It would not be surprising, then, to see an Islamist president in power in a few months’ time. The Morsi versus Shafiq race resembles yet another Turkish political fact: the dichotomy between the new elite and the old elite. Maybe Egyptian Islamists would be best advised to look at the Turkish experience here.
There would be many radicals who would urge the Islamists to settle the score with the old elite. But, for the sake of their country, I think they must ignore these calls as such a fight would waste the country’s much-needed energy. The Islamists must show they will not act on feelings of vengeance and will rather focus on serving the nation. They must, of course, take the necessary steps to consolidate democracy and prevent any sort of Egyptian Ergenekon from emerging, but this can be done without accusing everyone who was associated with the former regime. They need to turn a new page.
Even though they do not like to talk about the issue in terms of secularism, the Islamists in Egypt should make clear as soon as possible how they will ensure non-Muslims will also be first class citizens according to their new constitution. It seems that the non-Muslims voted for the old regime’s candidate, and this shows that, similar to Turkey, practicing Muslims have failed to convince these people. In the Turkish case, heterodox Alevis stay away from the parties of practicing Sunni Muslims and continue to vote for the old regime’s parties that did not treat them well. But they see them as better options than practicing Muslims or right-wing parties.
I am aware there has been a long discussion going on amongst the Islamists on the rights of non-Muslims. They must urgently put their new ideas into constitutional language. I do not think giving equal rights to non-Muslims is a sin and they do not have to follow old ijtihads on this issue. They should also remember that in the time of the Ottoman Caliph, non-Muslims acquired equal rights with Muslims and 40 percent of the first Ottoman parliament was made up by non-Muslims. I am sure that the Egyptian Islamists will find creative ways to reinterpret Muslim law in tune with the spirit of the times. At the end of the day, non-Muslims in the country currently have equal rights with Muslims. Islamists are not conquering Egypt in order to impose laws on others. They need to respect the current rights of non-Muslims.
I am not suggesting that the Egyptian Islamists have such ideas, but we also know they are not homogeneous and, given that the Salafis have a powerful voter base, the Islamists could face pressure to make life difficult for non-Muslims. To prevent this from happening, as it would cause a nightmare for the nation, they must come up with concrete constitutional formulations as soon as possible.
Egypt is not Turkey, and it does not have to be as secular as Turkey. The constitution will definitely mention Islam and so on. But there are several interpretations of Islam, and it is possible to have human-rights friendly versions that give equal rights to non-Muslims in the public space. There are not explicit verses or hadiths forbidding these rights for non-Muslims. Thus, at the end of the day, it is a matter of interpretation, and the Egyptian history and experience shows us that this is possible.
If the Egyptian Islamists can (hopefully) achieve this, it will be yet another blow to the essentialized caricatures of Islam.