Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dr. Mohammed Seleem El-Awwa's Lecture [ندوة د. محمد سليم العوا] - Faculty of Engineering, Alexandria University

Dr. Mohammed Seleem El-Awwa (old photo, not mine)

At 9.45 A.M today I left home and headed straight to my faculty for Dr. Mohammed Seleem El-Awwa's lecture (my second ever politically-oriented lecture). Before I delve into the interesting details, I should make one thing clear: I, and many others like me, am a huge fan of Dr. El-Awwa who is one of the foremost Islamic thinkers of the century (in my opinion) and a leading figure in Egyptian and Islamic law. I have read for him frequently and listened and watched him more often. I find his opinions and views not only both intelligent and insightful, but usually backed up by either hard facts, history or a combination of the two.

Today's lecture, as I expected, was no exception.

Dr. El-Awwa's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of history, poetry and law is unsurpassed in any speaker I have heard. Add to that his mastery of the intricacies and beauty of the Arabic language and you get a lecture you simply cannot stop concentrating on and indeed I found myself shutting people up if they talked to me and people shutting me up if I talked to them. He was delayed an hour on the way but the entire Hall burst into applause as he entered. We started with some verses of the Qura'n and then a word from the H.O.D of the Mechanical Engineering Department followed by Dr. El-Awwa's lecture.

What follows is a summary of the main points in the lecture. I found it much harder to stop and take notes; there was just so much (interesting) stuff being said! So my notes may not be as complete as yesterday's but I will try to work a little from my memory. Where I will do that, I will indicate it by wrapping the text with asterisks so that you know that this is a personal account and not strictly a quotation.
  • Dr.El-Awwa started by reminding the audience members that silence had led us to 30 years of humiliation and dictatorship and that much more important than voting Yes or No is the idea of going on and giving your vote with whatever you think is best for the country.
  • Dr.El-Awwa then started immediately going into the issue of the Constitutional changes. He started by saying that, according to the most recent announcements from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (who currently lead the country), we can safely think that the Constitutional changes (accepted or not) are a "bridge" to a new Constitution. Whether the majority is Yes or No, therefore, will not imply a revival of what Dr.El-Awwa called, "the corpse we now know as the 1971 Constitution".

  • Dr.El-Awwa then went into a full-scale analysis of the amendments. He started by mentioning the fact that the amendments are full of what he translated to English as "legal technicalities" and he made the argument that such technicalities make the amendments, basically, foolproof. He then responded to some of the criticisms to the changes:

    1) On the new text of Article 75 where it is stated that the President or his parents should not have held any other nationality: Dr.El-Awwa argued that this is in relation to the loyalty of the President. There are existing Egyptian laws that ban people with dual nationality to be judges, soldiers in the army, ministers or parliament members, so how can we expect the Constitution to allow the President to be of dual nationality? (*Dr.El-Awwa says he is aware that this may lose the country certain brilliant minds but that the loss is not so great that it cannot be compensated by others on whom the conditions apply*). [On a previous lecture, I watched Dr. El-Awwa making this argument and mentioning the fact that certain nationalities (like the English one, for example) require that the person takes an oath to himself to be loyal to certain people/governments/countries. This, he says, goes against the claim that such a person will have his full loyalty to Egypt].

    2) On the same Article there were claims that the condition of having an "Egyptian wife" was unfair: Dr. El-Awwa mentioned that we must agree that the role the wife plays in a man's life is huge. And the role a woman's cultural and national background also plays a part in her character and thus, indirectly, in her husband's character. He then referred to the fact that we saw two First Ladies in the time of President Sadat (Jihann El-Sadat, who was born to an English mother and Egyptian father) and in Mubarak's time (Suzanne Mubarak who was born to an English mother and Egyptian father) who came from different national backgrounds and we saw how much effect they had on their husbands' characters in formulating crucial and vital national decisions.

    3) On Article 76: Dr. El-Awwa mentions that the extremely long previous text of Article 76 has been greatly shortened to simplify the conditions of running for president and not just have what he called "beautiful playthings" running against a dictator.

    4) Again on Article 76 there were criticisms due to the fact that the Committee of Presidential Elections to be formed cannot have its decisions appealed or revoked: Dr. El-Awwa argued that the Committee has the four highest figures of the Egyptian judicial system (President of the Supreme Constitutional Court as president of the Committee, and membership of the President of the Court of Appeal and the oldest Vice Presidents of the Court of Cassation, Supreme Constitutional Court and the State Council) and so it is only logical to say that their decisions should be final. If you want to appeal or revoke such decisions, who do you appeal them to when all the supreme judges are taken?

    5) Certain criticisms were raised against whether or not Article 189 forms an obligation towards a new Constitution: Dr. El-Awwa argued that every present continuous tense verb [فعل مضارع] in the Arabic language (when used in law) implies obligation and that, therefore, Article 189 in its current form, forms an obligation towards a new Constitution. He cited several examples from common university laws to express that point.
  • Dr. El-Awwa then explored the Yes and No (basic) scenarios. In case of Yes:
    1) We expect a limitation on the transitional period where the Supreme Council of Armed Forces holds the leadership of the country.
    2) We expect parliamentary elections followed by presidential elections..

    In case of No:
    Dr. El-Awwa expresses his concerns in this case that we should expect an extension of the limitation period. Dr. El-Awwa expressed the fact that he estimates the extension for, at the least, three years, subject to possible extensions that we cannot, currently, estimate the length of.
  • In response to several questions asked to him by his audience Dr. El-Awwa replied:

    1) That he does not at all recommend the elimination of the National Democratic Party with the help of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. He cited the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood were "too happy" with the elimination of political life (excepting them) in the early 50's and they were later in the 50's subjected to prosecution and several of their members were executed. So his conclusion was: Asking for the elimination of a particular party means asking for the possible elimination of your party in the future. He then sarcastically said, "Let the National Party's members head to the elections and lose rather than allowing them to play the victim card".

    2) Dr. El-Awwa expressed his concerns over presidential elections that proceed parliamentary elections, rhetorically asking, "How can you ask for a president to come forward without having anyone question his actions? That is building a dictator".

    3) Dr. El-Awwa responded that there is no such thing as an "Islamic state" and that Islam and Shariah did not put proper guides to the method of choosing a ruler of the state. He stated that a 'civil' [and I am roughly translating the word [مدنــية] here] state is one that is ruled by the people while a 'religious' one is one that is led by religious clerics (the only two examples of which are Iran and the Vatican). He also stated that he is all for a civil state and against a religious or so-called Islamic one.

    4) Finally, Dr. El-Awwa was asked on his association with the MB. He stated that he is not, and never was, a member of any political party although he has "thousands of friends" who are related and associated with the MB but that he has no political affiliation with the MB or with any other party, stating that his memberships are only in cultural organizations.
And that's about it! That's all I managed to take notes of, really, and my memory is not so good with the quotations so most of the ones up there are rough translations. It was a beautiful lecture and apart from the interesting points that I tried to convey above, there was a lot of history, stories, incidents and poetry verses that Dr. El-Awwa used to express his points and that remain a trademark of his breathtaking style and charisma.

Take care,

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