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The future of Al-Azhar

Direct control of Al-Azhar will soon become a priority for the Muslim Brotherhood, but it may bring them more trouble than they bargain on

Amr Adly , Sunday 26 Aug 2012
Views: 2009
Views: 2009

 On 3 January 2012, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued the Al-Azhar law. 

 Promulgated a couple of weeks before the first sitting of the post-revolution parliament, an assembly now disbanded, the law granted Cairo's prestigious religious institution considerable autonomy and gave the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar wide-ranging scope to manage internal affairs after after six decades of it being essentially annexed to the Egyptian state. 
The law was seen in January as a sign of the SCAF's willingness to secure the independence of a number of major institutions before the final transfer of power to elected bodies with likely Islamist majorities.
Al-Azhar was perceived by many secularists as the bulwark of moderate Islam, able to counter the rise of Salafist Islamist currents as well as the Muslim
Brotherhood. Back then the idea sounded good: granting autonomy to a moderate institution that can fend off a more conservative takeover of the religious sphere.
Al-Azhar's future status is becoming even more critical as religion and politics are bound to merge strongly with the rise of Islamist parties to political power.
The SCAF's original plan, however, did not work out, hampered by President Morsi's successful removal in early August of key members of the military council and the annulment of its constitutional additions.
Now it seems that the Egyptian state has just a single master, its elected president. The Muslim Brotherhood has not shown any reluctance in using its formal power through the parliament and presidency to tighten its grip on state institutions. 
The Brotherhood-dominated Shura Council appointed Brotherhood allies as the heads of state-owned newspapers. One from the Brotherhood's ranks was appointed to head the Ministry of Information.
Now it seems the Brotherhood is prioritising by moving to control the institutions of ideology-production that it has inherited from the previous authoritarian regime. 
The Brothers are not, apparently, keen on liberalising these areas or privatising state-owned newspapers and TV channels. Rather, it seems that a crackdown on independent and private media is being prepared using the arsenal of laws and regulations introduced during Mubarak's rule.
In such a context, the direct control of Al-Azhar will soon be at the top of the agenda, encouraged perhaps by the fact that the Brotherhood has a sizable number of supporters within its halls.
So what will happen if the Brotherhood puts its hands on Egypt's oldest and most prestigious Islamic institution?
To start with, the Brotherhood will achieve the short-term goal of rallying Al-Azhar behind their political cause. 
Al-Azhar which has been historically supportive of whoever rules Egypt will reassume its long-established practices and back the Brotherhood's public policies. 
The Brotherhood would achieve another, longer-term and more indirect, goal of mixing politics with religion, something that corresponds to the Brotherhood's ideological conviction of Islam's comprehensive nature.
Yet inheriting the long tradition of Al-Azhar's dependency on the state means that the Brotherhood are likely to inherent the very contradictions that Mubarak's regime faced in their struggle to tue the religious sphere to their political ends. 
Using Al-Azhar to legitimise the political decisions taken by the president or any future MB-dominated parliament means the institution will have to fight anti-establishment and anti-system tendencies and views traditionally held by many Salafist and Islamist groups.
Issues such as the peace treaty with Israel, tourism, banking, the status of Copts and other non-Muslim minorities are likely to be religiously contentious and controversial even under an Islamist government led by the Brotherhood. 
In this sense, the Brotherhood will not only inherit Mubarak's authoritarian state, they will inherit its enemies and allies as well.
For instance, the Brotherhood will have serious problems playing around with the current structure of the Egyptian economy. 
Economic recovery, necessary for the creation of jobs and the generation of growth, depends heavily on getting tourism back on track regardless of religious reservations over the behaviour of foreign visitorss that have been voiced by Islamist politicians and clerics.
The same applies to the current banking sector which has been deemed usury-based by many Islamists.
In the same vein, the Brothers's takeover of the Egyptian state requires that they honour its international commitments vis-a-vis the United States and Israel. Security coordination in Sinai and regarding Gaza will soon become a controversial issue amongst the Islamists themselves. Similarly, the Brotherhood cannot afford any further deterioration in Muslim-Coptic relations. 
All of these commitments will be translated sooner rather than later into contentious political decisions. Their stances will be supported by a MB-dominated religious establishment in the face of other dissatisfied Islamist groups and individuals.
While the Brotherhood's plan to control the Nasserist apparati of ideology-production such as the media and education is likely to bring them into conflict with the secularists, their attempted domination of the religious sphere will drive them into a clash with the Islamists. 
The formation of an Islamist opposition to the Brotherhood is already in the making. The clash with Jihadi militants in Sinai is a first instance, but it could extend to the Nile valley amongst like-minded groups with anti-American and anti-Zionist stances.
As the Brotherhood becomes more immersed in the pragmatic, day-to-day management of the country, it will have to come to terms with the probable rise of a religious far-right calling for former ideological stances under an Islamic government. 
This trend has already been tested with Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who may prove to be the precursor of a populist Islamist movement.
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sawsan mostafa ali
27-08-2012 02:47pm
What I think is ruling Egypt is more important to MB than anything else. Accordingly, tourism, banking and any other thing of the fundamentals of the Eg. economy will not be touched by them. I also think that any attempt to control Al Azhar will not be successful or of intelligence from the MB as will be faced by strong opposition and will make all people believe that they want to control all important joints of Egypt. I do not know what are what 's called the (Third Current) is doing ? Why are not they organizing and unifying themselves to face any attempt of the MB of (akhwanizing) everything around us? What are they waiting for? Have they prepared themselves for the coming Peoples' Assembly elections?
Comment's Title
30-08-2012 07:38am
Reply to Mostafa Ali
Ali, you are bone head. MB is working their brains off to fix the economy, and all other junk left by Mubarak your champion. You Copts are are very jealous of MB. MB is very lenieny with you guys. Once they get control they will fix you big mouth anti egypt traitors.

Free Lady
27-08-2012 01:41pm
Al Azhar a Red Line for MB.
Al Azhar is not important just for Egyptians but its for whole Muslim World (especially Hanafi and Sufi majority Sunni Sect). The glory Al Azhar have achieved is incompatible. It is the symbol of tolerance, inter religion harmony and peace. Its the greatness of Al Azhar if MB and Salafis were allowed to participate in it despite having grave differences. But now if MB and Salafi attempted to take over Al Azhar. It will bring unprecedented consequences for this action. The best advise for MB and their power partners(Salafis) not to even attempt this RED LINE.
Comment's Title
28-08-2012 02:01pm
To Hictor M
by the way, i liked your comment by mistake.
Hector M.
28-08-2012 12:26am
Response to free Lady
Hi free Lady, apparently every sector of the Egyptian society needs cleaning up. As Mubarak and its cohorts corrupted every sector. These areas need clean up. 1. Coptic organization has be fixed, their anti Egypt actions should be stopped. 2. Media and Journalists should be leashed, they bark like uncontrolled beasts. 3. Alazhar should be fixed as Mubarak put some incompetents there. 4. Those who accumulated lot of money from foreign NGOs should also be controlled.

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