One year ago, our planet lost eminent author Christopher Hitchens whose book God is Not Great had as subtitle “How Religion Poisons Everything“. Thousands of atheists throughout the world raised their whiskey glass –Hitchens’ favorite– to his memory over the last several days. And how relevant is his message still today!
Egypt in recent times had a revolution where people died on the streets thirsty for freedom and furious against tyranny. Now, as the dust is settling, the draft of a new constitution seems to have been hastily voted on by a slim majority that re-establishes shari’a as the basis of Egyptian law and gives too much power to clerics from Al-Azhar University, to the president and the military. The process was so lacking in transparency that liberals, Christians and secularists walked out in protest at one point, leaving mainly members of the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of the contents of the new constitution.
An article in the Economist claims that the new constitution would bring Egypt back into the Mubarak era. Among its provisions, the constitution gives the military the dubious right to arrest and subject to trial citizens independent of the judiciary, a clause that made many international defenders of human rights cringe. It reminded many of the recent arrest and torture of hundreds in the Queen of the Nile boat for the imaginary crime of homosexuality.
During the vote, the city of Alexandria witnessed most of the violence as women protested a polling station where they were being prevented from voting because they weren’t veiled.
Another minority that stands to suffer are the Baha’is. Not only is the new constitution based on shari’a but it also limits religious liberty to the so-called ‘heavenly religions’ of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Article 37 grants the right to build a house of worship only to these three religions.
As such, Baha’is and members of any other religious tradition would find themselves second-class citizens just as they were under Mubarak, when they were denied the right to carry a national ID card for refusal to identify as either Christian or Muslim. Without this card, they were unable to enjoy basic social services and rights in Egyptian society. The new constitution clearly indicates that religious discrimination will continue even as it supposedly guarantees religious liberty.
And so if the Muslim Brotherhood has its way, nothing has changed in Egypt and the blood of its martyrs was spilled in vain. I don’t know if, as Hitchens said, religion really poisons everything but I can at least say that Egypt’s revolution has been poisoned by religion.