Defending Egypt’s al-Azhar is a national duty

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

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I will never get tired of warning that the next step in the plan to seize control of all state institutions is subjugating al-Azhar, one of the most important guarantees of the civilian and moderate character of the state. A civilian state, in fact, would not exclude the most prominent religious institution that constitutes an integral part of Egyptian history and the same applies to the Egyptian church. It is important for al-Azhar to maintain its independence from politics and to resist attempts by the new rulers to control it as part of their comprehensive plane to monopolize power in all state institutions and dwarf the role of its scholars, particularly its Grand Imam Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb.

No public figure was welcomed in his official position like Tayeb. Even though there had been objections to his appointment at the time, those disappeared in the midst of the enthusiasm with which he was greeted owing to his pleasant traits and to hopes that he will restore al-Azhar to its historic status that has earned it respect all over the world.

Tayeb’s character

I personally admired Tayeb since he was the grand mufti. I met him in his office back then and saw in him a true Egyptian, not only because of the kindness that shows on his face, but also because of how representative he is of Egyptian history, culture, and tolerance. That is why I hoped that he would be chosen as the grand imam of al-Azhar.

The plan to control al-Azhar, which prioritizes the ouster of its grand imam, is part of a larger Brotherhood-ization strategy that does not miss a chance to achieve its goals.

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

Tayeb’s character combines traits that might be seen as contradictory yet turn out to be extremely harmonious, for he is a mixture of the strictness of Upper Egypt, from which he hails, and the flexibility and tolerance of a city dweller. He is also as ascetic as the Sufis to which he belongs. His family is financially modest yet very distinguished on the scientific and social levels. Almost all his ancestors were scholars and he says that he inherited his traits from his great grandfather, the venerable scholar who died in 1956 at the age of 100. The southern town from which he comes, called al-Qarna, is neither a village nor a city but a blend of both as well as Egypt’s successive civilizations starting with the Pharaohs.

Therefore, Tayeb is a product of the deeply-rooted Egyptian culture, known for its moderation, and closely related to Sufism, which started in Egypt, and his thoughts are inspired by the true spirit of Islam.

Controlling al-Azhar

The plan to control al-Azhar, which prioritizes the ouster of its grand imam, is part of a larger Brotherhood-ization strategy that does not miss a chance to achieve its goals. That is why the incident in which several students at al-Azhar got food poisoning offered the perfect opportunity to call upon Tayeb to resign. They are talking here about political responsibility, the same concept of which we talked when our soldiers were killed in Sinai or when more Egyptians were killed during clashes in front of the presidential place or in Port Said. If the political responsibility argument was applied on those and other incidents, officials of the current regime, on top of whom is the president, should have been held accountable.

It is important now to stress the importance of al-Azhar and its grand imam in the Egyptian state as the institution that represents the Egyptian culture away from political and partisan affiliations. It is also important to protect al-Azhar from becoming one of the bounties the new rulers are attempting to win and to defend the grand imam as an integral component of this institution.

The first steps towards restoring the dignity of al-Azhar grand imam involve stressing his position in state protocol. The grand imam receives officials and is the representative of al-Azhar with all what this institution stands for.

This is not about defending a person, but defending a value in order to protect the nation from those who are trying to change its features. Very few remaining voices and institutions are still trying to protect the Egyptian state as we have known it and as we hope to see it. Al-Azhar is one of those. That is why it has now become a national duty to protect and defend al-Azhar.

Abdel Latif el-Menawy is an author, columnist and multimedia journalist who has covered conflicts around the world. He is the author of "Tahrir: the last 18 days of Mubarak," a book he wrote as an eyewitness to events during the 18 days before the stepping down of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Menawy’s most recent 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

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