“There is a need to secularize society [in Egypt]!” said Bishop Yohanna Qolta, Deputy Patriarch of the Catholic Copts, to a group of surprised Swiss and Egyptian journalists recently.
The bishop made the unexpected statement to journalists who had been invited by the Religioscope Institute to attend a week-long seminar on Media & Religion in Cairo (March 20–25). The comment came a few days after the Egyptian referendum on the modification of the Constitution that was meant to open the way to elections next autumn and prepare a passage to full civilian power. Accepted by 77 percent of the voters, the Constitution continues, however, to include article 2, stating that “Islam is the religion of the state and … Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.”
Both the Muslim Brothers and Salafis did not want to see a change to this article and thus supported the “yes” vote, in order to prevent attempts to introduce more fundamental changes that might have endangered it. But the young leaders of the recent revolutionary movement in Egypt voted “no,” since they would have liked an entirely new constitution, marking a complete break with the Mubarak era, noted Swiss journalist Pascal Fleury—a seminar participant—in a report published by the Swiss daily La Liberté (March 26). Similarly, the Coptic Orthodox Church (Copts form around 10 percent of the Egyptian population) recommended a “no” vote.Interestingly, a number of young members of the Muslim Brotherhood, in contrast with the orientation of the movement leadership, share views similar to those of more secular youth activists: “We want a secular state, not an Islamic state.
On Tahrir Square, we could feel that aspiration toward a new life,” stated one of their leaders to seminar participants. The gap between the militant rhetoric sometimes cultivated by the Brotherhood and the views of some of its younger members has also been noticed in a BBC News report on competing Brotherhood visions for Egypt (March 3).
Fighting for the revolution on the streets side by side with secular protesters has encouraged changes among young Brotherhood activists, who are now looking to Turkey as a role model. Bishop Qolta also nurtures hopes that youth activists might prevail over time: “Youth are different, less fanatical,” he stated, according to Fleury’s report.
The “spirit of the revolution” has also brought to the surface a new assertiveness by young female members of the Brotherhood and challenges to its traditional patterns, reports Noha El-Hennawy in the English edition of Al Masry Al Youm (March 15). The revolution represented to them the first experience of breaking from family rules and control, as they slept on the streets among crowds of other protesters. The young female members of the Muslim Brotherhood organized protests, spoke to media, and now have the feeling they should have a greater say in the organization.
Females are reported to make up 25 percent of the Muslim Brotherhood, but have no representation at the highest echelons. However, the movement has fielded female candidates for parliament since 2000. But Husam Tammam, a leading Egyptian expert on Islamic movements, says it served more to enhance the group’s image than to empower women.