Thursday, 4 August 2011

What History Says about Creating a Muslim Democracy in Egypt

Salafis entering Tahrir Square July 29.  Ghetty Images.
Lorianne Updike Toler

After returning from a vacation in Italy, I was saddened to learn of the violence in Hama and in Tahrir Square over the last few days.  I was also surprised to learn of the Salafis' entry into the July 29 protests shouting, "Islamic. Islamic. Not Western or Eastern. No liberal or secular."   (See more pictures of the protest and clash between secularists and conservatives here.)

Other intensive reports such as this in Foreign Policy indicate that Salafis are beginning to say that not only is Islam compatible with democracy, but required by it:

Sixty-two percent of Egyptians believe "laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran," according to an April 2011 Pew Research Center poll. "Majorities usually run countries. So why should the minority [secularists] rule everything," poses Abdel Moneim Al-Shahat, a prominent Salafi scholar and the spokesperson for the Salafi movement in Alexandria.

Is a well-functioning, long-term democracy created through democracy, or mere majority rule?  History tells us otherwise.

Anti-western prejudice aside (as this entire blog, explained here, challenges the reader to do), consider for a moment the history of the longest-standing democracy based upon a written constitution.  Yes, I am again referencing American constitutional history (my specialty, after all).  

Each state but for Rhode Island sent delegates to the Constitutional Convention, wherein the delegations--composed of two or more delegates--had one vote.  This alone required supermajoritarianism, as measures were adopted based on the concurrence of a majority of people from a majority of the states.  Too, ratification measures later set into the constitution required 9 of 13 states to ratify before the constitution went into operation (again requiring a majority of a majority), and then only for those ratifying states.  Eventually, all 13 (plus an eventual 37 more) voluntarily ratified themselves into the union.  

The U.S. Constitution and the long-standing democracy it established did not become supreme law until a supermajority voluntarily agreed to abide by its principles.  How would such a procedure play out in Egypt?  What would the Egyptian constitution look like with respect to Islam? 

Regardless of its content, I guarantee that such a constitution would successfully govern Egypt for hundreds of years.

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