CAIRO: A draft law proposing the election of Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam instead of his appointment is a positive step towards the independence of the prominent Muslim institution, political groups and analysts say.
On Wednesday, the Islamic Research Center (IRC) proposed amendments to law number 103 for 1961 that would entail that the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning, be elected rather than appointed through a presidential decree.
Once approved by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the law will mark a return to the system applied before 1961 when one of three elected sheikhs belonging to the Senior Azhar Scholars Commission was selected as the Grand Imam.
"The law is likely to put Al-Azhar in track towards independence," Al-Wafd party senior member Wafiq El-Gheitany said.
"But this means there will be a person in charge who can be ousted at some point if proven incompetent," El-Gheitany, also a writer, added.
Article 2 of Law 103 that regulates Al-Azhar affairs says that the institution is affiliated to the presidency.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) deputy head Rashad Bayoumy also stressed the group’s support for the self-rule of Al-Azhar.
"Yet this should not give any man the opportunity to impose his influence… Al-Azhar is not owned by Egypt alone. It belongs to the whole Islamic world," Bayoumy said.
Article 3 of the law indicates that Al- Azhar’s Grand Imam is the sole reference when it comes to religious affairs. He has the right to give instructions and advise regarding anything related to Islamic studies at Al-Azhar and its organizations.
"The previous [regimes] imposed their authority over Al-Azhar for decades," the senior Brotherhood member and professor of medicine at Al-Azhar University said.
"We support the independence of Al-Azhar as a national institution that needs to play a role independent of the sovereignty of the ruler," he said.
However, member of the IRC Saber Ta’lab, believes that the proposed law as non-binding.
"It’s just a recommendation that is not mandatory," Ta’lab told DNE. "The IRC is not an executive body….that can pass laws."
"We recommended that Al-Azhar also be financed through endowments instead of the state’s financial support to maintain its independence," he said.
Both Al-Azhar sheikhs and many public figures have long called for the independence of the institution.
According to Ta’lab, since the entity that appoints the Imam has the right to sack him, it can also influence his decisions.
"In my opinion, it all depends on the man himself, whether he is appointed or elected. But usually the authority in place selects a person who follows its lead," academy member Abdel-Moety Bayoumy told Daily News Egypt.
"We [Azhar sheikhs] have criteria for selection that are different from those holding political power," he said.
Wahid Abdel-Meguid, Senior Researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, believes that the draft law is a positive step, though insufficient.
"If the commission is carefully chosen, the election of an Imam will lead to a stronger role for Al-Azhar [on the political level]," Abdel-Meguid told DNE.
"However, Al-Azhar can only be independent of the state when it has its own financial resources," he said.