Egyptian army chief, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has finally confirmed his intention to run for Egypt's presidency. A Kuwaiti newspaper 2 days ago, quotes him as saying, ''Yes, it has been decided, I have no choice but to meet demands of the Egyptian people. I will not refuse this request.'' He was also quoted appealing to all Egyptians for patience amid worsening economic an social conditions.
Since al-Sisi overthrew the elected president, Mohamed Morsi, last July, there have been several campaigns calling on him to run for office, culminating in hundreds of thousands rallying in his name on the third anniversary of Egypt's 2011 uprising. His colleagues in the armed forces' governing council mandated him to run last Monday - and his popularity is so high among certain sections of the population that he is expected to win by a landslide.
So at week's end a confident interim President, al-Sisi sent out shock waves by declaring that it time for Islam to join the 21st century. A significant shift in public attitudes in the Arab world, among scholars and the media but also at the highest reaches of political power, suggests a potential for a refreshing fundamental change to come. While the media are fixated on the doomed ''triple negotiations'' in the Middle East, al-Sisi's public statement on Islam may represent nothing less than a paradigm shift in the Arab Muslim world. If fully realized, such a change could offer the Middle East an escape from its current violence and chaos.
All this could be downplayed as unrepresentative and unlikely to have any substantial effect on Muslim thought or practice. But public pronouncements by al-Sisi, one of the two most powerful current Sunni Arab figures (the other being King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia), cannot be ignored. His statement that Islam must exit its 800-year STAGNATION and join the modern world is nothing short of revolutionary. His reference was to the year 1258, when the ruling mullahs of the day declared that the period of discussion of Islamic theology had come to an end and nothing more could be questioned. Since then, any attempt to change or even examine Sunni dogma was deemed heretical and thus subject to the death penalty.
The Way I See It.....Islam never had a Reformation and Arab civilization never had a Renaissance, and missed the reasoning in The Age of Reason, a powerful book written by Thomas Paine in the late-1700s, which challenged institutionalized religious dogma of any stripe. By missing out on these THREE Rs over the past centuries, it doesn't take a blind man to see why both the religion and the culture have been stuck in the High Middle Ages seemingly forever!.
Any movement which accepts the need for modernization of the faith would be revolutionary in its impact on Sunni Islam, which comprises the great majority of Muslims from Morocco to the Philippines. A new element would be added to the ideological mix, namely a modern Islam, which would re-examine, as al Sisi remarked, such areas as separation of religion and state (which allowed the West to advance), women's rights, jihad, and relations with non-Muslims (that is, Christians and Jews). Most significantly, after these remarks, there was no condemnation from figures at Al-Azhar University, traditionally quick to denounce heresy.
The implications for Israel and for the West are obvious and potentially profound. Whether the field marshal's words will proven to have wings remains to be seen, but for the moment, at least, they have the potential to be more significant than al the ''negotiations'' going on in Switzerland and the Middle East put together. Now we have to hope Obama, Kerry and company don't screw up this inspirational moment with their usual heavy-handed diplomacy.