As I write this article, news has surfaced that the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, will not use the Brotherhood’s famous motto “Islam is the Solution” in their political campaigns. Last week, the High Elections Commission issued a ban against the use of religious chants, symbols or slogans in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Instead the FJP will campaign using its own slogan “We bring good for Egypt.” As a staunch liberal who personally favors separating religion from politics, I wholeheartedly commend the party’s decision. For years, many Egyptians have opposed the Brotherhood’s slogan, arguing it breeds sectarianism, monopolizes Islam, and violates the Constitution.
Prior to this decision, the Brotherhood had vehemently upheld its right to use the religious slogan, arguing that it was compatible with the Egyptian Constitution. However, one of the better arguments in support of the use of religious slogans came from a fellow blogger named Hatem Rushdy, whose argument was based not on religious convictions, or legal constraints, but surprisingly, from a liberal standpoint. Please find Mr. Rushdy’s blog in the reference section below.
Admittedly, I reacted with initial skepticism, which gradually gave way to mild irritation…
Rushdy was right of course. Legality disputes aside, and in a purely theoretical context, FJP’s right to campaign using religious slogans would fall under freedom of expression. If Liberals would practice what they preach they would not support the censorship of any person or party from the right to express itself simply on the grounds that they find it offensive or disagreeable.
Mr. Rushdy provides several arguments in his blog and then systematically challenges a series of counterarguments. His most compelling contentions stem from his opposition to censorship although he does contradict himself slightly when he opposes concerns that religious slogans may confer political manipulation. Here the author argues that these concerns assume a gullible, naive electorate which he rejects because he finds it offensive. I disagree with him and I will explain why in another blog post.
But while Rushdy’s arguments remain valid, his hardline Libertarian approach will not come without a cost. Once you take that position there are no exceptions, you can’t pick and choose. In a majority Muslim country like Egypt, this means you have to hold your ground on more controversial issues such as homosexual rights, the right to change religion etc.
But Egyptian Liberals are not like that. Both Muslim and Christian Liberals in Egypt have taken a road that reflects their religious, cultural background. We embrace Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia) as the principal source of legislation enshrined in Article 2 of the Constitution provided it is not abused. We oppose the offensive depiction of Islam in the name of free speech, yet welcome constructive criticism of Islamic issues. And as Egypt turns a dangerous corner we oppose the use of religious slogans in heated election campaigns that could be offensive to some people and risk sectarian confrontation.
In Austria, for example, pro-Christian election slogans such as “The West in Christian Hands” were used by the far right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). The campaign slogans were regarded as particularly offensive to the Muslim minority, and were denounced by the religious communities in the country. The issue provoked an attack by the President for what he called “a violation of the consensus to keep politics and religion separate while respecting both”.
In contrast to Austria, where the right to campaign using religious slogans is protected by free speech, Egyptian Liberals display a more socially responsible implementation of their ideology, not double standards. Elsewhere in Europe, there is a policy that bans or disciplines parties that have clear anti-democratic values or values that are deemed racist (in Egypt’s case that would translate to sectarian). Therefore, depending on how liberal the democracy is, religious slogans may fall under freedom of speech, though it can be restricted for reasons mentioned above.
At the end of the day it’s all about the type of country we are trying to build. As a Muslim Liberal I may have a personal religious opinion regarding gay rights or the limits of free speech in a Muslim country. However, I want to live in a confident Muslim country where we are able to discuss these topics freely and none of them are off limits. Just as Egyptian Liberals have nothing to fear from Islam, Egypt has nothing to fear from its Liberals.
I wish to thank Mr. Rushdy for his thoughtful and original critique and the FJP for making a responsible decision regarding their use of religious slogans. I also wish to thank Sara Labib (@SaraLabib), an Egyptian law student and fellow Liberal for her advice and her valuable contribution to this article.
An excerpt of this article appears on the Muslim Brotherhood’s English website: http://www.ikhwanweb.com/iweb/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=32640
1. Islam is the Solution “ألإسلام هو الحل”. Blog Post: This, that and the other. http://hatemrushdy.blogspot.com/2011/10/wait-i-am-not-promoting-muslim.html