CAIRO: Representatives of political parties and politicians signed Wednesday Al-Azhar’s bill of rights during a meeting aimed at discussing Egypt’s future as the first anniversary of the Jan. 25 revolt approaches.
Following the meeting with youth, politicians, the premier and Pope Shenouda, Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb told reporters that in order to revive the spirit of Jan.25, Al-Azhar urges an end to military trials for civilians, the release of all political detainees, securing the rights of the victims of the Jan. 25 revolution, and eliminating oppressive policies and corruption.
The bill, announced by Al-Tayeb on Tuesday, upholds freedom of belief and expression weeks before the new parliament begins to take steps towards drafting a new constitution. Many see the move as part of Al-Azhar’s plan to restore its position as an authority on Islamic teachings as Islamist groups, including radical ones, sweep the political scene.
Political representatives including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, the hardline Salafi Al-Nour Party, Al Wafd as well as many other liberal parties signed the bill. Presidential hopefuls including Mohamed ElBaradei, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh, Mohamed Selim El-Awa, Hamdeen Sabahy and Amr Moussa also endorsed it, even though some of them didn’t attend the meeting.
“Consensus in these types of meetings will facilitate drafting the constitution,” said Abol Fotoh.
Signatories say that backing the bill doesn’t mean that it is legally binding, but it does hold them morally responsible since it’s backed by Al-Azhar scholars.
"This document has a moral strength because it has the backing of Al-Azhar scholars, the weight of Al-Azhar institute and the critical role of intellectuals," said Nabil Abdel-Fattah, a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "The aim is to put forward a moderate Islamic vision" in the face of the rising power of the radical Salafi interpretation of Islam.
“Those [political parties] who signed this bill are the ones who represent the people in the parliament, so I expect them to be committed to what they signed,” said Mohamed Abol Ghar, head of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic party.
Hassan El-Shafei, El-Tayeb’s consultant, refused to comment on the absence of the ruling military council from the meeting. However he said that with the presence and agreement of political powers the document has been passed on to authorities for consideration while drafting the constitution.
“We do not want Egypt to be an Islamists state, but we also do not want Egypt to be a non Islamic state; we want Egypt as a modern democratic state that is based on Islamic values,” El-Shafei told reporters.
The document was drafted over the past three months in consultation with Islamic and Christian thinkers, El-Shafei previously said.
However, Abdel-Fattah, who was part of the discussion over the bill of rights, criticized some of the wording in the document which appeared designed to allay the fears of conservative Islamists.
The document said freedom of the arts must not "contradict religious sentiments and established social mores."
Abdel-Fattah said these qualifications were "a source of weakness and undermine the principles of the document by subjecting art to censorship from religious leaders or even common people." During Mubarak’s rule, Al-Azhar blacklisted a number of novels and other books because of what it considered contempt of religion.
During the meeting, El-Tayeb initiated a discussion on how Egyptians should celebrate the Jan. 25 anniversary and shared a vision of how to maximize the national dialogue to include youth groups in order to avoid disputes.
Sayed El-Badawy head of Al-Wafd party said there is a roadmap that Egypt’s politicians are following, which starts as the parliament convenes on Jan. 23 and selects the constituent assembly that will draft the new constitution.
Application for the presidential elections will take place from April 15-20, and the presidential elections will take on June 20 with runoffs set for June 27.
“This is what we agreed with SCAF about,” El-Badawy said.
However, leader of the April 6 Youth Movement Ahmed Maher who was also present in the meeting, said despite’s El-Badawi roadmap which has not been publicized, the movement along with other youth groups will be present on Jan.25 to ask for a speedy handover of power to the elected parliament speaker.
“We respect what Al-Azhar is doing and we find it necessary but that should not deprive us from protesting on Jan.25,” Maher told reporters.
El-Tayeb stressed the need to continue building the democratic foundations of the state in order to hand over power to civilians without delay and to allow the Egyptian army to return to its national role which is to protect the borders.
The head of the oldest seat of Sunni learning also said that Egypt must restore its position as the regional leader without any international pressure. –Additional reporting by AP.