Azhar rallies Islamists and liberals behind 'democratic' vision for Egypt
Ahram Online, Thursday 12 Jan 2012
Major religious and political leaders sign on to Al-Azhar statement that calls for upholding spirit of January 25 revolution through a civilian government based on equal rights for all citizens

The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayebhosted a meeting devoted to “regaining the spirit of the revolution and completing its goals” on Wednesday, attended by sixty major political and religious figures.

Conference attendees included Coptic ChristianPope Shenouda III; Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie; Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri; potential presidential nominees Amr Moussa and Mohamed Selim El-Awa; leaders of theEgyptian Social Democratic Party, the liberal Wafd Party,the Adl Party, and the Free Egyptians party; Salafist preacher Mohamed Hassan; the Islamist Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya’s Essam Derbala; and a Sufi representative.

Following the meeting, El-Tayeb released a statement – endorsed by all attendees – confirming the institution’s commitment to a democratic society with equal social, religious and political rights for all citizens. The statement included 12 main points intended to guide Egypt’s political trajectory on the eve of the revolution’s first anniversary.

Among other things, the statement called for:

- All parties to respect the parliamentary election results;

- A swift handover of power from the military to an elected civilian authority, and for the military to return to its natural role of defending the country’s borders;

- A halt to the practice of trying civilians in military courts;

- An end to all repressive measures by the government against citizens;

- The speedy prosecution of former regime figures;

- Full compensation for the families of slain protesters;

- An independent Egyptian foreign policy and an end to dependency on foreign powers.

Following the meeting, various political figures commented on the event.

Former Arab League chief Amr Moussa said the declaration showed that Al-Azhar was on its way to regaining its leading role among Muslims on an international level.

Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said personal freedoms must be respected under any new constitution.

El-Sayed El-Badawi, head of the liberal Wafd Party, said liberal parties and movements were not worried by the Islamist majority in Egypt’s incoming parliament “because this is the democratic will of the people.” He went on to assert that Islam guaranteed freedoms of both expression and belief.

Furthermore, Mohamed Abul-Ghar, head of the Social Democratic Party, called for a democratic society based on respect for personal freedoms. He also urged political forces to find common ground to build the nation.

Al-Azhar had previously issued a document in July 2011 outlining its support for the establishment of a civil – non-religious – state. While on Tuesday, the grand sheikh issued a statement reiterating Al-Azhar’s stand on freedom of expression in both the political and cultural arenas.