(Abd Elrahman Elbar (L) and Saeed Abd Elazeem (2nd L), members of the committee drafting Egypt’s new constitution, speak at the Shura Council in Cairo September 11, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

A proposal by ultraconservative Salafis to give Egypt’s main Islamic institution the final say on whether the law of the land adheres to Islamic laws threatens to bring the already painfully slow process of drafting the new constitution to a grinding halt.

The proposal would give the revered Al-Azhar power similar to a supreme court by making it the arbiter of whether a law conforms with the principles of sharia, already cited in the constitution of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s “main source” of legislation.

Opponents say the move would only exacerbate Egypt’s volatile politics and make it harder to heal social tensions in a country where one tenth of the population is Christian.

The argument is also diverting energy away from other essential points of law – the balance of power between president and parliament, the influence of the army, defense of personal freedoms and an independent judiciary.