this insidious way?

The great and tragic flaw lies in our education system, which has done an enormous disservice to so many by making rote learning the basis for all scholarship. People are not taught how to think and analyze; while illiteracy may be the great problem of the poor, the real and widespread problem among the middle classes is that they have not been taught to see the cause and effect relationship between actions and consequences. Many middle class people, many of whom are moderately religious, are showing so little outrage at this document and the sweeping decree made by Morsi that his decisions be immune from judicial challenge, because they simply don’t see how these moves will affect them. Perhaps they already live lives that are broadly governed by Islamic principles and see little reason to fear a Constitution that claims to put Islam at the heart of its agenda.

But what they don’t see is that this draft Constitution is ushering in more than merely superficial changes. This is not simply a question of whether we will all be forced to wear the veil in a year’s time, although that in itself is serious enough to protest loudly about. These people don’t see how these changes will affect their children and their children’s children by bringing into being a hugely diminished, weakened Egypt. They don’t have the imagination or the foresight to picture what Egypt will become if it is drained of its brightest and most highly educated (seeking opportunities abroad), if it is bereft of its tourist industry (which, until recently, was believed to employ one in eight of the workforce), if it is abandoned by foreign investors. They refuse to accept the truth about what is happening around them – partly because it is easier for them to live a lie than to confront a frightening reality and partly because our poor education system has left them unable to deduce or analyze this situation.

A young colleague of mine came to me today, unable to believe how quickly this situation has escalated. She asked me if I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, any way to stop this draft Constitution from being adopted. I had to be honest and answer no; the stronghold of the Islamists appears to have our country in its iron fist and seemingly too many people don’t see what this will lead to. But then I can also honestly say that when we stood in Tahrir in January 2011 demanding our basic rights and liberties and receiving only bullets I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel then either.

Once again Egypt is making history. Standing ready for tomorrow’s day of Civil Disobedience, what comes next is anybody’s guess.


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