Many Egyptian viewers were horrified when preacher Hesham al-Ashry recently popped up on primetime television to say women must cover up for their own protection and advocated the introduction of religious police.The article goes on to show that Al Azhar University leaders were against Ashry's ideas, but the fact that Al Azhar is now comparatively moderate tells you much about how Egypt has moved towards Islamist extremism.
That an obscure preacher could get publicity for such views was seen as another example of the confused political scene in Egypt since the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak gave birth to a cacophony of feuding voices.
"I was once asked: If I came to power, would I let Christian women remain unveiled? And I said: If they want to get raped on the streets, then they can," Ashry told Al-Nahar TV channel last week.
Introducing a Saudi-style anti-vice police force to enforce Islamic law was "not a bad thing," he said, and added: "In order for Egypt to become fully Islamic, alcohol must be banned and all women must be covered."
Few take Ashry, who admits he flew to the US dreaming of a Western lifestyle and romance but instead found truth in preaching, seriously. But his views have stirred emotions.
With the economic downturn and rising food prices putting pressure on the government, moderate Muslims, Christians and others worry their newfound political freedom is at risk of being exploited by hardline Islamists bent on imposing their values on a society that has been traditionally moderate.
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