May 24, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Raising Cane Against the ‘Morality Police’
Posted on Jan 17, 2012
Yes, Egyptian women have proved to be the force behind much of the revolution. They have shown the world their true strength of character, so different from the West’s imagined submissive, silent, oppressed Arab female. Perhaps it is the women who will be the greatest protectors of the revolution’s hard-defended values.
In the roiling chaos of extreme disparate and imprecise visions and goals for Egypt’s future, the unpredictable nature of this transformation is the only sure thing.
Despite the cultural anomaly of men and women mixing freely in the square in close proximity, late at night, conversing, even touching—women unchaperoned by men—the people have not lost their attachment to Quranic Shariah law. Although a few women have reverted to their pre-2007, non-hijab, loose-haired style, the silent majority have tightened their hijabs, and more and more women cover up with the niqab. Of course the great majority of women, like women everywhere, exercise their feminine vanity, wearing adornments and makeup, caring about their attractiveness somehow, fixing their hair, dressing to please, either outwardly or underneath, and refusing to feel that everything that is pleasureful is evil.
The Facebook page of the so-called Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice says it will monitor the behavior of citizens to prevent anything not in compliance with Islamic doctrine and will enforce prayers at appointed times and the closing of shops when calls to prayer are heard. Gender segregation in public transportation and universities is also one of its goals, according to media reports.
The group first appeared on Facebook last month, where its official page was soon hacked before another one was launched to take its place.
According to the page, any “religiously committed” Muslim man between 25 and 40 with a high school diploma is invited to apply to join the group. Those accepted are promised a weekly salary of 500 Egyptian pounds and one meal per day, which is more than what 87 percent of Egyptians get now. Poor teenagers whom I know used to go to Tahrir Square for the free food and drinks that people were donating. Hungry allegiance is easy to obtain.
On the Internet, the committee once claimed it not only had the backing of members of Salafist Al-Nour’s leadership council, but that the Nour leadership had in fact provided its funding. Its Facebook page now says, “We are not directly affiliated with the Nour Party, but we are members of it, and we adopt the same frame of reference.”
The Nour Party, however, denies having any connection whatsoever with the group. Party officials have tried to control the actions of individual Salafi sheiks, like the mediatic Abdel Moneim el Shahat in conservative Alexandria, who has suggested covering the “obscene” figures on Egypt’s ancient monuments with wax.
Islamist parties have democratically been elected to an overwhelming majority of parliamentary seats in Egypt’s first post-Mubarak elections, and proved what we have known, that the silent majority in Egypt consists of fundamentalist Muslims who are comfortable with Shariah law. However, even Salafist fundamentalists are uneasy with the emergence of the self-appointed “morality police.”
Sunni sheiks and Egyptian former mufti Nasr Farid, who was once responsible for issuing religious edicts, or fatwas, based on Shariah law, agree, stating that these men were “usurping state authority and did not have the jurisdiction to impose their concept of religious law.”
Sheik Mohammed El Mahdi an imam at Cairo’s great Al-Azhar Mosque, declared that this fringe group had no legitimate or legal authority. In his Friday sermon Jan. 6 he made a special statement about the subject, stressing that “each individual is responsible for removing all that is evil within himself, and for his own virtues and merits in the eyes of Allah; every man must choose to be good, and we are not in need of such committees.”
Ignoring the rejection from Al-Azhar, the highest religious Sunni authority in the world, the committee said that the fact that millions of Egyptians voted for the Nour Party, giving it nearly 30 percent of parliament seats, justified the formation of a “morality police” to enforce Shariah law.
After an emergency meeting, Al-Azhar released a statement saying that for a thousand years it has been the only lawful authority on the Islamic religion in Egypt.
Al-Azhar Mosque and university has held a centrist position since its inception in the year 973 and is considered by most Sunni Muslims to be the greatest authority and most prestigious school of Islamic law. Its scholars are seen as the highest in the Muslim world, teaching Quranic sciences and traditions as well as all the modern fields of applied science. The last few centuries have notably opened the door to scholarly debate on interpretation of definitive texts in light of what the mosque sees as appropriate and in accordance with the requirements of the age. After Friday prayers ended, the sheiks, who had all continued in the same vein as Mohammed El Mahdi, were surrounded by worshipers amid a heavy security presence outside the mosque.
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