Sunday, April 10, 2011

What They Don't Tell You: Grand Mufti Claims Egypt's Islam Is Moderate (Sort of True, But For How Long?)

This is the other half of my Jerusalem Post column, reprinted here for your convenience

By Barry Rubin

Ali Gomaa, grand mufti of Egypt, writes in the New York Times:

"Egypt’s religious tradition is anchored in a moderate, tolerant view of Islam. We believe that Islamic law guarantees freedom of conscience and expression (within the bounds of common decency) and equal rights for women. And as head of Egypt’s agency of Islamic jurisprudence, I can assure you that the religious establishment is committed to the belief that government must be based on popular sovereignty."

Well, without getting into things like official clerics endorsing suicide bombings, here's what they don't tell you: Gomaa is a Mubarak appointee. He is regarded as a "parrot" for the fallen regime. The Muslim Brotherhood is already demanding his resignation.

Either he will quit, be forced out, or eventually be replaced by someone whose view of Islam is closer to that of the Brotherhood than his. And they don't believe Islamic law guarantees freedom of conscience and expression or equal rights for women.

And note that last phrase. He's saying, after supporting the Mubarak dictatorship for decades, that he now is supporting democracy. But if government is based on popular sovereignty doesn't that mean that the grand mufti should reflect prevailing views of Islam, which includes--according to reliable polls--overwhelming support for Koranic amputation and stoning punishments, killing anyone who converts to another religion, and other things that don't seem to moderate and tolerant?

The entire religious establishment in Egypt has been organized to fight Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that will probably control about one-third of the next parliament. And many Egyptians who don't like the Brotherhood will also see Gomaa as a remnant of the dictatorship they want to eliminate.

All mosques must be government approved; mosque leaders are controlled by the government; religious education is controlled by the government; the head of the al-Azhar mosque-university and the grand mufti (Gomaa) are appointed by the government; clerics are allotted television time and media space by the government.

Guess what? There's a new government and thus a "new" Islam.

Incidentally, the Brotherhood is now calling for a Saudi-style morality police with the powers of arrest. Is that the moderate, tolerant style Gomaa is advocating?

There are three points many are missing on the issue of Islam in Egypt:

1. Many who don't like the Brotherhood and will vote for other candidates want stricter social controls. Will the revolution ultimately bring Egyptians more freedom or less freedom

2. The Brotherhood will be a political power and other parties will make deals with it in which they give the Brotherhood what it wants on religious-related, social matters, and even foreign policy issues in exchange for Brotherhood support for their own priorities.

3. Beyond the Brotherhood there are (and will be more) radical violent Islamists who will carry out terrorism against uppity women, secularists, Christians, and Israeli or Western targets. Many of them were radicalized by being in the Brotherhood. With the Brotherhood legalized and growing there will be many more such people. The government will not crack down on their base-building and propaganda activities. How tough will it be on their terrorism?

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