Egypt’s new draft constitution gives a critical government role to the fundamentalist al-Azhar University, an Islamic center that was lavishly praised by President Barack Obama in his June 2009 “New Beginning” speech in Cairo.
Al-Azhar’s Islamic leadership will get to decide whether Egypt’s laws comply with Islam’s far-reaching “Shariah” laws about conduct, speech, lifestyle and religion, according to the draft constitution, which was hurriedly completed last week by a panel dominated by Islamists.
Back in 2009, Obama declared that Americans owe a debt to al-Azhar.
“It was Islam at places like al-Azhar that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment,” he claimed.
“For over a thousand years, al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning,” Obama said in the second sentence of his much-lauded 2009 speech.
Now, however, al-Azhar’s “role in the government of Egypt and its administration of Shariah spells the end of any remaining freedom in Egyptian society,” said Robert Spencer, an expert on Islam who predicted in 2009 that Egypt’s voters would elect Islamic fundamentalists.
“Al-Azhar is not ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ … [but] is the foremost exponent of Sunni orthodoxy,” throughout the Arab world, he told The Daily Caller.
That orthodoxy ensures that it can and will use its constitutional power to push for Islamic-style laws that mandate “second-class ‘dhimmi’ status for non-Muslims, institutionalized discrimination against women, and sharp restrictions on the freedom of speech, particularly in regard to Islam,” Spencer said.
Since 973, al-Azhar has trained Sunni imams, and its top leaders have issued so-called “fatwas.” They’re rules for behavior and speech, and are based on the Koran and the sayings of Islam’s primary prophet, Mohammad, who died nearly 1,400 years ago.
Fatwas are not laws, but Islam’s Shariah law assumes that civil law complies with the fatwas.
Al-Azhar’s role is established in several articles of the draft constitution.
Article 2 says that “Islam is the religion of the state… [and] the principles of Shariah are the main source of legislation.”