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Human Rights and Islam: Constitutional Debates in Egypt and Tunisia

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Zora Hesová, Human Rights and Islam: Constitutional Debates in Egypt and Tunisia, published in: Petr Drulák, Š. Moravcová (eds.) (2013): Non-Western Reflection on Politics, Peter Lang

For a long time, attitudes towards politics in the Arab world were covered up by a lack of freedom of expression, distorted by post-colonial authoritarianisms and held captive by the struggle between authoritarianism and Islamist grassroot opposition. It was hard to avoid the preliminary conclusion of Islamic exceptionalism, that is, a different conception of political authority in Islam.
It is commonly accepted that the political outlook of Islamists has limitations concerning the universality of citizen and human rights. Until the uprisings of the Arab Spring, the debates on the political particularism of Muslim societies were largely based on limited empirical material from authoritarian contexts and thus remained of limited interest.

The recent political processes that unfold in the wake of the popular Arab uprisings help those debates to evolve. The political change in Northern Africa made the question whether Islam is compatible with democracy obsolete and posed a more pertinent question: whether Islamism is. It also made Islamism more palpable as a subject of inquiry. Since the electoral victories of the Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the Tunisian Nahda in 2011, Islamists are directly involved in electoral politics and moreover, in the drafting of constitutions.

Will political participation force Islamists to evolve towards a democratic political standard like that which is generally accepted in the West, or does the specific ideological background of Islamism give them a radically different attitude towards politics? Do Islamists have an original view of politics that is incompatible with or serve as an alternative to a modern democratic system?

Observations from those processes allow for the drawing of the first conclusions about the Islamist conception of democratic politics in relation to both political ideology and political practice.
The following chapter will outline (I) the paradoxical background of democratisation in Tunisia and Egypt, and (II) observations from the constitutional processes in Egypt and Tunisia.

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