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Egypt’s Anti-Freedom Constitution: The Borhami Video

[Salafist cleric leader Yasser Borhami (right) speaks with Morsi's presidential advisor Bassam al-Zarqa during the constitutional marathon vote in the assembly on 30 November. Image by Mohamed Abd El Gany/Reuters] [Salafist cleric leader Yasser Borhami (right) speaks with Morsi's presidential advisor Bassam al-Zarqa during the constitutional marathon vote in the assembly on 30 November. Image by Mohamed Abd El Gany/Reuters]

“This constitution imposes complete restrictions that have never before been imposed by any Egyptian constitution” and it “places restrictions on freedom of thought, expression, and creativity.” These are the words of Sheikh Yasser Borhami, a leading member of the Constituent Assembly. He was explaining Article 10 of Egypt’s draft constitution during a conference with religious experts and Salafist preachers on 22 November 2012. On this same day, President Mohamed Morsi granted himself sweeping powers, including the power to shield the constituent assembly from judicial oversight. For anyone who continues to believe that this constitution is a document that represents all citizens of Egypt, or that it has been drafted for the benefit of the nation as opposed to the interests and aspirations of a narrow group of hardline Islamist political groups, this video goes a long way towards dispelling these myths.

Sheikh Borhami, the vice-president and spokesperson for Salafi Daawah and representative for the Salafi Al-Nour party, serves as one of three key members of the Constitutent Assembly, along with Mohamed Al-Beltagy, secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and the controversial Islamist lawyer, Selim al-Awa. Al-Awa was famously involved in drafting the divisive constitution of Sudan, which paved the way for sharia law, enabled the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood to stay in power, and eventually led to the secession of South Sudan in 2011. Al-Awa was also embroiled in a controversy involving a claim he made on Al-Jazeera that churches and monasteries have stockpiles of weapons and called for the state to inspect them. Following a firestorm of criticism and accusations of incitement, Al-Awa denied ever making these comments and said that his quote was taken out of context. 

Sheikh Borhami has become infamous in Egyptian politics as a leading advocate of child marriage and for lobbying successfully to remove passages that deal with child marriage and child abuse in the constitution. He argues that a girl can even marry before she reaches puberty and as young as three years of age if "she is ready," a position he justifies by arguing that this is what God says, not what he says

Borhami was also the Sheikh who issued a Fatwa in support of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan to Egypt with the claim that since the loan’s interest rate is low, it is more like a grant and therefore does not constitute usury, a practice forbidden in Islam. With his endorsement of the IMF loan, which comes with a set of strict conditionalities that will result in a spike in the price of food and basic necessities, Borhami can hardly be considered a pro-poor politician.

Ahead of the 25 January protests, Borhami famously discouraged Muslims from participating in such expressions of dissent. Even when a Salafi activist Sayed Belal was killed in custody by the State Security Services during their investigation of the bombing of a church bombing in Alexandria, Borhami called for calm and opposed revolt against the state's violation of human rights, even when non-Islamist groups expressed widespread disapproval of the government's treatment of the case. In the period that followed the ousting of Mubarak, Borhami has been an outspoken critic of protests and popular mobilization, choosing to side with Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) and consecutive governments in attempting to contain protests and outlaw civil disobedience.

Despite his controversial record, Borhami's most important and scandalous moment came with the release of a video ahead of the referendum on the constitution. In this video, which caused a national firestorm, Borhami tries to convince his audience and predominantly Salafi following that the constitution was cleverly drafted to sideline and confuse other groups in society, particularly Al-Azhar, liberals, Christians, and Baha’is who, as “apostates,” are not afforded any rights in this constitution. He gives Al-Awa credit for lending his expertise in designing deceptive legal loopholes that will open the way for the implementation of sharia law. He says: “Thank God […] Dr. Selim El-Awa helped us with this [wording]… If it weren’t for his help, we would never been able to pull it off.”

He reveals how the government intends to breach its agreements with Al-Azhar through a future law that can unseat Sheikh al-Azhar through a compulsory retirement age. Even as Borhami enumerates the constitutional committee’s duplicity, he admits there are additional details he cannot disclose since the liberals and leftists may pick up on them and make some noise in the media.

The full video posted online on 28 November, as part of a campaign by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Daawah to persuade Islamist supporters to vote yes in the constitutional referendum, runs 53 minutes. This abridged roughly 18 minute version initially appeared on an anonymous YouTube channel on 22 December and garnered a great deal of attention by the Egyptian and Arab press. Borhami has since rebutted some of his more controversial statements.

It is important to note that with the admissions made in this video, Borhami acknowledges that he and his colleagues have been able to orchestrate an historic sleight of hand that will effectively change the structure of the state, its judiciary, religious institutions, and committment to human and personal rights. This English-subtitled video showcases Borhami's critical account of the inner workings of the constitutional assembly's drafting process (below). Nothing short of a revelation into the calamity that is this constitution, we expect legal historians, constitutional experts, and religious scholars will continue to analyze the revelations of this video and their practical legal and societal repercussions for years to come. 

 

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