Egypt president urges religious reforms to counter extremists
CAIRO - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power after a bloody crackdown on political Islamists, called on Wednesday for religious reforms to counter extremists in a speech to Muslim clerics.
Sisi has often warned that Islamist extremism presents a vital threat to the region, which he suggested lags in development and women's rights.
Not enough work, he added, has been done to confront the ideology of extremists who have roiled the region and are waging a bloody insurgency in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
"We are on a mission, during one of the most difficult periods not only for Egypt, but for Egypt and all Arab and Muslim states," Sisi said in the televised speech.
"Are we the most knowledgeable of nations?" he asked, referring to Muslim countries. "Are we the most tolerant nation? Are we the nation that most respects women?"
"If you found that the flaw was only in Egypt, we'd say OK. But I wonder, in how many of these 50 (Muslim) countries is this situation present?" he asked.
Early Islamic scholars, he said, confronted sayings and traditions wrongly attributed to the Muslim prophet Mohamed (PBUH). Islamic law is partly based on Mohamed's sayings that are deemed authentic.
"We can perform the same role, but regarding other things," Sisi said, without elaborating.
"I fear that we have not until now found the real path to confronting fanaticism and extremism: look at the map of extremism in the world," he added.
The former army chief was elected president in 2014 almost a year after he overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 following mass protests, a move initially met with Western opprobrium.
The retired field marshal has since presented himself as an authority on the dangers of Islamist extremism, and found acceptance among Western countries as an ally in the war against the Islamic State group.
Egypt is battling an affiliate of the group in the Sinai Peninsula which has killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen and brought down a Russian passenger plane with 224 people on board.
But Sisi's calls for reforms in Islamic thought have also met with skepticism by opponents who accuse his security services of extensive human rights abuses.
More than 1,000 pro-Morsi protesters have been killed in clashes since his overthrow on July 3, including more than 600 killed in a single day when police dispersed a Cairo protest camp.
Thousands have been jailed, and critics say the crackdown has helped radicalise more moderate political Islamists while strengthening jihadists who disavowed their democratic approach.