US embassy cable - 85CAIRO6360

GROWING DEBATE ON SHARIA LAW

Identifier: 85CAIRO6360
Wikileaks: View 85CAIRO6360 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Cairo
Created: 1985-03-08 12:08:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV SOCI SHUM EG
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 081208Z MAR 85
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 4143
INFO AMCONSUL ALEXANDRIA
AMEMBASSY AMMAN
AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
AMCONSUL JEDDAH
AMCONSUL JERUSALEM
AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
AMEMBASSY LONDON
AMEMBASSY NICOSIA
AMEMBASSY PARIS
AMEMBASSY RIYADH
AMEMBASSY ROME
AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
AMEMBASSY TUNIS
COMSIXTHFLT
USCINCCENT MACDILL AFB FL
USINFO WASHDC
USMISSION USUN NEW YORK
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CAIRO 06360 
 
E.O. 12356:  DECL: OADR 
TAGS:  PGOV, SOCI, SHUM, EG 
SUBJECT:  GROWING DEBATE ON SHARIA LAW 
 
REF:  CAIRO 5284 
 
 
1.  (CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT.) 
 
2.  BEGIN SUMMARY.  MOMENTUM IS BEGINNING TO BUILD TOWARD 
A MAY DEBATE IN THE PEOPLES ASSEMBLY ON ISLAMIC SHARIA 
(KORANIC LAW).  IN RECENT DAYS, KEY OPPOSITION FIGURES 
FUAD SIRAJ AL-DIN (CHAIRMAN OF THE NEW WAFD PARTY) AND 
OMAR TALMASSANI (GENERAL GUIDE OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD) 
APPEARED BEFORE THE ASSEMBLY'S RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE 
TO EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR PURGING OF EXISTING LEGISLATION 
NOT IN ACCORDANCE WITH SHARIA.  THE SPEAKER OF THE 
ASSEMBLY, RIFAAT EL MAHGOUB, WHILE SUPPORTING THE OVERALL 
OBJECTIVE, LEFT DELIBERATELY VAGUE THE TIMING AND EXTENT 
OF THE PURGE.  THE ADVOCATES DOUBTLESS KNOW THE PROCESS 
OF IMPLEMENTING "FULL SHARIA" WILL BE PROTRACTED; INDEED, 
MUBARAK IS PERCEIVED AS UNCOMPROMISING IN OPPOSITION TO 
"THE FULL IMPLEMENTATION OF SHARIA."  IN ADVANCE OF THE MAY 
DEBATE PUBLIC DISCUSSION OF, AND MANEUVERING ABOUT, SHARIA 
ISSUES IS ALREADY UNDERWAY.  END SUMMARY. 
 
3.  WE RECENTLY REPORTED AT LENGTH ON MUBARAK'S EVOLVING 
DEMOCRACY -- SEE CAIRO 5284.  THE EGYPTIAN PUBLIC IN THE 
LAST FEW DAYS HAS WITNESSED A REMARKABLE DEMONSTRATION 
OF THIS DEMOCRACY IN ACTION, AS WAFD PARTY CHAIRMAN FUAD 
SIRAJ AL-DIN AND MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD GENERAL GUIDE OMAR 
TALMASSANI BOTH ATTENDED HEARINGS OF THE PEOPLES ASSEMBLY 
RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE.  THEIR ATTENDANCE, PROMI- 
NENTLY REPORTED ON TELEVISION AND IN THE PRESS, WAS A 
SIGNAL OF RECONCILIATION BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT 
AND TWO OF THE CHIEF FOES OF FORMER PRESIDENTS NASSER 
AND SADAT. 
 
- 
4.  THE RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HEARINGS, ALSO 
ATTENDED BY SPEAKER RIFAAT EL MAHGOUB, A NUMBER OF 
AL-AZHAR SHEIKHS, AND OTHER ISLAMIC EXPERTS, ARE IN 
PREPARATION FOR A MAY ASSEMBLY DEBATE ON SHARIA (KORANIC) 
LAW.  MAHGOUB MADE CLEAR THE GOVERNMENT'S SUPPORT FOR 
"PURGING" EXISTING LEGISLATION OF PROVISIONS IN CONFLICT 
WITH SHARIA, AND HE WAS ECHOED BY SIRAJ AL-DIN, 
TALMASSANI, AND OTHER OPPOSITION PARTY FIGURES.  THE 
SPEAKER, HOWEVER, WAS DELIBERATELY AMBIGUOUS ABOUT THE 
TIMING AND SPEED OF THE PURGE, AS WELL AS ABOUT HOW FAR 
IT WOULD GO IN CHANGING THE MYRIAD LAWS ON THE EGYPTIAN 
BOOKS.  THE EXCHANGES GAVE THE PUBLIC A TASTE OF MORE TO 
COME IN THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS, EGYPTIAN STYLE, WHEREIN 
ALL SIDES CAN ADDRESS MAJOR ISLAMIC ISSUES LONG UNRESOLVED, 
BUT WITHOUT ANY CONCRETE RESULT LIKELY -- AT LEAST 
IMMEDIATELY. 
 
- 
5.  KEY QUESTIONS ARE OF MAJOR IMPORTANCE TO EGYPTIAN 
SOCIETY -- THE TREATMENT OF THE COPTIC CHRISTIAN MINORITY 
IF SHARIA LAW IS FULLY IMPLEMENTED; POSSIBLE CHANGES IN 
THE STATUS OF WOMEN; THE IMPACT OF ABOLITION OF BANKING 
INTEREST ON THE ECONOMY; THE EFFECTS ON TOURISM OF BANNING 
ALCOHOL; WESTERN REACTION TO THE ADOPTION OF ISLAMIC PUN- 
ISHMENTS SUCH AS AMPUTATION, FLOGGING, AND STONING (EVEN 
IF SPARINGLY APPLIED).  FEW OBSERVERS EXPECT THESE DIF- 
FICULT ISSUES UNDERLYING THE SHARIA DEBATE TO BE RESOLVED 
IN THE ASSEMBLY DISCUSSIONS IN MAY.  THOUGH THEY CANNOT 
SAY SO PUBLICLY, OPPOSITION FIGURES LIKE SIRAJ AL-DIN AND 
TALMASSANI ACKNOWLEDGE PRIVATELY THAT THE SHARIA DEBATE 
WILL ONLY BE THE BEGINNING OF A LONG UNCERTAIN PROCESS. 
INDEED, NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND OPPOSITION OBSERV- 
ERS BELIEVE THAT MUBARAK WILL NOT COMPROMISE IN HIS OP- 
POSITION TO "THE FULL IMPLEMENTATION OF SHARIA," BECAUSE 
THE SOCIAL, SECTARIAN, AND INTERNATIONAL COSTS ARE TOO 
HIGH.  WHAT MARGINAL COMPROMISES, IF ANY, HE MAY CONCEDE 
 
- 
6.  MEANWHILE, HAPPENINGS ON OTHER FRONTS ARE BOTH 
PROVOKING AND REENFORCING PUBLIC DISCUSSION OF ISLAMIC 
SHARIA ISSUES.  HANDLING OF SUCH DISPARATE SUBJECTS AS 
OPPOSITION POLITICAL ALLIANCES, PUNISHMENT OF RAPE, AND 
WOMEN'S RIGHTS INCREASINGLY FEED THE DEBATE.  TO WIT: 
 
--  ONE OF THE STRONGEST PROPONENTS OF SHARIA, SHEIKH 
SALAH ABU ISMAIL, WAS HASTILY EXPELLED FROM THE NEW WAFD 
OPPOSITION PARTY AFTER CRITICIZING SIRAJ AL-DIN FOR NOT 
PUSHING SHARIA HARD ENOUGH.  MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD GUIDE 
TALMASSANI TURNED HIS BACK ON THE OUTSPOKEN SHEIKH AND 
HAS MAINTAINED THE MB'S ALLIANCE WITH THE WAFD. 
TALMASSANI OBSERVED TO POLCOUNS AND POLOFF MARCH 5 THAT 
THE SHEIKH SOMETIMES SPEAKS OUT BEFORE HE CONSIDERS ALL 
THE CONSEQUENCES; SHEIKH SALAH WAS NOW IN THE PROCESS 
OF MAKING PEACE WITH THE WAFD (THOUGH NOTHING WAS SAID 
ABOUT HIS BEING RETURNED TO THE PARTY). 
 
--  SHARIA PROPONENTS HAVE BEEN LOUDLY CALLING FOR THE 
EXECUTION OF OFFENDERS IN SEVERAL NOTORIOUS KIDNAP/RAPE 
INCIDENTS IN RECENT WEEKS.  THE OPPOSITION PRESS IS 
GIVING FULL PUBLICITY TO THIS EVIDENCE OF EROSION IN 
TRADITIONAL EGYPTIAN SOCIAL MORES.  PUBLIC FEELING IS 
RUNNING HIGH IN CAIRO, AMIDST CHARGES THAT OFFENDERS 
HAVE BEEN GIVEN SOFT TREATMENT IN THE COURTS.  SOME 
CRITICS, IN THEIR ENTHUSIASM FOR SEVERE "ISLAMIC" 
PUNISHMENT OVERLOOK THE FACT THAT EXECUTION FOR KIDNAP/RAPE 
IS POSSIBLE WITHIN THE PRESENT LEGAL CODE.  (MANY ALSO 
ARE NOW SAYING THAT AMERICAN-MADE TV FILMS ABOUT VIOLENCE 
AND CRIME AVAILABLE ON EGYPTIAN TELEVISION ARE CORRUPTING 
THE YOUTH.) 
 
--  THE MINISTER OF AWQAF (ISLAMIC ENDOWMENTS) AND THE 
CHAIRMAN OF THE ASSEMBLY'S COMPLAINTS COMMITTEE HAVE GONE 
PUBLIC WITH DEMANDS TO AMEND THE LAW OF PERSONAL STATUS -- 
SO THAT SHARIA PROVISIONS REGARDING DIVORCE AND PROPERTY 
EOULD AGAIN BE ENFORCED.  THE LAW, PASSED UNDER THE LATE 
PRESIDENT SADAT AND INFORMALLY NAMED THE "JEHAN LAW" 
AFTER HIS WIFE, GAVE THE WIFE THE RIGHT FOR THE FIRST 
TIME TO INITIATE DIVORCE IF HER HUSBAND MARRIED A SECOND 
WIFE; THE LAW ALSO GAVE A DIVORCED WIFE FIRST RIGHTS TO 
THE HOUSEHOLD UNTIL SHE IS PROVIDED EQUIVALENT QUARTERS. 
TODAY, IMPORTANT SHEIKHS, WHO IN 1979 TRIMMED THEIR 
INTERPRETATIONS TO SUIT "WOMEN'S RIGHTS" PUSHED BY SADAT 
AND HIS WIFE, HAVE BEGUN TACKING TOWARD A MORE LITERAL 
INTERPRETATION OF SHARIA. 
 
7.  AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF GROWING SHARIA DISCUSSIONS, 
THE STATE AUTHORITIES     IN RECENT WEEKS HAVE BEEN ACTIVE 
AGAINST FRINGE ELEMENTS OF THE POLITICO-RELIGIOUS SPECTRUM. 
 
--  AT CAIRO'S AL-NUR MOSQUE, A MAGNET FOR ISLAMIC HARD- 
LINERS IN THE CAPITAL, RELIGIOUS EXTREMISTS (SOME FROM 
AL-JIHAD, SOME FOR AL-HIDAIYA AL-ISLAMIYA) HAVE BEEN 
PICKED UP ON THREE SUCCESSIVE WEEKENDS FOLLOWING FRIDAY 
PRAYERS -- FOR DISTRIBUTING LEAFLETS WHOSE CONTENTS HAVE 
NOT BEEN REPORTED.  NO CHARGES HAVE BEEN PLACED, AND THE 
DETAINEES RELEASED UPON PAYMENT OF TOKEN FINES.  SIMILAR 
ACTIONS HAVE BEEN REPORTED (BUT NOT DETAILED) IN THE 
UNIVERSITY TOWNS OF MINYA AND ASSIUT AGAINST FORMER 
DEFENDANTS FREED LAST OCTOBER IN THE PROLONGED TRIAL OF 
THOSE CHARGED IN THE ARMED REVOLT FOLLOWING SADAT'S 1981 
ASSASSINATION. (BEHIND THE SCENES THE MINISTRY OF AWQAF 
SEEMS TO BE STRUGGLING TO EXERCISE SUPERVISION OVER AL-NUR, 
WHOSE LEADING SHEIKH IS STILL DENIED THE PULPIT.  IN THE 
LATTER SADAT YEARS, AL-NUR MOSQUE DREW UP TO THIRTY 
THOUSAND WORSHIPPERS ON FRIDAYS TO LISTEN TO ANTI-SADAT 
SERMONS.) 
 
--  IN ALEXANDRIA, A "CRAZY DOCTOR" WAS ARRESTED ALONG 
WITH 30 OR SO FOLLOWERS; HE CLAIMED TO BE THE PROPHET 
MOHAMED, AND HAPPENED TO HAVE ONE MILLION DOLLARS PLUS 
IN HIS BANK ACCOUNT.  NO CHARGES HAVE YET BEEN FILED. 
 
--  IN LATE FEBRUARY, SOME 40 BAHAIS WERE ARRESTED FOR 
VIOLATING A 1960 NASSER DECREE (STILL IN EFFECT) OUTLAWING 
BAHAI ACTIVITIES IN EGYPT.  AN AL-AZHAR UNDERSECRETARY 
SENT DOCUMENTS TO THE STATE SECURITY PROSECUTOR SHOWING 
THAT THE BAHAIS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN CONSIDERED "APOSTATES" 
FROM ISLAM.  (THE BAHAIS HAVE SUBSEQUENTLY BEEN RELEASED 
WITHOUT CHARGES AND ARE PRESENTLY REMAINING IN THEIR 
HOMES.  SEE CAIRO 06100.) 
- 
--  ON FEBRUARY 26 TALMASSANI WAS SUDDENTLY (AND WITH- 
OUT EXPLANATION) FORBIDDEN ACCESS TO CAIRO UNIVERSITY. 
HE HAD BEEN SCHEDULED TO ADDRESS A MEETING AT THE COM- 
MERCE COLLEGE, AT THE INVITATION OF THE STUDENT COUNCIL. 
PERMISSION WAS IN WRITING, AND STAMPED BY THE VICE 
CHANCELLOR'S OFFICE.  HOWEVER, HE TOLD POLCOUNS AT 9:30 
ON THE MORNING OF THE SPEECH, HE WAS NOTIFIED THAT THE 
PERMISSION HAD BEEN WITHDRAWN.  THE STUDENT DEMONSTRA- 
TION FOLLOWED (SEE CAIRO 5919).  TALMASSANI CRITICIZED 
THE DECISION TO US, NOTING THAT THE STUDENT COUNCIL HAD 
A "MODERATE" ISLAMIC MAJORITY (SUPPORTED BY MUSLIM 
BROTHERHOOD) AND THAT HIS APPEARANCE WOULD HAVE PACIFIED - 
NOT INCITED - THE STUDENTS. 
 
- 
8.  COMMENT:  THESE MOVES REPRESENT THE GOVERNMENT'S 
POLISHING OF ITS OWN ISLAMIC CREDENTIALS (IN THE CASES 
OF THE BAHAIS AND ALEXANDRIA'S DERANGED PROPHET), AND 
SETTING LIMITS FOR ACCEPTABLE POLITICAL/RELIGIOUS BE- 
HAVIOR (IN THE CASE OF AL-NUR MOSQUEAND THE BANNING 
OF TALMASSANI'S UNIVERSITY SPEECH.) AS FOR THE INCIPIENT 
DEBATE IN THE ASSEMBLY AND PRESS ON SHARIA, IT IS AT THIS 
STAGE MORE SHADOW THAN SUBSTANCE; BUT IT IS NONETHELESS 
AN IMPORTANT REFLECTION OF THE MOOD OF THE SOCIETY.  PRO- 
FOUND SOCIAL ISSUES ARE INVOLVED.  THE GOAL OF "SECULAR- 
ISTS" WHO RUN THE GOVERNMENT IS TO ENCOMPASS MODERATE 
ISLAMIC ELEMENTS WITHIN THE POLITICAL SYSTEM, UNDERCUT- 
TING EXTREMISM WHILE PREVENTING THE ADOPTION OF THE COM- 
PLETE IMPLEMENTATION OF SHARIA.  THE ISLAMIC SIDE, WHICH 
INCLUDES THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD AND TO SOME EXTENT THE 
WAFD, PLUS MAINSTREAM MUSLIM LEADERS FROM AL-AZHAR AND 
THE MINISTRY OF AWQAF, HOPES TO USE THE DEMOCRATIC 
PROCESS TO BUILD UP AN IRREVERSIBLE MOMENTUM TOWARD 
SHARIA.  BOTH SIDES AT PRESENT ARE KEEN TO MAINTAIN THE 
STABILITY OF EGYPTIAN SOCIETY, THOUGH MISMANAGEMENT OF 
THE SHARIA ISSUE COULD CREATE SERIOUS TENSIONS.  END 
COMMENT. 
 
 
PRECHT 

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