Al-Azhar denies siding with Egyptian government

In an interview with Azzaman, the president of al-Azhar University, Osama al-Abd, asserts that Al-Azhar is a moderate institution and that it is independent from the government.

al-monitor A man throws a stone in front of Al-Azhar University. Riot police fired tear gas to try to stop student members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi from marching toward Rabia al-Adawiya square, in Cairo, Oct. 28, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh.

Topics covered

university, sharia, religion and state, egyptian youth, egyptian society, egyptian muslim brotherhood, egypt protests, constitution, al-azhar

Nov 19, 2013

Osama al-Abd, president of Al-Azhar University, said the primary goal of the university protests was to disrupt studying, but that this would never happen and that studying would continue.

Abd said in a long statement to Azzaman that knowledge-seeking was the opposite of extremism and bad ideas, and that those who transgressed would be dealt with in accordance with the law, after the protests turned from being about expressing ideas and into being about vandalism, destruction and terrorizing students, faculty members and him personally. He said that the students who participated in the storming of the university administration building were being investigated and would be punished in accordance with university regulations.

In response to a question about the presence of security forces inside the university, Abd told Azzaman that what happened was an exception and that the security forces entered university grounds only to maintain security and protect people, pursuant to a decision by the prosecutor’s office. He also said that after the situation has calmed down, the security forces would not remain on university grounds.

Regarding the university having to use judicial officers on university grounds, he said that no judicial officers were present, but regular security forces, and only as an exception, as was the case in other universities. He added that no student would be harmed because the purpose of those procedures was to protect the students.

Regarding how the university would deal with students who have been imprisoned, Abd said that the university’s vice president would form a committee to defend the students who have been imprisoned as a result of the events. He added that Al-Azhar would not abandon its students, who would be dealt with fairly and in accordance with the law, and that no one would infringe the university’s rights.

Abd said the Muslim Brotherhood was an exclusionary group that sought to eliminate everyone, not just the sheikh of Al-Azhar. He added that all what the Brotherhood wanted was to return to power, without giving an opportunity to others, and that the group’s thinking was taking it down a negative path and that its enmity toward Al-Azhar had become evident.

Of the Brotherhood’s penetration of Al-Azhar and especially the faculty, Abd told Azzaman, “I don’t deny that some Al-Azhar faculty members belong to the Brotherhood, as is the case in all sectors in Egypt, and this is not an accusation. But Al-Azhar is not infiltrated and Al-Azhar still adheres to moderate and enlightened ideas and always rejects extremist ideas.”

Of the ongoing discussion about Article 219 of the Constitution, Abd said that Egypt was not an infidel country, but a Muslim country that followed Sharia law. He added that Egypt and the Egyptians have never abandoned Sharia and the dispute about Article 219 was the result of a regime with extremist ideas, from which Egypt still suffers.

Of students being exposed to food poisoning last year, Abd said that after a bidding process, the university hired a new private catering company that had the best food prices and the highest quality.

Abd said that Al-Azhar University was a learning institution and not a political one and that it dealt with all international students as its own children and that no student would be harmed because of his position as long as he respected student rules.

Regarding Al-Azhar’s links with the authorities in recent years and its loss of influence, which encouraged the growth of other Islamic movements, Abd said that Al-Azhar is linked with ideas and principles, not to the authorities, and that the proof of that was that Al-Azhar rejected the Muslim Brotherhood’s actions when the Brotherhood was in power. Furthermore, Al-Azhar sided with the people during the June 30 demonstrations and the sheikh of Al-Azhar was present at the national dialogue before President Mohammed Morsi was ousted. Al-Azhar supported Morsi’s ouster and did not side with the authorities.

He explained that whatever mechanism was used to choose the sheikh of Al-Azhar, the “Azharites” must approve of their sheikh and that no one can force a sheikh on them. He added that Al-Azhar was not affiliated with the government and that all these matters would be determined by the Constitution.

Abd categorically denied that the decision taken by Qasr al-Khataba (the authority on mosque sermons) in mosques on those holding Al-Azhar degrees effectively muzzled dissent with the regime, as some experts and politicians have claimed. He said that the decision ensured the dissemination of ideas of moderation and forgiveness and fought extremist ideas, especially given that the current situation is troubled and needs no ideas that exacerbate it.

Abd said that there was no tension between Muslims and Christians in Egypt but that there were extremists who sought to eliminate both Muslims and Christians, and that Al-Azhar’s role was to educate society and promote citizenship and love among the brothers of the one homeland.

He said that there was already a dialogue between Al-Azhar and the church, and that there was an entity named Beit al-Eila [House of the Family] that managed this dialogue. Al-Azhar and the church have agreed on restoring all Muslim and Christian houses of worship.

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