A new bill will give Egyptian dictator, Abdel Fattah el Sisi, the right to appoint Egypt’s top Muslim jurist.
Egyptian lawmakers are moving to loosen the autonomy of Egypt’s top Islamic institution, an effort which if successful will strengthen Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi’s grip on the country.
The move will put Al Azhar university’s Dar al Ifta body, which issues religious opinions, under the control of the Egyptian regime.
Under the changes, Sisi will have authority to appoint the lead mufti, the UK-based Middle East Eye (MEE) reported.
The institution will also enjoy greater financial independence and the mufti will have ministerial-level privileges.
Dar al Ifta is currently one of the most powerful religious bodies within the Egyptian states through its work providing consultancy for Egyptian ministers and serving as an arbiter for Islamic issues whether they involve government or ordinary people.
One source quoted by MEE said the move would be a “blatant violation of the autonomy of al-Azhar” and lead to the Dar al Ifta becoming a “parallel” institution to the university proper.
The university will no longer be able to exert its influence on religious decisions should the Dar al Ifta be detached from it.
Sisi, who came to power in a military coup against Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president, the late Mohamed Morsi, in 2013, has sought to control religious expression that does not conform with the state’s vision.
The 1,200-year-old institution of Al Azhar, is one of the Islam world’s oldest seats of learning and the most widely respected, drawing students from all around the world.
Given its influence in determining religious orthodoxy for Muslims within Egypt and beyond, successive Egyptian autocrats have sought to curb its influence and wield it for their own ends.
A tradition started under Ottoman rule, ensured scholars at the university would determine its own administration, as well as choose their own grand sheikh. The new law proposed by Egyptian lawmakers means that jurists at the university no longer have the ultimate say and are instead secondary to political actors.
As its independence has waned, scholars who are close to the military dictatorships that have ruled Egypt since 1952, have found themselves in higher positions than those who have opposed autocratic politicians.
This was evidenced in 2013 during the Rabaa massacre of Morsi’s supporters by the Sisi regime, in which senior Egyptian religious officials, such as its former mufti, Ali Gomaa, enthusiastically supported the blood bath.
“Shoot them in the heart … Blessed are those who kill them, and those who are killed by them . . . We must cleanse our Egypt from these riffraff … They shame us … They stink.” Gomaa was reported to have said.