Egypt clerics challenge Islamic Brotherhood


THE “ARAB Spring” has prompted the Sunni Muslim world’s most venerable institution of religious learning to issue a declaration of independence from the Egyptian government and to state it supports demands raised by uprisings in the Arab world.

An 11-article document written by clerics and learned laymen was revealed in a televised address by the grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University and the Sunni community’s most senior cleric, Ahmad el-Tayeb.

While extending support to the “civil” state incorporating Islamic principles and relying on Islamic jurisprudence, he said: “Islam has never, throughout its history, experienced such a thing as a religious or theocratic state.” Such states had generally been autocratic and inflicted suffering on humanity, he said.

The document and Sheikh Tayeb’s comments amount a to major challenge to the Muslim Brotherhood and other religious parties that seek to turn Egypt into an “Islamic state” and who have reservations about equal rights for Coptic Christians and women. Known as one of the most moderate and progressive Sunni clerics in Egypt, Sheikh Tayeb has long been a critic of the conservative brotherhood.

In the document, the clerics say the 1,000-year-old university supports universal democratic rights and free and fair elections, and recognises a country’s citizens as the sole and legitimate source of legislation. Sheikh Tayeb said, “We need a serious commitment to universal human rights, the rights of women and children.” Minorities should enjoy full citizenship rights, he added. He urged Egypt to strive for social justice, and insisted that decent education and healthcare were rights that all citizens must enjoy.

The document’s authors support freedom of expression in the arts and literature within the ambit of Islamic philosophy and morality. They call for scientific investigation and efforts to eliminate illiteracy and to secure economic development.

Egypt must retrieve its prominent role in Arab, Muslim and African affairs and maintain its sovereignty of decision-making and its support for the Palestinian cause, the document says.

The cleric demanded independence from the state for Al-Azhar University itself, which has throughout its history been used by rulers to promote their agendas among the faithful. He also said that Al-Azhar’s supreme clerical committee – not the Egyptian government – should elect the grand sheikh at the university.

Separately, Egypt’s “Constitution First” campaign is threatening to organise a million-person march on July 8th if the ruling military council fails to agree that a new constitution should be drafted ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections. Campaigners are circulating a petition calling for the establishment of a constitutional commission including representatives of all social and political groups. Three million people have signed the petition, which will be submitted to the generals once it has 15 million signatures.

Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei led a Facebook poll of presidential candidates conducted by Egypt’s military council.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has distanced himself from the generals by backing postponement of parliamentary elections scheduled for September.