Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Deal or no deal

Recent statements by a leading Salafi angered Al-Azhar ranks, Amany Maged reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A heated debate has ensued over video footage of Sheikh Yasser Burhami, the deputy chief of the Salafist Calling and a former member of the Constituent Assembly which drew up the new constitution. In the footage, Burhami suggests that a package deal was reached in the Constituent Assembly, protecting the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar from dismissal in exchange for approving Article 219 which explains the principles of Sharia.
Burhami claims that a document signed by 63 Christians, liberals and Azharites stopped short of offering a mechanism for the dismissal of the grand imam, a concession that the Islamists had to make in order to gain approval for Article 219.
The footage reignited the distrust between the Salafis and Al-Azhar.
The current grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, is not popular among Salafis whose ultra-conservative ideas resemble those of the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia. When Al-Tayeb was president of Al-Azhar University, he discouraged Salafist thinking which had begun to infiltrate into the campus due to the influence of teachers who had worked in Saudi Arabia and embraced the hardline views of the Wahhabi movement.
Al-Azhar reacted swiftly to Burhami’s statements, holding an emergency meeting on Sunday and denying any “package deal” with the ultra-conservative Salafis. What is at stake, Al-Azhar officials say, is not the post of the grand imam but the stature and function of Al-Azhar itself.
Burhami tried to soften the impact of the footage by claiming that his words were misinterpreted and that he has nothing but respect for Al-Azhar and its grand imam. What seemed as controversial remarks, he said, were only an attempt to explain the situation to those who wished to alter the manner of appointing the grand imam.
Burhami’s remarks failed to allay fears that the Salafis are bent on turning Egypt into a theocratic state, either through controlling the traditionally moderate Al-Azhar or through Article 219.
Abdel-Dayem Noseir, adviser to the grand imam and a former member of the Constituent Assembly, recently made it clear that Al-Azhar views with suspicion the Salafist attempt to use it in their bid to create a theocracy in Egypt. “We do not wish for the law to be subject to a theocratic state that decides what is right and what is wrong,” Noseir said.
According to Noseir, Al-Azhar discourages fanaticism, believes in pluralism, respects non-Muslims and stands for the rights of women and minorities.
Since the revolution, Al-Tayeb, who was appointed in his current post by former president Hosni Mubarak, has urged dialogue between the Islamists and liberals. Before the presidential elections, Al-Azhar sponsored a document of common constitutional principles that were widely approved by the liberals, leftists and the Christians. The document stated that Egypt is a modern and democratic country.
As Burhami’s recent remarks indicate, this is not the way the Salafis wish to see the country heading. Burhami may have tried to explain away his “package deal” statement. But Al-Azhar moderates know that the Salafist challenge to their authority is far from over.

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