Egypt's President Al Sisi calls for 'religious revolution' in Islam

In a major positive development, Egypt's President Al Sisi has made an impassioned plea for a "religious revolution" in Islam.  Speaking at Al Azhar University in Cairo, Sisi spoke directly to the religious establishment of Egypt: 

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world's inhabitants – that is 7 billion – so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema – Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I'm talking about now.

All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it it from a more enlightened perspective.

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move... because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost – and it is being lost by our own hands. 

Egypt has long been considered a leading nation in the Arab world, and for its president to call for a "religious revolution" is a historic event.  Al Sisi may represent a powerful undercurrent that has been growing in the Arab world that Islam needs a reformation to come to terms with the modern world.  As with the Soviet Union, many people have been thinking that and quietly talking about it, but they have been afraid to speak up.  Al Sisi's declaration to the religious authorities in Egypt is likely to start a much-needed open debate among Muslims around the world.

Egypt is also a close ally of Saudi Arabia, which is under the thumb of the Wahhabi establishment, one of the most radical sects in the Muslim world.  But Saudi Arabia cannot survive without Egypt, while Egypt receives desperately needed money and from the Saudis.  Sisi's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, made a breakthrough peace proposal to Israel forty years ago.  Sisi sounds like a man in the mold of Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, who kept the peace treaty with Israel after Sadat was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Predicting Middle Eastern politics is a murky business, but Al Sisi's frank questioning of the hidebound mindset of the religious establishment is unprecedented.  It is the most hopeful sign to come out of the Middle East for many a year. 

Source: Raymond Ibrahim, Middle East Forum, translation by Michelle Antaki.

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