(Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble)
A radical Salafist preacher who is a proponent of anti-vice police recently shocked Egyptians when he appeared on primetime television to urge women to wear headscarves to avoid being raped.
The preacher's comments have since been refuted by the country's head Islamic legal official, who regarded them as "idiotic."
"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," preacher Hisham el-Ashry, who is reportedly regarded as extreme, said on a prime-time program on Nahar TV last week, according to Reuters.
El-Ashry, a Salafist leader and founder of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice Authority, also suggested on the television program that Egypt implement "anti-vice police," meaning authorities who tour the streets to ensure civilians are following Islamic law.
The preacher said that the introduction of anti-vice police was "not a bad thing", adding: "In order for Egypt to become fully Islamic, alcohol must be banned and all women must be covered."
As Reuters points out, although el-Ashry's comments seem alarming, many Egyptians acknowledge that the preacher is extreme and do not take him seriously.
Still, el-Ashry's comments prompted Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, senior adviser for Islamic law, to condemn the preacher's comments.
"This sort of idiotic thinking is one that seeks to further destabilize what is already a tense situation," Gomaa told Reuters in a separate article.
"Egypt's religious scholars have long guided the people to act in ways that conform to their religious commitments, but have never thought this required any type of invasive policing," Gomaa added.
Tensions between Copts and Muslims in Egypt are currently running high, as a recently-approved constitution, created by a Muslim majority, reportedly provides too much power to Islamic lawmakers and stifles civil liberties.
While varying reports indicate that Copts are fleeing Egypt for fear of its oppressive Muslim rule, religious leaders are urging Copts to not fear the changes which the country may undergo.
"Don't be afraid," the country's Pope Tawadros II told those in attendance at a Christmas midnight mass on Jan. 6.
"Even if humans feel lots of fear, remember God will take care of you. This is a collective message because fear is contagious [...]This is a message of reassurance," Tawadros II added.
While many take heed of Tawadros's message, others indicate that they fear for the future of Egypt, as their homeland seems to be teetering from a moderate state to a strictly Islamist one.
"We Christians are not afraid," Nasser Abu Ghaly, a teacher in Shubra, a mixed Christian-Muslim working-class neighborhood in Cairo, told the Assyrian International News Agency.
"But we are concerned about our children and families. In any event, as Copts and Egyptians we have right to pray to our God," Ghaly added.