Mursi and Al-Azhar on a collision course
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – The announcement that a leader from the Salafi movement has been chosen as Awqaf [religious endowments] minister has sparked debate in Egypt among all political factions, including the Islamists movements.
A source close to Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyib told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Al-Azhar leadership is greatly concerned because traditionally it selected candidates for the post of mufti of Egypt and Awqaf minister. Moreover, a number of movements including the Sufi Scholars Union have rejected the appointment of Dr Muhammad Yusri Ibrahim, a member of the Salafi front and member of the (Salafi) Al-Asalah, because of the belief that his nomination renews concerns that the Salafis may gain control over the mosque pulpits.
These events are taking place a time when the formation of the new government is faltering, as several prominent figures have declined to take up their ministerial portfolios, consequently leading the prime minister to postpone announcing its formation until Thursday or a later date.
Regarding the controversial nomination, informed sources in the prime minister’s office told Asharq Al-Awsat that, “Dr Qandil has indeed settled on Dr Yusri for the post of Awqaf minister succeeding Dr Muhammad Abdul-Fadil al-Qawsi “.
As far as his political career goes, Ibrahim recently lost the parliamentary election for the district of Nasr City to Dr Mustafa al-Najjar, the founder of the Freedom and Justice Party, despite the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ibrahim played an important and pivotal role in unifying the viewpoints of the Salafis and Engineer Kayrat al-Shatir, the deputy general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, when Al-Shatir was put forward as the Muslim Brotherhood candidate for Egypt’s presidency. Yusri succeeded in convincing the Salafi front to back Dr Mursi in the presidential runoff election.
A source close to the sheikh of Al-Azhar told Asharq Al-Awsat that, “The Al-Azhar leadership became concerned as soon as the appointment was announced”. The source added that it is the sheikh of Al-Azhar who selects the Awqaf minister and the mufti of Egypt from among those he trusts can help him convey Al-Azhar’s message of moderation to the Muslim world. Moreover, the selection of any religious leader in Egypt should have the approval of the grand imam. The source also denied that the prime minister consulted Dr Al-Tayyib regarding the new Awqaf minister, saying, “The sheikh of Al-Azhar is outside Cairo on a visit to his hometown in the Luxor Province in Upper Egypt. He returned to his office yesterday afternoon.
The same source added that Al-Tayyib had selected Al-Qawsi, the present Awqaf minister, because he also holds the post of deputy chairman of the board of the World League of Al-Azhar Graduates, which is also headed by Al-Tayyib. The source said that what took place constitutes a clear encroachment on Dr Al-Tayyib’s status. It marks the beginning of diluting his role paving the way for the authorities to dismiss him or to pressure him to submit his resignation voluntarily.
The source went on to say that, “this is the third instance that President Mursi ignored Dr Al-Tayyib”. Dr Mursi declined to shake hands with the sheikh at the Air force graduation ceremony on 10 July. He (Mursi) shook hands with Lieutenant General Sami Anan and other military commanders standing next to him but did not shake hands with Dr Al-Tayyib who was standing next to them. Mursi’s presidential inauguration ceremony in Cairo University also showed initial signs of a crisis, when Al-Tayyib and his delegation were not allocated seats in the private lounge next to the hall where the university’s ceremonies are held. Moreover, inside the ceremony hall, seats were allocated to the Sheikh Al-Azhar and his delegation in the back rows, which led Al-Tayyib to walk out in protest. Although President Mursi later commented on the incident by saying that he has high regard and respect for the Al-Azhar establishment, , however the crisis has loomed in the horizon again, suggesting that the differences are intensifying between the Al-Azhar establishment represented by Al-Tayyib and the presidency, represented by President Mursi.
The same source revealed that Dr Abdul-Rahman al-Bir, the mufti of the Muslim Brotherhood and a professor in the Al-Azhar University, may be appointed as the mufti of Egypt paving the way to his appointment as the sheikh of Al-Azhar. The source affirmed that, “Dr Al-Tayyib will hold contacts with Field Marshal Tantawi, the commander of the armed forces and chairman of the military council to block the decision appointing Yusri”. According to the same source, Yusri’s appointment as Awqaf minister “paralyzes the hands of the Grand Imam”.
In the same context, the Union of Sufi Scholars, the independent syndicate of imams in the Awqaf ministry; and a number of Islamic institutions issued a statement in which they urged the president not to ratify Yusri’s appointment, saying “Dr Yusri has well known stands that contravene what the scholars of the four religious disciplines had agreed on regarding famous controversial issues”. On his private Face book page, Dr Yusri announced that before taking over the Awqaf ministry “all the religious scholars that I consulted advised me to accept the ministry”. He denied that his relationship with Engineer Khayrat al-Shatir was behind his selection.