Thursday, February 3, 2011

Democratic perils in Egypt

This morning it is necessary to follow-up with some observations concerning yesterday's post. I cannot restate too strongly the need to approach what is happening in Egypt with cautious optimism. To that end, despite calls from the both the left and the right to speak more clearly, that is, more simply about what is an irreducibly complex situation developing in the land of the Nile, the Obama Administration deserves credit for maintaining its cautious optimism while continuing to call for a for a methodical and well-planned transition to democratic rule in accord with the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people.

A Pew Forum on Religion survey conducted last April and May in seven countries with Muslim majorities: Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Nigeria, reveals that a sizable majority of Egyptians want democracy. In fact 59% of Egyptians agreed "that democracy was preferable to any other kind of government." However, 22% of Egyptians felt "that in some circumstances, a non-democratic government could be preferable" and some 16% "said it did not matter what kind of government is in place for a person in their situation."

More to the point I was trying to articulate earlier, another survey for the PewResearchCenter's Global Attitudes Project showed that 82% of Muslims in Egypt are in favor of stoning "people who commit adultery." 77% of Egyptians support "whippings and cutting off of [the] hands" of thieves and robbers. Most saliently, 84% of Muslims surveyed in Egypt supported "the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion." These views stand in contrast to the more moderate view of Muslims in Turkey, Indonesia, and Lebanon, who "largely reject the notion that harsh punishments should be the law in their countries."

The plight of two Egyptian women, Camelia Shehata, who is the wife of a Coptic priest, and Wafa Constantine serve as an examples of the lack of religious freedom in Egypt even now. As their stories have it, both women were Coptic Christians who converted to Islam. However, rather than being able to register with the government as Muslims, they were returned to their Christian families and not allowed to convert. Now, the stories of both women are hotly disputed and, as a result, are too complicated to hash out here, but the point is that religious freedom in Egypt is already non-existent and, judging from the Pew data, likely to get much worse.

In Dignatatis Humanae, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council pointed out that in the first instance "[r]eligious freedom... has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society" (par. 1). This landmark declaration goes on to assert that "[t]he human person has a right to religious freedom" and that all people "should have such immunity from coercion by individuals, or by groups, or by any human power, that no one should be forced to act against his conscience in religious matters" (par. 2). According to the magisterium of Pope John Paul II, the only human right more fundamental, that is, necessary than the right to worship God according to one's own conscience, is the right to life.

It bears noting that the Pew Forum data does not bode well for the twenty-two point Islamic reform set forth by leading Egyptian intellectuals late in January, which I posted in full yesterday.

A deep diaconal bow to Sandro Magister for bringing the Pew Center research to my attention.


  1. Not to go off topic, but that photo of the Pope kissing the Koran has always been unsettling to me.
    Since a liturgical act of a priest is to kiss the altar at the beginning of the liturgy, it can be really confusing to some people.

    I truly believe that the Pope's intentions have always been pure in motivations, but I wonder if there could have been a better way for him to express his brotherhood to those who profess the faith of Islam.

    Just my 2 cents, that's all.

  2. You make an excellent point. I agree with you for the most part.

    Also, in the absence of the bishop, the deacon or the priest, after reading the Gospel, kisses the Book of the Gospels while saying- sotto voce-"May the words of the gospel wash away our sins."

    Of course, as Christians, we in no way revere the Qu'ran as Scripture and do not see it as divinely inspired. It is safe to say that JPII's inter-religious gestures were the most controversial of his papacy.


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