After a lengthy debate that began on Sunday, a law regulating the issuance of sukuk, or Islamic bonds, was finally approved by the Shura Council – Egypt's upper house of parliament – on Tuesday.
The final version of the 33-article law was passed on Tuesday after several hours of debate. It faced strong objections from council members belonging to the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party, who insisted that "the law first be referred to Al-Azhar to be revised by its Council of Grand Clerics, in accordance with Articles 2 and 219 of the new constitution."
Article 2 of Egypt's new constitution states that Islamic sharia (law) is the principal source of legislation in Egypt, while Article 219 defines some of the parameters of sharia.
The request, however, was rejected by the majority of deputies, including those belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
Secular members of the council also rallied behind the law, rejecting the suggestion that it be revised by Al-Azhar's clerics. According to independent MP Tharwat Nafie, "it will be a dangerous precedent to grant religious clerics the right to give their final say on laws."
"This will be the beginning of the scenario of applying Iran's welayet el-faqih (the authority of Islamic legal scholars) in Egypt," said Nafie, adding that "Articles 2 and 219 of the constitution do not mean that Al-Azhar clerics exercise a final say over legislation."
By contrast, the Nour deputies insisted that the articles state that "certain legislations have to be revised by Al-Azhar's grand clerics, to see if they comply with Islamic sharia or not."
When chairman of Shura Council Ahmed Fahmi put the dispute to a vote, a majority of members rejected the proposal to give Al-Azhar clerics a say on the law before it is finally endorsed by the council.
Nasr Farid Wassel, a former grand mufti of Egypt and an Al-Azhar cleric who was appointed to the Shura Council by President Mohamed Morsi, commented, "there is no need to refer the law to Al-Azhar because it does not include a single article that violates Islamic sharia."
The law, the first of its kind in Egypt, regulates the issuance of bonds as a financial instrument that could be used to finance certain projects. The law prohibits the selling or mortgaging of state assets.
On Tuesday, the Shura Council reviewed Articles 23 to 33, with most of them focusing on penalties. Offenders of the law's articles could face one year in prison or a fine of between LE50,000 and LE1 million.