Preacher alarms many Egyptians with calls for Islamist vice police

January 9, 2013

(A general view of mosques and the great pyramids before sunset in Cairo, December 5, 2012. Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Many Egyptian viewers were horrified when preacher Hisham el-Ashry recently popped up on primetime television to say women must cover up for their own protection and advocated the introduction of religious police.

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 Nahar TV 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 United States 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 new-found political freedom is at risk of being exploited by hard-line Islamists bent on imposing their values on a society that has been traditionally moderate.

Watching a recent television interview in which Ashry expounded his ideas on women and sharia law, members of one family jumped to their feet in outrage.

“Look at this crazy man! Where do you think we live! In a jungle? Or are all men like you, animals, unable to control their instincts?” Mona Ahmed, 65, shouted at the television screen in her living room.

Read the full story by Yasmine Saleh and Shaimaa Fayed here.
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