Monday, December 24, 2012
The New Egyptian Constituion: What's the Libertarian View?
by Clifford F. Thies The focus of the western media on the new constitution of Egypt concerns how that constitution addresses issues of controversy in the west. The western media focuses on women and minority rights, and the meaning of a Sharia-based constitution. Our focus, as libertarians, is different. Our focus is on individual rights, not the rights of persons belonging to one or another group, as well as on what is meant for something to be based on Sharia. We would have no objection to a constitution based on the teachings of Sharia pertaining to the establishment of the rule of law, that our rights come from the Creator, that governments are instituted to defend these rights and gain their just powers from the consent of the governed. We essentially say these things in our Declaration of Independence and in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. The new constitution of Egypt says three of these things very clearly and talks about the fourth by describing the honorable service of the military and police. We would have no objection to identifying the source of this enlightened view of government as the Koran and the body of traditions and rulings that interpret and build upon the Koran. No civilization, after all, springs forth from out of nothing. We have no objection for Egypt to say that it is an Islamic nation in this sense, and we would have no objection to saying that the western nations are Judeo-Christian nations in this sense. Here is our objection: The establishment of religion. In the new Egyptian constitution, a school of Islamic thought - the Al-Azhar - is recognized as a kind of supreme court for the determination of what is meant by Sharia. Accordingly, all controversies regarding matters such as women's rights will ultimately be resolved by this school. The Al-Azhar school is a moderate school of Islamic thought. It is relatively liberal on some issues (as compared to other schools of Islamic thought) and is quite good on some (as compared to the secular, progressive socialists of the west). In particular, the Al-Azhar school recognizes Jews and Christians as fellow monotheistic religions; and, in keeping with this view, the new Egyptian constitution guarantees that Jews and Christians will be free to exercise their religions, and have houses of worship, and (presumably) be protected by the constitution's guarantee against discrimination. Also, there is no recognition of the legitimacy of Shi'a Islam or of the Bahai faith, which poses problems for some people in the country. The system, in Egypt, can be seen as the flip side of the system in Israel, where orthodox Judaism is the established religion, and certain other religions are recognized, and certain forms of Judaism and mixes of Judaism and other religion are left in limbo. Thus, our objection to the establishment of religion is twofold: First, it turns over the determination of what is Sharia law to a self-perpetuating religious body, not to a Supreme Court whose members are appointed by office holders elected by the people (even though, once appointed, they are removed from politics). And, second, it establishes an apartheid system, favoring those who are members of the established religion and relegated others to second-class citizenship. For Jews, America has always been second only to Israel because here we were not allowed to practice our faith and traditions by privilege; rather, these were our rights, as they were the rights of all.