When you look back at events in Egypt since Mubarak's resignation on 11 February, such as the arson attacks on churches and interreligious tensions and fighting, as well as the strong presence of the radical Islamic Salafist movement, do you think it is at all possible to establish a civil state in Egypt under these conditions?
May Telmissany: I am quite convinced that the civil character of the state is a necessity in Egypt. Shortly after Mubarak's resignation, I and some of my friends signed a declaration that was then published in a number of Arabic language newspapers calling for changes to Article 2 of the Egyptian constitutions (Article 2 states that Islam is the state religion and the principal source of legislation – ed.). We reacted so quickly because we were aware that the revolution in our country was the opportune moment to introduce a real transformation in Egypt. Only a civil state can guarantee such a transformation.
Some people are of the opinion that Egypt is already a civil state.
Telmissany: Yes, that is true. The problem, however, is that over the past three or four decades, the Islamist and Salafist currents have deepened. This growth presents a real threat to the future of Egypt. You have already mentioned the attacks on churches. Such attacks even took place before the revolution, for example, on 1 January this year in Alexandria.
At the time, I wrote an article entitled "The Scoundrels". The title refers to those individuals who committed horrible deeds as well as those that assisted them – and here I meant the silent majority. On account of such incidents, it is now of utmost importance to establish a civil state. At the moment, achieving this goal is the highest priority for the country.
Perhaps this reflects the views of left-wing activists or intellectuals. However, if we take the recent referendum on constitutional change in Egypt as an example, we see that the majority of Egyptians wish to stress the Islamic character of the state. The Muslim Brotherhood have said that changing Article 2 is a line not to be crossed. Others say that a civil state is a secular state, which in turn is an atheistic state – something that the majority of Egyptians reject. In this atmosphere, how do you plan on convincing Egyptians of the merits of your initiative?
Telmissany: Since the resignation of former President Mubarak, there have been many initiatives and actions to educate people on this issue and convince them of the advantages offered by a civil state.
Interview: Samir Grees, Translated from the German by John Bergeron
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