Egypt is in turmoil today after a hard-line Muslim cleric on an Egyptian TV station justified sexual assaults against women protesters. Other ultra-conservatives issued fatwas to kill opposition leaders.
Cleric Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah on his TV show claimed that attacking women was not a "red line" as some opposition members claim. He asked rhetorically: “Does that apply to these naked women? Nine out of 10 of them are Crusaders (Christians) and the rest are ... widows with no one to rein them in to ensure they remain modest." The cleric continued with a classic blame the victim rant:“They are going there to get raped ....these are devils named women ... They speak with no femininity, no morals, no fear ... Learn from Muslim women, be Muslims.”
Views such as this go a long way to explain the violent attacks against women protesters recently. At protests on January 25 to mark the two-year-anniversary of the revolution, at least 19 women were attacked. One had to have surgery after her genitals had been sliced with a knife. Women of all ages have been attacked on Tahrir square. The appended video gives more detail.
While the President Morsi's office and the prime minister have denounced the edicts and one cleric is under investigation, both aides to Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood officials have depicted protesters as thugs and criminals and accused opposition politicians as fueling the violence in an attempt to overthrow Morsi. Many of the more conservative Salafists have gone further still.
Hard-line clerics say that under Islamic law, those who try to overthrow the ruler or cause chaos should face such punishments as death or amputation of limbs. These statements alarmed the opposition, especially after the recent killing of a secular opposition figure in Tunisia, Chokri Belaid.
The National Salvation Front said that Belaid's killing should sound danger alarms in Cairo and shows that terrorist groups are growing under the cloak of religion. They plot to eliminate the opposition morally and physically. The leader of the Front,Mohamed ElBaradei, complained that the government's silence on the clerical edicts gave the fundamentalists a licence to kill in the name of Islam. However since then Morsi's office issued a statement that rejects hate speech cloaked by religion and called for all leaders to stand together against unacceptable inciteful language. No doubt much opposition criticism of Morsi will probably fall under this rubric. The Prime Minister also criticized the edicts.
Security officials have also put ElBaradei's home and those of several other leaders under observation for their protection.Opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahy claimed death threats against him and other members of the National Salvation Front would not deter him or his supporters from continuing peaceful protests.
The edicts against the opposition leaders have been particularly virulent. On a recent talk show cleric Mahmoud Shaaban claimed that the leaders of the National Salvation Front were "setting Egyp on fire to gain power". He continued: “The verdict against them under God’s law is death." However, he added that the government not private citizens should carry out the verdict.
Another cleric, Wagdi Ghoneim, issued a video statement encouraging Morsi to crack down on this protesting around the presidential palace: “The verdict under Shariah for those who seek corruption on earth is to be fought, or crucified, or have their arms or legs cut off or be exiled from earth. Strike with an iron fist. Otherwise, the country will be lost at your hand and they’ll say it is your fault. They’ll say Islam doesn’t know how to rule and that it’s the Islamists who wrecked the country.” Ghoneim said that if Morsi refused to act then private citizens would:“We will kill the criminals, the thugs, the thieves and those who give them money and those who help them with words. No mercy with them."