Azhar scholars protest ‘coup against legitimacy’

A group of Al-Azhar clerics protested on Sunday and Monday in front of the Islamic institution’s main building, decrying the military’s “coup against legitimacy” when they deposed President Mohamed Morsi on July 3 following days of mass protests calling for his ouster.  

“The military coup against President Morsi is religiously forbidden, because it is a coup against legitimacy,” said former Minister of Endowments Talaat Afify during the protest on Sunday. Afify had been appointed by Morsi to serve in former Prime Minister Hesham Qandil’s Cabinet.

The protesting clerics are said to be predominantly affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The scholars who drafted and read from the Al-Azhar Clerics Front’s statement on Sunday either belong to the Muslim Brotherhood or were appointed to top government posts by the group, claimed Amr Ezzat — a researcher in the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights’ religious freedoms unit — on his Facebook page.

Aside from Afify, those who appeared on the stage to read from the statement included Brotherhood  member Gamal Abdel Sattar, Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs coordinator and Brotherhood member Salah Sultan, head of Al-Azhar’s religious guidance unit Ahmed Haleel and Brotherhood preacher Gamal Abdel Hady, said Ezzat.

The Al-Azhar Clerics Front is a religious NGO based in Moqattam — the eastern Cairo suburb that is also home to the Brotherhood’s headquarters — and has no official relationship to Al-Azhar, although some of its members are Brotherhood-affiliated Azhar clerics, Ezzat claimed in his statement.

“[It would have been better] if the Brotherhood presented new faces,” Ezzat argued.

However, Front member Sheikh Mohamed Abdu told Mada Masr that his group has no affiliations to the Brotherhood.

“We do not need to have any political affiliation to support what we see as right. We are a group of Azhar scholars from all walks of life who support legitimacy and performing a religious duty,” he asserted.

Abdu denied various media reports claiming that the protesting clerics were planning to prevent Al-Azhar Grand Shiekh Ahmed al-Tayyeb from entering his office as means of escalating their protest.

“Our protests are peaceful and will continue to be peaceful. We just want to deliver our message,” he stated.

Tayyeb was slammed by some clerics for appearing at the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ press conference announcing Morsi’s removal from government, which was interpreted by some as an endorsement of the military’s intervention.

But the grand sheikh harshly condemned the violent attacks made by army and police against pro-Morsi protesters in front of the Republican Guards headquarters last week, which left at least 51 dead and hundreds injured. He threatened to go into seclusion in protest against the brutality. 

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