Call for religious police in Egypt
Preacher alarms many in Egypt with calls for Islamist vice police.
CAIRO - 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 hardline Islamists bent on imposing their values on a society that has been traditionally moderate.
Egypt's top Islamic institutions, such as al-Azhar, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, and Dar al Ifta, the central authority for issuing religious rulings, have long said religious practices should not be imposed on people.
Meanwhile, Egypt's Grand Mufti, the country's most senior Islamic legal official, has dismissed the self-styled preacher's views.
"This sort of idiotic thinking is one that seeks to further destabilise what is already a tense situation," Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said in a statement to Reuters.