Thursday, October 20, 2011

Religion and Democracy in Egypt

Last night FDA auditors met to audit electoral fairness in Egypt under Hosni Mubarak.

The audit reached a point of contention from Article 3 of Law No.40 of the year 1977 Concerning the Political Parties System and its Amendments, which states,

"The state bans political parties which are based on religious, class, sectarian, categorical, or geographical basis, or on the exploitation of religious feelings, or discrimination because of race, origin, or creed."

FDA auditor #1 viewed Article 3 as fair, because religious based parties should not be part of democracy, because they are based on membership and thereby exclusionary.

Other auditors #2 viewed Article 3 as unfair, because it limits the electoral choice of the people and excludes political parties from the electoral process. Viz., the will of the people should be the ultimate decider of who governs society. If the will of the people wants a religious based party then that should not be circumvented.

Auditor #1 replied that religious based parties would lead to tyranny of the majority, and they would use religion as the sole basis for moral and ethical decisions and thereby discriminate against other religious groups and non-religious groups.

Auditors #2 responded that the Constitution and any bill of rights of the country are in place, in part, to protect minority interests. Also, the moral and ethical codes of a society are subjective whether they are religious based or not, and that many secular moral and ethical codes have their roots in religion.

If a religious based party respects the Constitution and fundamental human rights then why should the religious party be disallowed the opportunity of governing society?

In the case of Egypt, it states clearly in the Constitution that the country is Islamic:

Article 2
Islam is the religion of the State and Arabic its official language.
Islamic law (Sharia) is the principal source of legislation. (Source: Egypt Constitution of 1971, Amended 2007)

Why is it fair for Egypt (under Mubarak) to ban religious based parties?


  1. The FDA auditor #1 gave Article 3 a score of 0.2/10 for fairness. On the following principles:

    1) political parties exist to gain control of government and advance the interests of their constituent.

    3) religion is inherently exclusionary. Membership is required.

    4) morality is inclusionary. Membership is universal.

    5) the basis of political parties, assuming the party actualizes power, inevitably influences the policy process

    6) a policy process influenced by religion and thus group membership renders exclusionary policy.

    7) exclusionary policy is unfair.

    I want to stress there is a difference between religion and morality but they are not exclusive. People can belong to both groups. However, one group includes everyone while another excludes certain individuals.

    Article 3 promotes secularism and religious pluralism and is the only aspect of fairness found in that section. Due to the disproportionate unfairness the proposed score was 0.2/10.

    **Auditor #1 did not say religious based parties would lead to tyranny of the majority. Representative and electoral democracy is tyranny of the majority. He simply asserted, a BASIS or founding principle on religion affords political parties political capital on the basis of inherent exclusion.

  2. I have several objections to your argument.

    Point 3 ignores that most if not all secular based parties are based on membership as well, and therefore to follow your argument, secular based parties are also exclusionary.

    Point 4 supports that religious parties have as much right to morality as secular parties.

    Considering these points, to follow your argument through, all political parties should be banned because they are based on membership, and therefore they are exclusionary. Obviously, this argument is invalid because some form of political party is necessary for representative, large scale democracy. Even if it is not the case, Article 3 would be unfair by singling out religious based parties.

  3. Yes but their membership is open to everybody unlike religion.

    And yes religious based parties do have as much right to morality. However their inevitable membership biased influence on policy is what matters.

  4. Religious organizations are likely more open to everyone than secular based political parties, because of their altruistic approach versus the ideological approach of secular based parties.

    Every organization has rules for members. If members violate those rules they may be barred from the organization.

    The reality is that religious and secular based parties both have membership. And religious and secular parties have their own belief systems, which may not be universal and will not appeal to everyone.

    These belief systems will influence public policy.

  5. I contend it is not Hosni Mubarak's place or yours, or anyone else's place, to determine whether or not religious political parties should be banned. In a true democracy, the will of the people should be given a choice as to who represents them, whether it is a religious party or secular party.

  6. Since when are morality and ideology inclusive?

  7. Since when are secular based party policies not biased to a secular agenda or even a faith based agenda?

  8. Since when has religion been altruistic? The crusade, inquisition, aztec and hindu sacrifices not to mention islamic jihad. Lets base political parties on this type of logical thinking! Kill, kill, kill!

  9. Your point overlooks the altruistic aspects of religion in terms of compassion, self-sacrifice, moral codes etc. The Middle Ages and religious wars at that time were about mythology and conquest of religious territory and artifacts. Today, we are talking about religious parties within a framework of constitutional and human and political rights law. As argued above, secular parties are no less and likely more susceptible to acts against its people and those of the world. Take secular political movements such as the Nazis, Stalinist movement, and those more recently under G.W.Bush.

  10. S.B. says...

    Many people make the argument that religion can be good or bad - it just depends who's practicing it. They say that's because religions' vague and ambiguous tenets are so open to interpretation.

    This common argument misses a key point. The point being that belief in a religion is belief in an unassailable authority. One cannot petition this authority, much less even the existence of this authority.

    But yet this authority must inevitably be spoken for by man.

    This means that if an individual (or a political party) claims to speak on behalf of the religion, their authority is also unassailable. As such they are by definition anti-democratic, and consequently, unfair.

    This holds true even if a party or parties is/are split on various religious interpretations. In these scenarios each competing group argues that they hold the unassailable truth. But those "truths" are not subject to the normal means of scrutiny we apply in choosing directions in fair and democratic societies. Such means include weight of evidence, use of reason, the scientific method, or even the will of the people (should it contradict said authority).

    Keep in mind; "subject to scrutiny" is not the same as electoral victory, significant change in policies or removal from power. The point is that "subject to scrutiny" is apriori in any fair democratic system. Religion denies this fact. A political party based on religion is by definition anti-democratic and a contradiction in a democracy.

    In contrast this cannot be said for any secular political actor/party because of their inherent admission of having been derived from mortal man. As man is not only mortal, but a work in progress and imperfectible, he, and consequently his institutions, "are", by definition assailable, and therefore are at least amenable to the application of democratic principles and methods.

    Because of the inherent logic of being open to questioning, the very existence of secular parties and political actors generates democratic discourse. The inherent logic built into religious parties has the opposite effect. Arguments based on religiously unassailable truths are not arguments at all and so their adherents have no place in a legitimate democratic political process.


  11. In response to S.B. you assume that secular parties view their ideologies as approachable rather than unassailable. Did Bush think he was beyond approach when he lied to the American people about Iraq, and did Hitler think he was beyond approach when he set Germany on a path of world conquest? (Unassailable is not exclusive to religion.)

    You assume that religious parties as opposed to religions are unassailable. Religious parties may adhere to aspects of Christianity, for example, while respect the Constitution and human and political rights, like the Christian Heritage party in Canada, without contradiction.

    As mentioned religious political parties are not the same as religions. Also, not all religious parties are fundamentalist and unassailable.

    In Egypt as we speak, there is a process in place to make the Egyptian Constitution the supreme doctrine which all parties must uphold.

    Although I agree that political parties whether secular or religious that do not respect fundamental human and political rights are counter to democracy.

  12. ...Part 2

    A further read of their principles and policies shows clearly that they have no interest in protecting anybody's religious freedoms if they are not Christian.

    I think a reasonable limit on this party's tripe is more than consistent with justification in a free and democratic society and that the content of it's principles is utterly inconsistent with such. Further, their proposed "defacto" non-acceptance of freedom of religion is countless times more restrictive than a mere limitation on religiously based political parties. Poor example.

    As far as I'm concerned people can believe whatever they want and associate with whomever they feel like. That's a very different matter than seeking formal political influence through the electoral system. One is your beliefs. Another is a job with responsibilities to all constituents.

    I would also seek similar limitations on the formation of secular political parties that were "inescapably" anti-democratic in their foundations, such as parties based on racial separations or that opposed democracy entirely believing that dictatorship is superior.

    Leaving the door open to religious parties leaves our democracies more vulnerable, not less, to being dismantled than they already are.

    Building and maintaining robust and resilient democracies means protecting ourselves from those who would seek to reduce or dismantle them. This means freedoms can not be absolute in mass society, but more importantly it means we have to make choices as to what freedoms to curtail. I think stopping religious political parties from forming is a reasonable one.


  13. S.B. says...

    Part 1 (recreated in summary) - I wrote an extensive Part 1 that didn't get saved because of the blogspot 4,096 character limitation. I can now only touch on the main points since it took hours to write.

    - While secular parties are often anti-democratic, religious parties cannot help but be anything but, since their foundational principles, unlike secular parties, are not amenable to change (in effect "written in stone" from religious texts or speeches).

    - In contrast, secular parties, can absorb new people, new ideas or even change platforms entirely. This is because their foundations are at least ostensibly based on human inquiry and human advancement

    - With secular parties, if we can't get them to respond to democratic input, we can still replace the party leaders.

    - Conversely with religious parties, replacing the party leaders is not an option since they are considered to be spokespersons for the religion and removing them is considered heresy. Besides, how can we replace Gods?

    - When challenged democratically, religious parties that give up their religious principles remain religious only in name (eg. Christian Democrats in Germany).

    - Conversely, if they are to maintain their religious foundations, they have no choice but to dissolve entirely or fight for their survival (this being much more likely since as discussed their principles are considered timeless and immutable and their leaders as extensions of god(s)). As such, they will resort to increasingly violent means to maintain power, revealing their anti-democratic underpinnings.

    - Canada and most nations have "reasonable limits" on freedoms such as restrictions on hate speech, and including limits on religious influence.

    - It's easier to demonstrate hate speech in what would be many of the religious texts and speeches that are foundational to these parties than it is to demonstrate that limiting religious political parties would constitute an unreasonable limit in a free and democratic society.

    - Citing Canada's Christian Heritage Party as respecting the "Constitution and human and political rights" takes the cake to a whole new level. Their principles are cited as:

    The Holy Bible to be the inspired, inerrant written Word of God and the final authority above all man’s laws and government.

    Civil government to be under the authority of God.

    The purpose of civil government is to ensure freedom and justice for a nation’s citizens by upholding law and order in accordance with Biblical principles.

    Decision-making processes by civil government must not in any way contravene these Biblical ethics.

    - The party's principles are cited in this Foundation's very own document;

    "Electoral Audit of the 2011 Canadian Federal Election" at ... read part 2...

  14. In response to S.B., so according to your view, you would ban religious based parties that have democratic principles like freedom of speech, assembly, and the press, and universal sufferage etc as their founding principlies.

    While at the same time you would allow secular parties that are ambiguous/secretative about their founding principles.

  15. Part 1:

    In response to S.B., you make a number of assumptions and inaccurate statements which undermine your view.

    1. You assume that the Church and religious based political parties are the same. They are not. The Church refers to organized religion; religious based political parties refer to political parties which have their roots in religious principles and ethics and who vie to the represent politically the people.

    2. You assume that all religious based political parties are unassailable. According to Christianity, for example, God is not beyond question or reproach as you assert.

    3. You assume that religious based political parties are inconsistent with democratic principles. Yet democracy has its roots in the religious concepts of freedom, equality, and fairness.

    4. You assert incorrectly that the Christian Heritage Party is undemocratic. You make this assertion because of the party’s belief in God, and religious principles and ethics. You do not realize that as mentioned and according to the Christian Heritage Party (CHP), God is not beyond reproach or question (or unassailable), and that CHP’s religious principles and ethics are partly comprised of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, equality, fairness etc. Also, the Christian Heritage Party views the Magna Carta of 1215 as a biblical source, namely everyone in society exists under law (“law of the land”). The Magna Carta led to Constitutional Law. Further, the Christian Heritage Party includes civil government in its founding principles and their platform from the 2011 Canadian General Election includes a stated policy of defending democracy and the Canadian Constitution.
    In Egypt, Mubarak’s New Democratic Party, which is secular authoritarian and violated many principles of democracy, included democratic and socialist concepts in its principles. Yet according to your view, you would allow the New Democratic Party, while ban the Christian Heritage Party.

    The Christian Democratic Party from Australia has the following as its first founding principle:

    1. To uphold a free and democratic society with freedom of speech, the rule of law and stable constitutional government.

    You would ban this party.

    The Christian Democratic Union from Germany has the following founding principles:

    2. We know that no particular political programme can be derived from Christian beliefs. But the Christian view of Man provides us with an ethical basis for responsible policies. This link with Christian beliefs does not, however, mean that we claim that it is only within the Christian Democratic Union that policies can be formulated in a spirit of Christian responsibility. The CDU is open to all who affirm the dignity and freedom of all mankind and support the basic beliefs which we derive from these for our policies. This is the basis for common action by Christians and non-Christians within the party.

    4. On a basis of shared values, the members of the CDU were able to face up to their responsibilities and successfully achieve certain basic political decisions in the free part of Germany in favour of: a free democracy based on the rule of law, a social market economy, the incorporation of the Federal Republic of Germany into the Western system of values and the Western alliance, the unity of the nation and the unification of Europe.

    You would ban this party.

  16. Dr Arun Gadre’s Comments on Religious parties in democracy: “I am with auditor 1 in general.
    Auditor 2 says: “the will of the people should be the ultimate decider of who governs society. If the will of the people wants a religious based party then that should not be circumvented.
    My elaboration on auditor 2’s comments is –
    Democracy is surely to get converted in to mobocracy. That is what happened in Greece in its golden era of being a cradle of democracy!
    Democracy must be – a rule of law (book).
    And history shows that only Bible and Laws of Moses could some how take the burden. No other book. Nor religious nor human.
    And Bible becomes that – rule of law – when it is respected as revelation.
    If the belief in revelation vanishes, and man becomes a center of the universe, the question arises is – whose laws? Natural law is not natural. It was basically inspired by Bible. Ask any low caste person in India. Ask any widow who was burned on the pyre in 1790s in India. The untouchability and the widow burning were “lawful”. The majority believed in it. The economics demanded it. So both were the natural law.
    When William Carey, the first missionary asked the woman who was going to be burnt alive, she said that as a law of religion she is happy to die. William Carey left arguing. He wrote in his diary about the incidence. But his Biblical understanding of what is a human being made him question – why should any one die happily and voluntarily like that woman? It’s a sin. A sin when we know by revelation that man is a mirror image of God. If we have no such revelation as that woman did not have, well, every thing is relative.
    He fought for thirty years for ban on widow burning. He was successful.
    I was compelled by majority to kill female in womb with sonography diagnosis. If we ask for a referendum here in truly democratic India, 80% will opt for legalizing it. Then it will be a democracy as well as land of rule! Rule made by majority. Our law which is a gift of Bible indirectly, opposes it! The book opposes the majority!
    Very fast the revival of 15th century was forgotten and hijacked by atheist socialist movement and intellectuals. Now we all assume that whatever revelation has shown is a natural law.
    Well, it is not.
    The cutting of the roots of our law and democracy will make all world go in Greece way. It will be ruled by mobs. No revelation, no natural law, no democracy. Only politically correct mobocracy.
    It was interesting to read your documents in Muslim countries about democracy. Western world wants to export democracy to Muslim middle east. It will not be. Because basically Kuran is thurst from above system. The rule by book is there. But the book is faulty. No. democracy will not be rooted there. If at all it will be mobocracy controlled by religious zealots.
    Unfortunately democracy demands from its participants the value system which it does not provide. That is provision of revelation. Without it well, all is mobocracy.”

  17. Arun,

    Your equation of the will of the people with mobocracy is accurate in a non-constitutional and bill of rights framework. The tyranny of the majority is a danger of democracy, and which is held in check by constitutional law and human and political rights law in the form of a charter of right or bill of rights.


Thank you for sharing your perspective.