• 18:15
  • Sunday ,26 June 2011

Whose ‘civil state’?

By-Manar el-Shorbagy



Sunday ,26 June 2011

Whose ‘civil state’?

It appears we need to agree not only on major issues of controversy, but also on the meanings of the terms that we use. These days, many Egyptians are using the same concepts to mean different things. Take for instance the term “civil state”, which is currently the subject of intense public debate. Anyone following the current discussion will quickly discover that the term is used to mean various things.

Some who raise the banner of the civil state -- including members of the Muslim Brotherhood -- reject the granting of full citizenship rights to women and Copts. When recently confronted about this position the Brotherhood back-peddled, saying their group would not allow women and Copts to serve on the judiciary or as president, but would not mind if others voted them into these position.
This modification is not enough since their position still discriminates against more than half of the Egyptian population. One well-known Brotherhood member even went so far as to say he does not recognize liberal or leftist Muslims. This cannot be considered a mere individual opinion since the Brotherhood did not issue a statement to distance itself from this position.
A civil state should have no place for discrimination against a large sector of society or public efforts to determine individuals' level of piety. These are policies that belong to religious states that impose their own interpretation of religion on their citizenry.  
There's another group that claims to defend the civil state, this one composed of many liberals and secularists, but who call for broader powers to be granted to Egypt’s military establishment to protect the civil nature of the Egyptian state. Some have even requested the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to stay in power for another year or two.
The militarization of politics is a dangerous prospect for both Egypt and the army. Expanding the role of the military will overburden it with tasks over and above its main function of defending Egypt’s national security at this critical time. The Egyptian army was able to play a key role in protecting the 25 January revolution because it’s not a politicized institution, unlike its counterparts in countries like Lebanon and Turkey. This allowed the military to take the side of the majority of Egypt’s people.
This same group also claims the majority vote in the the 19 March referendum in support of the constitutional amendments cannot be taken seriously as Egyptians require more time to get educated in politics. They are suspicious of most Egyptians and accuse them of ignorance.
Claiming that Egyptians are not sufficiently educated to make reasonable political decisions is arrogant and inherently undemocratic. Those who make such claims want elite patronage over the Egyptian people, at least for the time being until they reach political maturity. This view has nothing to do with a civil state -- on the contrary, it advocates a secular state where the army and the elite play a chief role, but where democracy is not a top priority. Democracy may be tolerated at times, but not at others.
The debate about Egypt’s civil state is transforming into a polarized battle between religion and secularism that has little to do with the ideals of democracy. Before the revolution, Egypt suffered from corruption and despotism -- our priority now should be the establishment of a democratic state that respects the public will.
Egyptians were not any less pious before the revolution in order for us to require a bigger dose of religion now. Also, those who carried out the revolution were not all successful university graduates. Nobody has the right to impose their authority over a people -- with all its diversity -- that carried out such an amazing revolution.
There are members of both camps who insist on building a civil democratic state that measures up to the aspirations of Egyptians, but they are working in silence. Together their efforts can help forge a national consensus that can bring together all Egyptians.