Salafis oppose Saudi infrastructure loan, claiming ‘usury’

Salafi lawmakers have again cast doubts over the religious legitimacy of a loan, this time from Saudi Arabia, saying that they fear that its interest rate qualifies as usury.

The dispute comes just one day after lawmakers voiced opposition to a loan from the European Union for the same reason.

MPs from the Nour Party got into a rancorous debate with Freedom and Justice Party MPs Monday over an agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia for the latter to fund a drinking water project in Nasser City.

Nour Party members demanded that the agreement be reviewed by Al-Azhar's Senior Scholars Authority, saying the 225 million riyal loan carried a usurous interest rate. Article 4 of the Constitution stipulates that “Al-Azhar Senior Scholars are to be consulted on matters pertaining to Islamic law.”

However, FJP lawmakers denied that the loan was equal to usury and voted in favor of it.

Nour Party member Ahmed al-Rawy said during the debate that both the EU and the Saudi Arabian loans charged the same high interest rates, qualifying them as usury. Shura Council Speaker Ahmed Fahmy responded by saying, “We’re not experts; we have to get out of this controversy,” prompting Rawy to call for the issue to be referred to Al-Azhar.

Shura Council Majority Leader Essam al-Erian dismissed claims that the loan violates Sharia, saying that both Egypt and Saudi Arabia adhere to Sharia and calling on the council to quickly approve the loan in light of the country's deteriorating infrastructure.

Last year saw heated debate over whether or not a now-delayed loan from the International Monetary Authority was Sharia-compliant. Salafis had initially opposed the loan, saying it was usurous, but prominent Salafi preacher Yasser Borhamy later issued a Fatwa saying that the loan could be considered a grant, since its interest rate was only 1.1 percent and could be paid in the form of administrative fees.

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