Cairo: Egypt's leading clerics and politicians on Wednesday voiced support for an initiative launched by Al Azhar, Egypt's Sunni Muslim institution, for prompting rights in the country almost one year after the overthrow of the long-standing president Hosni Mubarak.
"Different national forces have agreed on the document," said potential presidential candidate Selim Al Awa, as he emrged from a Cairo gathering called by Al Azhar to keep the momentum of the anti-Mubarak revolution after cracks between the military rulers and civilian powers.
The bill of rights was announced by the head of Al Azhar Shaikh Ahmed Al Tayeb on Tuesday in an apparent bid to allay fears of liberals and the Christian minority triggered by a growing tide of Islamism in post-Mubarak Egypt. The Islamists have secured almost two thirds of seats in Egypt's new parliament, thus looking set to have an influential say in drafting the country's new constitution.
The bill of rights calls for preserving various aspects of freedom, mainly those of opinion, faith, creativity and scientific research.
"The freedom of expression is the genuine aspect of democracy and the new generation should be reared according to the culture of freedom and the right to differ," said Al Tayeb.
The document was proposed by the centuries-old institution and several Muslim and Coptic intellectuals, who demanded that religious persecution be incriminated. "The right to equal citizenship is enshrined in undisputed Islamic texts and well-established constitutional rules," reads the bill.
The document will be referred to the new parliament to be considered while drafting the new constitution, local newspapers reported Wednesday.
"The media should raise awareness about this document so that it would play a role in writing the new constitution," said Mahmoud Azab, an advisor to Al Tayeb.
Calls for creating religious police in Egypt have sparked worries among the liberals and the Christians that personal freedoms will be largely restricted.
Last week, Al Azhar accused a little-known hardline group, espousing the idea, of tarnishing the image of Islam and seeking to "hijack" the role played by Al Azhar for more than 1,000 years.
In a fresh signal of its growing clout in post-Mubarak Egypt, Al Azhar was Wednesday the venue for a big conference attended by Egypt's prominent politicians and clergymen.
The gathering marked a rare meeting between the top Christian cleric Shenouda and the Supreme Guide of the influential Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Badei whose group has taken the lead in the parliamentary vote.
Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal Al Ganzouri also attended.
In a statement released after the gathering, Al Azhar called on the military junta, that has been in control of Egypt since Mubarak's toppling, to hand over power to a civilian administration by July "without delay".
The military rulers have been under increasing pressure to expedite transferring power to civilians after 18 people were killed in clashes between army forces and anti-government protesters.
"Different political, secular, Muslim and Christian powers were represented in the conference, which should herald the beginning of a community-wise dialogue as Egypt is getting ready for drafting the constitution and presidential elections," said Al Awa after the gathering.
The conference was held two days after Coptic business mogul Najuib Sawiris was referred to court to face charges of showing contempt to religion and hurting Muslims' feelings.
Last summer, Sawiris, who is also a liberal politician, tweeted a cartoon seen by Muslims as offensive. He later apologized for the cartoon. However, 20 Islamist lawyers have filed a lawsuit for putting him on trial, set to begin on January 14.