Amr Shalakany - "We Still Have Time"

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Nov 03, 2013
by Oscar Tollast
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Amr Shalakany - "We Still Have Time"

Law professor left encouraged by MENA discussions Amr Shalakany presenting at Saturday's session on international and regional legal frameworks

Dr Amr Shalakany, associate professor of law at the American University in Cairo (AUC), believes there is reason for new optimism in the Middle East and North Africa.

The founding director of the L.L.M degree program attended Salzburg Global for its session, ‘Getting Transition Right: A rights-based approach towards Diversity and Inclusivity’.

Whilst the view has been shared that the region has a long way ahead towards diversity and inclusivity, Dr Shalakany has been left feeling encouraged by discussions.

“It’s very discouraging when you experience it on your own, in your own country, almost three years into the revolution that nothing has changed.

“But in the larger group it was strangely encouraging, the sense that we still have time.

“The group of people here is great and they’re all pretty young. So, the sense is of energy and dynamism that is yet to come.”

Participants at the session have split up into country specific working groups. Dr Shalakany advised Fellows to stick to the main topic at hand.

“The legal framework to allow inclusion and diversity is a legal framework that’s pretty wide. It’s not just about constitutional articles.

“It’s also about less interesting or sexy fields of law, and questions of policy.”

Dr Shalakany teaches comparative law, Islamic law, legal history, media, and art law.

He previously served as Shimzu visiting professor at the London School of Economics, Agha Khan distinguished visiting professor of Islamic humanities at Brown University, and Jeremiah Smith junior visiting professor at Harvard Law School.

During one of the sessions, a participant raised the argument whether a culture of respect for human rights should be prioritized ahead of rights implemented through law.

Dr Shalakany said: “I would argue if we just have implementation and observation of the laws that we have on the books, then that’s a fair enough start for me. Then whether a culture grows out of it or not, that’s debatable.

“That’s the only thing that one can socially engineer or have some way of accounting for is the enforcement of law.”

In a presentation given on Saturday, Dr Shalakany spoke about how international human rights intersected with Sharia law and the relationship between them.

He said: “The typical reaction is one of antagonism, one of tension, [and] one of conflict.

“What you’d argue for under the rubric of international law would be argued against as un-Islamic. That’s the typical argument back and forth that would happen.”

Dr Shalakany said he aimed to approach the subject matter in a different manner in order to provide new thinking.

“The hope was to question the very meaning of Islamic law or Islam itself to begin with, and the environment today is very amenable to that.

“Three years into the revolution we’ve had at least in Egypt a government that was Islamic and was very much disliked specifically because it put itself in a situation where it was claiming to be far more Islamic than the rest of the population.”

Attending Salzburg Global for the first time, Dr Shalakany revealed he was stepping out of his usual comfort zone.

“I typically go to academic conferences and am used to that format of presenting and discussing.

“The idea of being out of Egypt with colleagues who are working as activists in various fields and [are] also from other Arab countries [such as] Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen is incredibly appealing.”

Another point of discussion during the session revolved around the future significance of Sharia law, when held against international pieces of legislation.

Dr Shalakany told Salzburg Global that he expects little to change in Egypt with that issue in mind.

“I think the article that we’re going to have in the constitution is going to be the same article that we’ve had before for over 30 years.

“The general principles of Sharia are the primary source of legislation, and then there’s a settled interpretation of that from the Supreme Constitutional Court and there’s no reason to think that they are going to change it.”