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False Islamist-Secular Divide in Egypt is a Wedge in Hopes for Preserving Democracy

The dichotomous myth of "secular" versus "Islamist" must be dismantled in order for Egypt to move on.

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In the current bloody battles raging in the streets of Egypt, the false and falsifying divide between the "secularists" and the "lslamists" is glossing over the far more critical issue of citizenship. It is the citizenship rights of Egyptians that are and will have to be debated, and not whether or not these citizens are Muslim or secular. Egypt, just like Tunisia, is on the cusp of overcoming this debilitating and flawed divide between "the secular" and "the religious" - a colonially manufactured divide that has for the entirety of the colonial and postcolonial history divided Muslims to rule them better. Muslims - the whole 1.3 billion of them scattered around the globe and affected by their class, gender, or racialised identity, and informed by the juridical, mystical, or philosophical aspects of their collective faith - decide what is "Islamic", not Islamic law (let alone any clerical order in Iran or a Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt - or their kindred souls among the professors of Islamic Studies on North American or Western European university campuses) deciding who is a Muslim. In the crisis that we are witnessing in Egypt these fateful days, we are witness to the dismantling of that misplaced question that has given the MB the false assumption that they are the only Muslims in town, because they aren't.

To begin to think of the right of that prototypical citizen, we should not start with the misleading distinction between the "seculars" and "Muslims" but with non-Muslim Egyptians, with Copts, with Jews, and any other so called "religious minority". That whole notion of "religious minority" must be categorically dismantled, and in the drafting of the constitution the rights of citizenship irrespective of religious affiliation must be written in such solid terms that there is no telling the difference between a Copt, a Jew, or a Muslim, let alone a so-called "secular", who is also a Muslim under colonial disguise. 

The false battle between "the seculars" and "the religious" is disguising the far more critical task of building a free and democratic republic based on the inalienable rights of non-Muslim Egyptians, followers of other religions, who must be the defining moment, the building block, the single most important unit of citizenship right in the new constitution, not that the rights of the so-called "religious minorities" are "recognised" by the magnanimity of the majority, but that the whole notion of majority/minority in religious terms must be categorically dismantled and overcome.    

If the most vulnerable is most emphatically protected by the constitution then all citizens' rights are protected. This is the real issue that the false battle between "the seculars" and "the lslamists" is disguising. The drafting of the constitution must start from the weakest of the weak and not from the most powerful of the powerful - exactly the reverse of what has happened in the writing of this draft constitution when the Muslim Brotherhood has suddenly found itself in position of power. While its presidential representative suspends judicial oversight and leaps to dictatorship, its rank and file parliamentary representative seek to smuggle a constitution that is to their liking and not to the benefit of the most vulnerable Egyptians. 

Muslims are all Muslims

When we turn to Muslims as citizens, Muslims are all Muslims, but not all Muslims are Muslim Brotherhood, which has a false claim on being the only Muslims in Egypt, and which seems to forget that it does not even include their own "Sisterhood".

Egyptians who consider themselves "secular" must in the name of the Egyptian revolution go and claim the mosques for the site of the public sphere and not allow the pubic sphere to be claimed as an extended definition of the mosque as the MB have claimed it. These mosques belong to all Egyptian Muslims - liberals, seculars, socialist, feminists, etc. They must go there and redefine that site, reclaim what belongs to them, and thereby overcome this nasty and debilitating divide between the figments of imagination "Islamist and secular" that we have inherited from our nasty and lingering colonial history.

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