That far-reaching claim is elaborated in article 219, which says “the principles of Shariah include general evidence and foundations, rules and jurisprudence as well as sources accepted by doctrines of Sunni Islam and the majority of Muslim scholars.”
Though the old constitution also declared the principles of Shariah as the basis of law, the new constitution establishes al-Azhar as the effective courthouse for judging legislation’s compliance with Shariah.
“Al-Azhar … takes the task of preaching [Sunni-style] Islam in Egypt and in the whole world [and] scholars of al-Azhar should be consulted in all matters related to Shariah,” says the draft.
One area where al-Azhar will likely play a role is in deciding the extent of free speech.
“Insulting prophets and messengers is forbidden,” according to article 44 of the constitution, ensuring the government will have to decide if criticism of laws that implement Islam’s Shariah — all of which is based on Islamic texts — should be treated as an insult of Islam’s primary prophet, Muhammad.
Al-Azhar’s role is not spelled out in detail, so its Islamic judgments can be ignored by a hostile legislature or judiciary.
But Egypt’s politics are now dominated by Islamists who regard al-Azhar as the leading source of Islamic law, or Shariah. Also, Islamic theocracies — such as Saudi Arabia’s — thoroughly blend Islam and government, giving religious figures great influence over how laws are drafted and implemented.
The draft constitution is expected to win quick national approval in a referendum unless it is stopped by Egypt’s largely secular Supreme Court. However, the court’s work was paralyzed Dec. 2 by a large mob of Islamists who blocked access to courthouse.
The aggressiveness of the Islamists’ mob seems to echo some of the aggressiveness of the Islamic doctrine taught at al-Azhar, say critics.
In April 2002, for example, al-Azhar’s chief imam endorsed the murder of Israeli civilians by suicide-killers, Andrew Bostom, author of the 2012 book, “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History,” told TheDC.
Obama spent several childhood years in Indonesia, home to a less aggressive brand of Islam, and may not have known of al-Azhar’s history when he praised it in his 2009 speech.
“I have come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” he said. “America and Islam are not exclusive… they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings,” he said.