By Roger Baumann Islamopedia Online Published: January 13, 2012
The Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, announced at a news conference on Tuesday January 10, the “Basic Freedoms Document” that will serve as the basis for the new constitution. It includes articles that call for freedom of belief, opinion, expression, scientific research, and the arts. Tayyeb said at the news conference that, “All citizens have the right to freedom of belief and all citizens must take into account the feelings of others.” The document highlighted freedom of opinion and expression as “the mother of all freedoms,” and underscored that all media institutions along with all political, religious, and civil movements have this right.
The document was welcomed by many political and religious movements. Dr. Emad Abd al-Gafoor, the head of the Salafi Party, al-Nour said to al-Youm 7 news agency that the document has been agreed upon by the national forces, and this shows the common interest among these forces in the upcoming transitional period. Abd al-Gafoor stressed that the basic principles of freedom of thought and expression are important, but he added that these principles “must be consistent with those principles and provisions of Islamic law and with Article II of the constitution.”
The April 6 Youth Movement also supports the al-Azhar document. They consider it a positive step that will complement the demands and goals of the revolution. Ahmed Maher, the general coordinator of the movement, said “al-Azhar has always had a leading role in the unity of Egypt and has always been a big supporter of the unification of the revolutionary forces.” Maher added that the al-Azhar document “recaptured the spirit of Tahrir Square,” and encourages handing over power to an elected parliament and president.
Amr Moussa, a likely candidate for the presidency, said that al-Azhar’s document is a significant foundation for building national consensus and a step toward the achievement of the revolution’s goals. Moussa said “I have signed the al-Azhar document of the basis of fundamental freedoms and on the completion of the revolution’s goals.” Moussa added that the efforts of al-Azhar show that this institution is on the right path to restoring its central role in the society, which Egyptians have been lacking in recent years.
Mohammad Morsi, the leader of Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, commented on the al-Azhar document after he attended the meeting at al-Azhar to discuss the document: “There is no substitute for compatibility between the various political forces and parties in Egypt to cross into the security square.” Morsi said that the Egyptian street has been waiting for this change and it is the time to achieve the revolution’s goals.
The three churches that attended the meeting at al-Azhar have welcomed the document and described it as a reassuring step to all people about the future of freedoms in Egypt. Dr. Andrea Zaki, vice president of the Evangelical community said, “Al-Azhar, along with the Church and the political parties should put the document into practice, as ‘the document’ is the key to the modern state.” Dr. Zaki attended the meeting with Father Rafiq Greesh, the press advisor to the Catholic Church, who did not sign the document. He commented, “Even though the Catholic Church did not sign the document, we support it.” At the same time, the Coptic Orthodox Church expressed its satisfaction that Pope Shenouda III signed the document, pointing out that the Pope himself was keen to participate at meeting.
The meeting at al-Azhar to discuss and sign the document was attended by leaders and representatives of political parties, civil and government organizations, as well as religious and intellectual figures from al-Azhar.