Even though it has always been regarded as a fortress of moderation, creating a monitoring body of Egypt’s al-Azhar is one of the most alarming drawbacks of the new constitution. Al-Azhar’s historical and cultural role is indisputable, yet now it is gradually being seized by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Azhar is their next target and this is a plan they made no effort to hide. The supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood delivered a speech at al-Azhar Mosque following the Friday prayer, a move that stirred the indignation of many Egyptians who rejected using the place for political agendas and especially by a faction that does not demonstrate any of the moderation this religious institute has been known of.
Their Sheikh, who had just come from Qatar, also gave a speech and he did not hide how ecstatic he was for scoring such a victory and a few weeks after he gave another one. This sheikh, who was banned from entering the UK and France, is the Muslim Brotherhood’s tool for controlling al-Azhar, a fact that has started to alarm several Western politicians as mentioned in an article in The Times. The writer of the article said that Arab leaders were equally concerned about the repercussions of such plans on their countries and conveyed their concerns to the West and United States, the latter having supported the Brotherhood since they came to power and till the present moment.
Another article in the Washington Post warned that al-Azhar is the way to a religious state now that it will turn from a “beacon of moderation” as it has always been labeled into a fundamentalist institute once it falls under the grip of Islamists.
The article added that the reputation of al-Azhar, which “cherished diversity and respected the rights of women and minorities” is now in danger and that a large portion of liberals and Christians are worried about the extremist interpretations of Islamic law, which is the main source of legislation as mentioned in the constitution, should al-Azhar be controlled by the Brotherhood.
One of the clerics allied with the Muslim Brotherhood unraveled to his supporters a plan to control al-Azhar, especially through passing a law that allows the dismissal of al-Azhar’s grand imam after they failed to include an article to that effect in the constitution.
Religious groups have not been on good terms with al-Azhar since their emergence owing to their members’ assumption that it has been damaged by Western influences and is, therefore, not representative of the right form of Islam. They even accused al-Azhar of being allied with the regime against the people. When those groups came to power, taking control of al-Azhar topped their agenda.
They imagined they could emulate their counterparts in Tunisia and who sidelined the country’s main religious institute al-Zaytouna. However, the situation is different with al-Azhar. While al-Zaytouna had already been neutralized by the former Tunisian regime, al-Azhar has for more than 1,000 years relatively succeeded in maintaining its independence and its impact on the lives of Egyptians.
Those religious groups are definitely not happy with the current grand imam of al-Azhar and who, together with a group of moderate clerics, has been resisting attempts at toppling this historic institute and insisting to raise the banner of moderate Islam. This was made clear in the famous document it issued to lay the foundations of the new Egyptian state and in which it stressed that Islamic law is the main source of legislation yet also affirmed the civilian character of a modern, democratic, and diverse Egypt. This, undoubtedly, is not in line with the vision of the Brotherhood, whose members use religion for political gains and impose an exclusionist interpretation of Islam that allows only them and their supporters to monopolize power.
Abdel Latif el-Menawy is an Author, Columnist and Multimedia journalist who covered war zones and conflicts around the world. He is the author of "Tahrir- the last 18 days of Mubarak ". He wrote the book as an eyewitness to events happened during the 18 days before the stepdown of Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Menawy’s latest public position was head of Egypt’s News Center. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. He can be found on Twitter @ALMenawy