Q: I want President Morsi to know that millions of Americans were supportive of Egypt’s desire for some form of democracy. Perhaps we were not clear about what that means. My question is: Does Egyptian democracy include Shariah law? I ask this question because Shariah law is about religion and morality. How can that be a democracy? He also states that Egyptian democracy will be for all people. If it is an Islamic state and is under Shariah law, how is that possible? — Madeline | Florida
A:Thank you for articulating a frequent question. I think the honest answer is that there is a robust debate going on right now in Egypt and across the Arab world over how to apply the teachings of Islam in a democratic context, in the Arab Spring.
It is worth noting that Egypt’s Constitution, like many in the region, has long contained an article stating that its civil laws derive from the principles of Islamic law. So that is old news here.
There are some ultraconservatives — under the umbrella term Salafis — who say they want to change that to make the law conform more directly with literal, even medieval Islamic law, although the details are hazy. But Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood prefer to keep it as it is. When I have asked Brotherhood leaders about how to apply Islamic law, they say that they believe the first principle is “shura,” or consultation, which they interpret to mean representative government or the consent of the governed.
They say that the question of how to apply Islamic law should be up to the citizens, through their elected officials. Democracy, essentially.There is either democracy--equality before the law, rule of law, human rights under the law (which is man-made, and does not emanate from a remote sky god), etc.--or there is no democracy. There is no such thing as "democracy, essentially." "Democracy, essentially" is not democracy as we in the West understand and practise it. "Democracy, essentially" is sharia, plain and simple.
But the same Brotherhood leaders also sometimes say that they believe the people who craft Egypt’s public policy should have expertise in a practical field — economics, or transportation, for example — but also in Islamic law. And Mr. Morsi says he will be a president for all Egyptians while also apparently sticking to the view that under Islamic law the president of the state should be a Muslim.