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In the lap of the gods - Daily News Egypt

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In the lap of the gods

By Philip Whitfield The hounds have the fox in their sights. Unleashed, the dogged gird for affray.  Morsy is forced to flee his palatial, besieged lair. Across town the Muslim Brotherhood HQ is embattled. The overseer of the referendum calls it quits. Shakespeare: We would not seek a battle, as we are, yet as we …


By Philip Whitfield

The hounds have the fox in their sights. Unleashed, the dogged gird for affray.  Morsy is forced to flee his palatial, besieged lair. Across town the Muslim Brotherhood HQ is embattled. The overseer of the referendum calls it quits.

Shakespeare: We would not seek a battle, as we are, yet as we are, we say we will not shun it – Henry V.

Mysterious and malefic is how we are governed. All great truths begin as blasphemies – George Bernard Shaw.

A fistful of constitution articles makes the point. If one who has borrowed from the Jews dies before the loan is repaid the debt shall not bear interest while the heir is under age. After her husband’s death a widow may remain in his house for 40 days. Merchants may tarry safely at home and abroad on land or sea, so long as they’re buying and selling.

This is the constitution governing my life, the much-trumpeted Magna Carta, forced into law in 1215, scuttled after three months, resurrected by the nine-year-old successor of King John.

Knocked about a bit through the centuries, you’ll find kids in English classrooms being taught it’s the greatest guarantee of freedom ever penned.

Revered law lords such as Denning and Woolf extolled its laying the foundation of freedom and liberty the world over. You could say the gobbledygook was ever present to warm the cockles of tyrants’ hearts languishing in the British Empire.

Offer any man on the Clapham omnibus a free ride to recite one line from the English constitution and your six-penneth will be as safe as houses. Nobody can.

That’s the truth of constitutions. They stir up passions and sectarian strife and cause civil wars when they’re parsed or edited. Yet the newspapers reporting every dot and comma of the mayhem are fish and chip wrappers the day after.

People voting one way or another on Egypt’s constitution are wasting the bus fare if they think it’s the anchor of democracy. They’re passing a referendum on Morsy’s mandate. Like King John, he’s got uppity and like John he’ll rue the day he razzed the people. Hoodies don’t take kindly to being hoodwinked.

The Muslim Brotherhood can bus in a herd of willie nillies to make a haphazard judgment. But ask them to recite any one of the 199 Articles and they’re tongue-tied. I asked 25 people, all Muslims, for their opinions. Only nine said they’d be voting – three for and six against.

What does the constitution say about Shari’a, I asked? Eighteen said it introduced Shari’a as the rule of law in Egypt. What Article 2 actually says is principles of Islamic Shari’a are the principal source of legislation.

Magna Carta was written at a time of enormous strife over the power of the religious over the state. Article 63 stated the English Church to be free, adding in the same sentence, men have and hold all liberties, rights, and concessions peaceably, freely and quietly.

So what’s all the fuss about in Egypt?

Morsy’s reign has been clumsily feckless. Morsy couldn’t resist cavalier opportunism. Grabbing omnipotent power was ill conceived. Tampering with judges’ power guaranteed a firestorm. Recognising religion in the constitution brought down the wrath of Hell.

Is Article 3 objectionable? Here’s the text. The canon principles of Egyptian Christians and Jews are the main source of legislation for their personal status laws, religious affairs, and the selection of their spiritual leaders.

It seems a straightforward reassurance to them that the state shouldn’t get involved in their marital arrangements, divorces or appointing bishops and clergy.

That’s as it is in the Church of England. The laity and clergy have been engaged in an enthralling debate choosing a new Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the worldwide communion of 60 million Anglicans.

The arguments created a schism between gays and straight, feminists and misogynists. The prime minister was given the name of a neophyte bishop, once an oil baron, and he passed it to the Queen who gave it the nod.

All without a whimper of rancour outside the chambers and studios of debate.

The Egyptian constitution’s phrase about Shari’a is ambiguous. It sparked the opposition. Mohamed ElBaradei’s sleepover in Tahrir Square rekindled hope that an alternative to Morsy’s monarchy is arising.

Morsy has lost the battle for the hearts and minds. Tahrir tumbrels trump tepid television turnouts with Fidel Castro-length lectures. Morsy’s media team should leave it to flacks who can make lemonade out of lemons.

The president is culpable of theft of democracy and justice. Hangdog obfuscation won’t get him off.

Egyptians can choose between freedom and autocracy — between the ancients: Heka the god of all power and Ma’at the goddess of truth and harmony.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

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