US embassy cable - 85CAIRO9867

ISLAMIC SHARIA DEBATE--WORDS FOLLOWED BY ANOTHER STALL

Identifier: 85CAIRO9867
Wikileaks: View 85CAIRO9867 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Cairo
Created: 1985-04-11 14:23:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV SOCI EG
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 111423Z APR 85
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 5835
INFO AMCONSUL ALEXANDRIA
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 09867 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL: OADR 
TAGS:  PGOV, SOCI, EG 
SUBJECT:  ISLAMIC SHARIA DEBATE--WORDS FOLLOWED BY ANOTHER 
STALL 
 
REF:  CAIRO 6360 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
- 
2.  BEGIN SUMMARY.  THE MAY DEBATE IN THE PEOPLES 
ASSEMBLY ON ISLAMIC SHARIA WILL PRODUCE NO IMMEDIATE 
RESULTS, ACCORDING TO GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL SOURCES, 
INCLUDING THE OPPOSITION.  IT IS LIKELY TO LAUNCH A 
REVIEW PROCESS LASTING SEVERAL YEARS TO ENSURE THAT 
EXISTING LEGISLATION IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH SHARIA.  THE 
LEADERSHIP OF THE OPPOSITION NEW WAFD PARTY AND OF THE 
MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD ARE ON BOARD ABOUT THIS PROCESS, 
AND THERE ARE INDICATIONS OF POSSIBLE TACIT COMPROMISES 
BETWEEN THE GOVERNING NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY (NDP) 
AND WAFD ABOUT THE SUBSTANCE OF SHARIA ISSUES. 
ALTHOUGH MAJOR POLITICAL FORCES HAVE APPARENTLY 
ESTABLISHED A "DETENTE" OVER SHARIA, HOWEVER, ISLAMIC 
DEMAGOGUERY AND VIOLENCE BY UNDERGROUND ISLAMIC 
EXTREMISTS ARE DANGERS THAT WILL PERSIST EVEN AS THE 
SHARIA PROCESS ROLLS FORWARD IN THE UNCERTAIN ECONOMIC 
CONDITIONS OF THE COUNTRY.  END SUMMARY. 
- 
 
3.  SINCE OUR RECENT REPORT ON THE COMING PEOPLES 
ASSEMBLY DEBATE OF ISLAMIC SHARIA (KORANIC LAW) IN MAY 
(SEE REF A), IT HAS BECOME CLEAR THAT THIS DEBATE WILL 
PRODUCE NO IMMEDIATE RESULTS.  ACCORDING TO A RANGE OF 
WELL-PLACED SOURCES, THE ASSEMBLY DISCUSSIONS WILL LEAD 
TO A LAW-BY-LAW REVIEW OF EXISTING LEGISLATION TO ENSURE 
THAT EACH AND EVERY LAW IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH SHARIA 
PROVISIONS.  THIS PROCESS IS EXPECTED TO TAKE AT LEAST 
SEVERAL YEARS.  LEADING ELEMENTS OF THE NEW WAFD PARTY, 
AND OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD NOW ALLIED TO IT, HAVE 
CONFIRMED PRIVATELY TO US THEIR UNDERSTANDING AND 
ACCEPTANCE OF THIS DELIBERATE PROCESS.  THEIR AGREEMENT, 
ADDED TO THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY'S DOMINATION IN 
THE ASSEMBLY, ROBS THE COMING DEBATE OF SOME OF ITS 
DRAMA AND DECREASES THE CHANGES OF NEGATIVE SIDE EFFECTS. 
 
- 
4.   THIS SCENARIO REFLECTS THE TACTICS OF PRESIDENT 
MUBARAK, ABLY SUPPORTED BY HIS SPEAKER OF THE PEOPLES 
ASSEMBLY, RIFAAT EL MAHGOUB; THEY ARE WILLING TO LET 
ISLAMIC SENTIMENT BE EXPRESSED FREELY, BUT NOT TO THE 
POINT OF THREATENING THE POLITICAL STATUS QUO.  GOVERN- 
MENT AND NDP CIRCLES HAVE BEEN SPREADING THE WORD QUIETLY 
BUT FIRMLY THAT THE PRESIDENT HAS NO INTENTION OF LETTING 
THE SHARIA ISSUE GET OUT OF CONTROL.  COMMENTING IN A 
PRESS INTERVIEW ON A DEMAND BY GAD AL-HAQ, THE GRAND 
SHEIKH OF AL-AZHAR (WHO OCCUPIES THE MOST PROMINENT 
ISLAMIC POST IN EGYPT), FOR THE APPLICATION OF ISLAMIC 
SHARIA, MUBARAK STATED THAT EGYPTIAN LAWS "DO NOT CONFLICT 
IN ANY WAY WITH THE ISLAMIC RELIGION AND ARE 99 PERCENT 
IN ACCORDANCE WITH ISLAMIC SHARIA."  MUBARAK DID NOT GET 
INTO THE SPECIFICS OF THE REMAINING "ONE PERCENT," OR THE 
EXTENT OF CHANGES IN LAWS REGARDING SUCH MATTERS AS 
BANKING PRACTICES OR ISLAMIC PUNISHMENTS.  (WE HEAR FROM 
OTHER SOURCES THAT "TINKERING" WITH EGYPTIAN LEGISLATION 
WILL FOCUS IN THE BANKING AREA, WITH THE SUBSTITUTION 
OF "FEES" AND "SHARED OWNERSHIP" FOR INTEREST; ISLAMIC 
PUNISHMENTS ARE SAID TO BE OUT OF THE QUESTION.) 
MUBARAK'S POINT, OF COURSE, IS THAT NOTHING MUCH NEEDS 
TO BE ALTERED. 
 
- 
5.  THIS VIEWPOINT IS DRAMATICALLY OPPOSED TO THAT OF 
SHARIA PROPONENTS, WHO WOULD LIKE NOTHING MORE THAN TO 
THROW OUT THE ENTIRE EGYPTIAN LEGAL SYSTEM--WITH ALL OF 
ITS FOREIGN ACCRETIONS--AND REPLACE IT WITH "THE FULL 
IMPLEMENTATION OF ISLAMIC SHARIA."  ACCORDING TO THE 
ORIGINATOR OF THIS "99 PERCENT" REASONING, STATE SECURITY 
COURT CHIEF JUSTICE SAID AL-ASHMAWY, MUBARAK'S ADOPTION 
OF HIS STAND SHOWS THAT THE PRESIDENT IS ABSOLUTELY 
DETERMINED NOT TO ALLOW "THE SHEIKHS" TO GAIN CONTROL OF 
EGYPTIAN LAW. 
 
- 
6.  AL-ASHMAWY ALSO TOLD US THAT HIS ARGUMENTS AGAINST 
"FULL SHARIA" HAVE RECENTLY WON SUPPORT IN THE WAFD PARTY 
AS IT PREPARES FOR THE ASSEMBLY DEBATE.  HE MENTIONED 
THE NAMES OF MUMTAZ NASSAR AND WAHEED RAAFAT, TWO SENIOR 
PARTY FIGURES AND BOTH LEGAL EXPERTS, SUGGESTING AN 
INFORMAL UNDERSTANDING ABOUT THE DELIBERATE PACE OF VERY 
LIMITED LEGAL CHANGE.  MUMTAZ NASSAR, WAFD LEADER IN THE 
PEOPLES ASSEMBLY, RECENTLY TOLD US HIMSELF THAT THE WAFD 
AGREES WITH THE LENGTHY TIMETABLE FOR SHARIA REVIEW. 
PRAISING PRESIDENT MUBARAK'S "DEMOCRATIC" APPROACH 
(COMPARED TO THAT OF SADAT AND NASSER),  NASSAR IMPLIED 
THAT ACCEPTABLE  COMPROMISES BETWEEN THE WAFD AND THE 
NDP ARE ALREADY IN SIGHT OVER THE QUESTION OF THE BANKING 
SYSTEM AND ISLAMIC SHARIA. 
 
- 
7.  COMMENT.  WE SENSE A CERTAIN SATISFACTION IN 
GOVERNMENT AND SECULAR POLITICAL CIRCLES OVER PROSPECTIVE 
SUCCESS IN CONTAINING THE SHARIA DEBATE, WITH THE WAFD 
AND MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD LEADERSHIP EVIDENTLY ON BOARD. 
HOWEVER, THERE IS NO ROOM FOR COMPLACENCY.  HAVING A KIND 
OF  DETENTE BETWEEN THE MAJOR LICENSED POLITICAL ORGANI- 
ZATIONS DOES NOT RULE OUT ISLAMIC DEMAGOGUERY OR VIOLENCE 
INSTIGATED BY EXTREMIST ISLAMIC GROUPS. 
 
- 
8.  ADDED COMMENT.  SHARIA PROPONENTS HAVE BEEN THROUGH 
THIS BEFORE.  SADAT'S RESPONSE TO THEIR DEMANDS WAS TO 
ESTABLISH COMMITTEES AND LET THEM DRAFT LAWS, A PROCESS 
WHICH LASTED FIVE YEARS AND ENDED WITH NO LEGISLATION 
BEING PASSED.  NOW, IT SEEMS WE ARE TO SEE A REVERSE 
PROCESS:  MORE COMMITTEES TO STUDY EXISTING LAWS AND 
AGAIN, LITTLE REAL CHANGE IN THE LEGAL STATUS QUO.  THE 
GOVERNMENT CAN BE EXPECTED TO MAKE THE MOST OF MARGINAL 
ISLAMIC IMPROVEMENTS TO CURRENT LAW, SO AS TO PREVENT 
THE SHARIA ISSUE FROM STRIKING AN ISLAMIC SPARK AMONG 
THE MUSLIM MASSES.  THIS MAY MEAN A POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE 
AND LEGAL STRUCTURE WITH MARGINALLY MORE ISLAMIC COLORA- 
TION.  END COMMENT. 
 
 
VELIOTES 

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