By Tamim Elyan
CAIRO: Al-Azhar said Wednesday that its Grand Sheikh should be elected not appointed by the state, insisting that its independence wasn’t compromised during the revolution that toppled the president.
At a press conference, Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb said this prestigious religious institution didn’t butter up the ousted regime.
“Al-Azhar is a 1,000-year-old institution that is responsible of Muslims all over the world and isn’t a tool in anyone’s hands, but decides its stances based on what it sees right and will remain above governments and revolutions,” El-Tayeb said.
“We have supported the demands of the youth from day one but we kept a distance from both sides in fear of more bloodshed or the disintegration of the country,” he added.
El-Tayeb said that Al-Azhar’s statements had condemned killing protesters, saying it was forbidden by Islam. Al-Azhar also described those killed as “martyrs” rather than “victims,” he added, Islam supports freedoms and forbids injustice.
“We didn’t and won’t toady the regime. It was expected for the regime to remain in power; however, we committed to our stance and we sent a high-ranking religious scholar to deliver a speech to the protesters in Tahrir Square,” El-Tayeb said.
El-Tayeb, the former head of the Al-Azhar University, was appointed as Al-Azhar’s Imam in March 2010 when his predecessor, Mohamed Sayed Tantawy, passed away suddenly in Saudi Arabia.
After accepting the post, he was under fire for his membership in the ruling National Democratic Party. At first he dismissed accusations that this posed a conflict of interest, but eventually he resigned from the party.
El-Tayeb said that Al-Azhar hosted Egyptian scientist and Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail and representatives of Jan. 25 youth to discuss the situation. He said he refused state security’s request to interrogate dissident religious scholar Youssef Al-Qaradawi whom he invited for a roundtable discussion with religious figures.
During the conference, El-Tayeb also demanded the rapid transition to a civil state through an elected government; legislation banning physical torture by security; handing the national economy to experts; and ensuring that the media is controlled by intellectuals so it would reflect the values of society and its interests.
“We refuse ongoing discussions about modifying the second article of the constitution because it may stir conflict in society and it is one of the pillars of the state,” he noted.
Article 2 states that Islam is the religion of the state and that sharia is the primary source of legislation.
El-Tayeb said that the upcoming period should witness “freer religious speech.”
He urged people to return to work and stop sector protests because they are damaging the economy.
A group of Al-Azhar employees protested in front of its headquarters demanding better wages and the appointment of staff on temporary contracts; while a group of Azhar’s teachers demanded parity with employees in incentives.