Younes Makhioun, chairman of the Salafi Al-Nour Party, accused newly appointed Culture Minister Gaber Asfour of contradicting the constitution.
In a statement released on Saturday, Makhioun criticised Asfour for saying he would have allowed the controversial American movie Noah to screen had he been in post when the decision was made. The movie addresses the life of the Prophet Noah, who is recognised by both Muslims and Christians.
Egypt is one of the Muslim countries which banned the movie in March on religious grounds, alongside Indonesia, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates.
Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Islamic institution, demanded that the movie be banned for violating Islamic principles. Al-Azhar argues that Islam bans the visual depiction of prophets.
In an interview with private-owned satellite channel Sada Al-Balad, Asfour criticised Al-Azhar’s stance on the movie, denying that the movie violates Islamic principles. He added that artistic pieces should not be judged by Al-Azhar.
“If I were culture minister then, I would not have hesitated on allowing the movie to screen,” Asfour said. “It is not Al-Azhar which rules; the constitution does.”
Makhioun, in response to Asfour, cited Article 7 of the constitution. The article refers to Al-Azhar as “the main reference in religious sciences and Islamic affairs”. Makhioun said that this gives Al-Azhar autonomy over anything which concerns Islam, be it in arts or elsewhere.
“Is the minister not aware that the constitution states that Islam is the state’s [official] religion and that the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation?” Makhioun said in his statement, quoting Article 2 of the constitution. He also cited Article 227, which stresses on the interconnectedness of all constitutional articles.
During the television interview, Asfour delivered a message to Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb, saying that there is no religious basis for the ban of the movie.
“How can the youth leadership and others be required to respect Al-Azhar, the institution which represents median Islamic speech, when a minister degrades… and underestimates the institution?” Makhioun said.
The Egyptian Creativity Front had condemned Al-Azhrar’s demand to ban the movie and called for an “intellectual debate” on the matter in March.
Asfour was the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Culture in 2004 when he allowed the screening of another controversial Hollywood movie, The Passion of the Christ. The movie depicted the life of Christ and the torture he faced before his believed crucifixion, as per the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Muslims do not believe in the crucifixion of Christ.
Asfour, a writer, poet and literary critic, was sworn in as Minister of Culture in Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s cabinet on Tuesday morning. He replaced Mohamed Saber Arab.