The assassination of prominent Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid sent ripples across Egypt. That owes partly to the similar political circumstances in both countries, where Islamists are the ruling majority, but also because the assassination coincided with the issuance of a fatwa by an Al-Azhar cleric sanctioning the killing of National Salvation Front members who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood regime. Prominent among these are Constitution Party leader Mohamed ElBaradei, Popular Current Party head Hamdeen Sabahi and National Congress Party head Amr Moussa.
The cleric who issued the fatwa was Mahmoud Shaaban, who received a doctorate degree from the Faculty of Arabic and Islamic Studies. One of the most famous and controversial television preachers, he appears on the Salafist Al-Hafez satellite channel, which has become very popular over the past year. Shaaban uses frequent obscenities when he speaks about opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.
Shaaban said in his fatwa that “what many do not know is that the National Salvation Front and its leadership, which is obviously only seeking power, must be killed according to the law of God.” He cited a hadith which says, “If a man takes an oath of allegiance to a leader, and puts his hand on his hand and does it with the sincerity of his heart, he should obey him as much as possible. If another man comes and contests him, then behead the other one.” He asked the opinion of senior scholars in Al-Azhar about Morsi’s opponents. This appeared to incite killing opponents of the regime.
All parties dissociated themselves from Shaaban’s fatwa. The presidency issued a statement saying that “the promotion and instigation of political violence by some is foreign to Egypt, as is sanctioning killing because of political differences by others who claim to speak in the name of religion. This is terrorism.” The statement added that the presidency “stresses its absolute rejection of hate speech falsely cloaked by religion.”
Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil said that he is examining ways to bring legal action against anyone who issues or promotes calls for fatwas that incite violence. He condemned “extremist” fatwas.
Members of the Islamic Studies Academy met yesterday [Feb. 7] with Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, who issued a statement rejecting the fatwa. He stressed his rejection of what he described as the false and incorrect understanding and use of religious texts. The academy warned that such views open the doors to sedition, chaos, killing and bloodshed. He stated that both killers and those who incite them are accomplices in sin and punishment, in this world and the afterworld. The Islamic Studies Academy urged Egyptians not to listen to such aberrant views, which are rejected by reason.
The al-Nour Party also denounced the fatwa. The party’s spokesperson, Nader Bakkar, demanded that Al-Azhar take a decisive stand against the issuer of the fatwa.
The interior ministry deemed the fatwa a public threat. Its spokesman said yesterday that Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim had ordered security chiefs to intensify patrols and provide 24-hour surveillance around the houses of opposition political figures ElBaradei and Sabahi.
ElBaradei tweeted, “When clerics issue a fatwa sanctioning killing in the name of religion and are not arrested, then bid farewell to the regime and its state.” He added, “How many crimes are being committed in the name of Islam?”
Sabahi chose to respond to the fatwa by participating in demonstrations scheduled to start today against the Brotherhood's rule, dubbed by the organizers as the “Friday of Dignity.”
For her part, Samar Foda — the daughter of prominent thinker Faraj Foda, who was assassinated in 1992 by Islamic groups at the height of takfiri activity — warned ElBaradei and Sabahi of assassination after the fatwa was issued. She wrote on Facebook: “ElBaradei and Hamdeen: They killed my father after sanctioning his blood through a fatwa. Do not underestimate what is happening and what they are saying. They are sick. They believe that they are protecting Islam.”
Ironically, Abboud al-Zumar — the leader in the Gamaa Islamiya and a former army officer implicated in the murder of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat — rejected the fatwa, saying that “it is not acceptable to deal with political opponents with arms. This is unacceptable. Whoever resorts to assassination is using weak pretense.”
Shaaban, the issuer of the “deadly fatwa,” did not deny his statements. However, he added that he did not declare the National Salvation Front as infidels, but only called on the judiciary and ruler to apply the Prophet’s hadith. He expressed his willingness to appear before the public prosecutor for investigation. The public prosecutor quickly issued a decision referring a notice submitted by a lawyer to the Supreme State Security Prosecution that accused Shaaban of inciting the killing of opposition figures, which is a routine procedure usually taken by the Attorney General for all notices.
It is the second time a cleric from the Al-Hafez satellite channel has been referred to court. Abdullah Badr was sentenced to one year in prison and a 20,000 pound [$3,000] fine on charges of slandering the artist Elham Shahin. In the same case, a court ordered the suspension of the channel for 30 days. However, the TV owners appealed the decision and were able to continue broadcasting.