Fingers pointed after second mass food poisoning at Al-Azhar

Ahram Online , Tuesday 30 Apr 2013

Another mass food poisoning at Al-Azhar University re-opens debate over relationship between Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb and Muslim Brotherhood

Azhar students
Al-Azhar students protest early in April following first mass poisoning incident (Photo: Ahram Arabic0news website)

President Mohamed Morsi has sent presidential assistant Ayman Ali and Health Minister Mohamed Mustafa Hamed to visit Al-Azhar University students who were hospitalised late Monday suffering from food poisoning.

According to the health ministry, 131 people were admitted to hospital after eating at the university dormitory.

The general prosecution has opened an investigation into the incident.

The mass food poisoning is the second of its kind at Al-Azhar University this month. It has triggered reactions from officials, student union members and others.

According to a statement released by the Muslim Brotherhood, President Morsi has contacted Egyptian Student Union deputy leader Ahmed Abdel-Rahman El-Bakry, who is also head of Al-Azhar Student Union, to check on the students’ health.

El-Bakry, a Brotherhood member, said in a statement that he had informed the president of the students’ demands which include the dismissal of the head of Al-Azhar University and his replacement with an elected leader rather than one appointed by the president.

Hundreds of students blocked Nasr Road late Monday in protest at the incident. Some chanted against Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb, just as they had done after the previous mass food poisoning on 1 April. Police used teargas to disperse the students.

After the first food poisoning incident, thousands took to the streets in support of El-Tayyeb and against what they believed was a Brotherhood ploy to use the incident to force his sacking and further “Brotherhoodise” Al-Azhar.

“The repeated poisoning of Al-Azhar students, the blocking of roads and chants against the Al-Azhar [grand imam] is like a bad movie and whoever is responsible for it should be held accountable for political stupidity,” Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights leader Hafez Abu-Seada stated via Facebook.

Abu-Seada hinted that the Brotherhood would use the incident to get rid of El-Tayyeb, especially after his popularity was boosted by a successful visit to the UAE to secure the release of more than 100 Egyptian prisoners.

The chants against El-Tayyeb at the protest on Monday night were “completely spontaneous,” Sohaib Abdel-Maqsoud, spokesperson for the Brotherhood students, told Al-Ahram Arabic website.

The Brotherhood will not be quick to point blame while investigations into the incident are ongoing, group spokesperson Ahmed Aref told Al-Ahram Arabic website.

Egyptian Student Union leader Mohamed Badran, an independent, said he would be attending a meeting with the prime minister to discuss deteriorating conditions at the country's universities.

Nationwide student demonstrations have been taking place over the past week to demand better services, condemn deteriorating conditions, and to demand the sacking of the higher education minister. 

Al-Azhar students fell sick on Monday after eating meals served at the university's dormitory in Cairo's Nasr City. Hundreds of angry students blocked Nasr Road near the dormitory and clashed with police who fired teargas in an attempt to open the road to traffic.

This marks the second large-scale food poisoning case to take place at Al-Azhar in April.

Around 500 students were hospitalised on 1 April after suffering food poisoning at the same cafeteria.

The incident led to mass demonstrations by students, some of whom called for the sacking of Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb, who oversees the Al-Azhar religious-educational system in Egypt.

The grand imam sacked the president of Al-Azhar University and an investigation into the case is still pending.

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