Go to the ballot box and vote in favor of the constitution to please the Lord! Give your voice, which is a trust, to those who call for the application of Sharia! Boycott the referendum as it lacks any Islamic identity! Those who boycott the referendum are sinners! Those who approve the Constitution are blessed by God!

Go to the ballot box and vote in favor of the constitution to please the Lord! Give your voice, which is a trust, to those who call for the application of Sharia! Boycott the referendum as it lacks any Islamic identity! Those who boycott the referendum are sinners! Those who approve the Constitution are blessed by God!

Such calls and others spread with each electoral event in Egypt and the use of these calls and slogans is not limited to religious parties, but also civil ones that are either affiliated to the ruling government or the opposition. Muslims, Christians and secularists are all involved in the use of religion to gain political achievements, especially in a society where illiteracy rates exceeds 26%, according to a 2012 report issued by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.

The recent political conflict over the constitutional referendum scheduled between  January 14 – 15 has intensified despite the fact that the Political Rights Law provides for imprisonment of all those who use force, violence or religious slogans in the elections, as it potentially incites sectarianism and threatens national unity. The conflict is between the current regime, its allied political parties and the religious forces (represented by Al-Azhar, the Church and the Salafist Nour Party) on one hand and the opposition religious parties in the National Alliance to Support the Legitimacy (represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist Group and others) on the other.

Those who approve the Constitution are blessed by God

After June 30, the forces allied with the new regime have set out early calls for Egyptians to vote and approve the Constitution in order to accomplish the road map drawn by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. These forces have not waited for the final version of the Constitution to convince the audience, but rather began during the meetings of the fifty-member committee to formulate the constitutional articles. Well-established religious institutions have explicitly called to support the new Constitution. on December 7, Shawki Allam, Mufti of the Republic, praised the new Constitution and stressed that it has maintained what he called the articles of religious identity and told the people to approve it. In addition, Sheikh Al-Azhar called on the Egyptian people not to boycott the Constitution and to go down to the polling stations to get rid of the state of polarization. Sheikh Ali Juma, former Mufti of Egypt, has also urged the Egyptian people to approve the Constitution stressing that everyone who approves it will be blessed by God.

The Egyptian Church has also openly declared that it would not interfere in politics or guide the Copts in voting in the referendum about whether to accept or reject the Constitution. The church, however, announced that it is completely satisfied with the amendments made to the Constitution of 2012 and with the final Constitution of 2013 as it was the best Constitution in the Egyptian history, which many perceived as a clear call to Christians to approve it.

Those who approve the Constitution are sinners

Religious parties participating in the National Alliance to Support the Legitimacy, namely the Construction and Development party—the political arm of the Islamic Group, Asala, Hadara, Wasat, Salafist Front and, of course, the Freedom and Justice Party as well as the Muslim Brotherhood— have all announced their rejection of the 2013 Constitution and the boycott of the referendum. They have called on their supporters in the name of religion to not go to the polls and have condemned everyone involved in the re-writing because they believe it missed what they describe as “identity articles” that existed in the 2012 Constitution and was produced by an authority that allegedly shed the blood of thousands of Egyptians.

Azza Jerf, a leading figure in the Freedom and Justice Party and a former MP, said in press statements that those who participate in the Constitution referendum are sinners and are responsible for the blood of thousands of Egyptians who have died since the break-up of the Rabea sit-in, in addition to being participants in the injustice committed against thousands of detainees from the best people of Egypt and thousands of injured, orphans and bereaved and in the theft of the nation.

Senior Salafist sheikhs including Abu Ishaq Hwaini and Mustafa Adawi have issued fatwas to boycott the referendum on the 2013 Constitution on the pretext that it violates Islamic law. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafist Front and the forces allied with them have initiated a broad campaign to boycott the referendum. Posters calling for people to boycott the referendum have spread throughout numerous Egyptian streets and the Muslim Brotherhood has exploited the student movement, which opposes the current ruling regime in their mobilization scheme against the referendum.

All exploit religion

Rida Denbouki, human rights activist and Head of the Sanhoori Center for Rights and Freedoms, believes that the overlap between religion and politics in Egyptian life is a very complex issue. Everyone is keen to be the son of society and everyone, without exception, depends on religion and religious slogans in life especially in elections, whether Islamist or otherwise. “Even secular factions in Egypt insist on the use of religion. The events of the past years have proven this. For example, they use verses of the Koran such as (victory comes from Allah alone) and (I only desire reform as far as I can. There is no power in me, save through Allah),” he said.

Denbouki provided another example of the use of religious slogans. He said the secular Wafd Party uses the logo of the Crescent with the Cross, which are both religious slogans. “The Egyptian church has played a major role in Egyptian political life over the past decades as a result of the growing sense of persecution and injustice among Copts,” he explained.

Illiteracy is a major factor

Political Researcher Mohammad Abdullatif said in a society where a third of the population is illiterate, the use of emotions is a prevailing mental discourse and logic. Emotional discourse is not limited to politics, but it extends to the media, cinema, theater, television, literature and all aspects of life since it is the most influential factor on the receiver.

“The use of religious discourse and directing people by religious emotion comes in first place in the poor communities where illiteracy spread, whether in the Egyptian society or all Arab and third world societies, while utilitarian discourse spreads in developed societies, especially among politicians who build their popularity upon utilitarian programs depending on mental persuasion,” Abdullatif added.

This emotional religious discourse, he underlined, is used by all those who operate the political field in Egypt, whether they are in power or are affiliated to the opposition including religious, leftist and liberal parties. All use this discourse in varying degrees and in different methods as everyone knows that it is the easiest way to reach their goals. “If we consider the religious parties and groups which have been practicing politics for decades, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist group, or are new to the field, such as Nour Party and Asala Party, we will find a wide use of emotional and religious discourse to get the votes of the public with the aim of quick access to power. Even if interests of these parties and alliances vary, we will find a prominent religious discourse in their conflicts,” he said.

Furthermore, Abdullatif believes that liberal and leftist parties also exploit religion in their political discourse, whether directly or indirectly. “All political speeches and campaigns always start with verses from the Koran and texts from the Bible and religious symbols are widely used in political conferences, such as having a priest next to the Sheikh of Al-Azhar as happened recently during several political conferences. Sheikh Ali Gomaa, former Mufti of Egypt, called on citizens to take the referendum and approve the Constitution claiming that God would bless everyone who votes. Then, one of the priests entered to the stage amidst the applause of the audience to stand next to Sheikh Ali Gomaa in the presence of political left-wing and liberal leaders,” he stressed.

Among the forces that support, oppose or boycott the Constitution, the Egyptian people remain confused and wondering about which route actually carries God’s blessing, where both sides – the opposition and the regime with its allies – exploit religion to lead the people to the polls rather than persuade them through reason and logic using political programs and life benefits.