Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi started 2015 with a bang.

In a speech connected to the birthday celebrations for the Prophet Muhammad, Sisi said, “… we are in need of a religious revolution.” Via Roger Simon of PJ Media is this clip from writer Raymond Ibrahim’s translation of a New Year’s Day speech:

I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.

Ibrahim adds this important caveat: “It is unclear if in the last instance of umma Sisi is referring to Egypt (“the nation”) or if he is using it in the pan-Islamic sense as he did initially to refer to the entire Islamic world.”

No matter the range implied, it is heartening to hear the head of one of the most influential countries in that region speak so directly about Islam and how it is being used to terrorize the world. This is not a big surprise to those of us who have followed Sisi; in May, he offered an intriguing plank on his presidential platform by “casting himself as a defender of religion and taking aim at the doctrinal foundations of Islamist groups the state is seeking to crush.”

Sisi gave this address before the Cairo-based Al-Azhar, which is known as the primary global center of Islamic and Arabic learning.

And while Sisi is one of those rare politicians who strive to live up to their campaign promises, I suspect the rise of ISIS in Egypt may be a motivating factor. Reports indicate Islamic State militants have set up checkpoints on a main road in the northern Sinai, and are launching more attacks in the area.

ISIS has been operating loosely in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, for the past six months, launching attacks here and there. But the group has released video and other documents that suggest it is getting more organized in the Sinai—and also more lethal. For the first time, ISIS is setting up military checkpoints, as shown in this ISIS video, on the main road between the major cities of Al-Arish and Rafah. In the video, militants explain that they chose that location, close to the Gaza Strip and the Israeli border, because it will allow them to “catch spies from the Egyptian army and spies for the Jews.”

…As we previously reported, the new Egyptian arm of ISIS—which the group has named “Sinai Province”—is actually a reconstituted version of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which for years had been Egypt’s deadliest militant organization. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the Islamic State earlier this year and was embraced officially by ISIS leader Abu-Baker al-Baghdadi. A few weeks ago, we reported that ISIS participated in a political protest in Egypt by carrying out attacks against the Egyptian army. The rise of ISIS in Egypt, of course, poses a serious threat to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Egyptian army.

Many comments express concern about Sisi’s safety. It is hard not to recall how Egypt lost another reformer President, Anwar Al Sadat.

But for today, I think, it is good to be hopeful.


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