Allam’s election as Grand Mufti illustrates that Al Azhar leaders do not wish to be pawns in the hands of extremist political groups and that bodes well for Egypt.
Two years into epochal revolutions that changed the Arab World, commentators identified alleged power vacuums that, apparently, were filled by extremist movements. The fear that Salafists would replace repressive dictatorships gained popularity as tensions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and especially Syria, preoccupied analysts. Some were wondering, for example, whether Syria would become an Islamist state. Others anticipated profound transformations in North Africa.
Were Salafist challenges true existential developments that were about to negate the progress associated with the dramatic changes that befell the Arab World?(...)
Similar questions were raised elsewhere in classic power struggles. In Egypt, for example, a hardline cleric — Mahmoud Sha’aban — felt no compunction to call for the deaths of two key opposition figures, Mohammad Al Baradei and Hamdin Sabahy, during his “pseudo-religious” television invocations (...)
There was no denying that some of these extremists were loud. Yet, and no matter how much they shouted, the Arab Spring was not just sprouting Islamists, given that moderate voices were equally strong and vocal.
Indeed, the most recent election of the Egyptian Grand Mufti, Shaikh Shawky Abdul Karim Allam, attested to the phenomenon. A professor of jurisprudence from a provincial university in Tanta in northern Egypt, Allam secured the highest number of votes, as senior Al Azhar clerics chose him. He defeated Shaikh Abdul Rahman Al Bar, a prominent cleric in the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, who was tipped as a shoe-in because of his political affiliation. Importantly, Al Bar’s past service within the Brotherhood guidance bureau proved to be insufficient to secure the post.
By choosing a moderate voice, Al Azhar clerics rejected any Brotherhood efforts to further politicise the revered institution, distancing it from initiatives that intended to obtain its imprimatur on the contentious constitutional debate that rocked and continued to destabilise the political establishment. In other words, Allam’s election illustrated that Al Azhar leaders did not wish to become pawns in the hands of extremist political groups, which bode well for Egypt.
Beyond Allam, a largely apolitical figure, the country’s wise religious figures understood that one must not replace one dictatorship with another. Moreover, they telegraphed that Islamists emerging throughout the region ought to be “managed,” lest the most recent tiger of change usher in calamities galore.
Because Arab dictators tortured thousands of Islamists over the years, as the Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali, Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar Al Assad regimes, among others, exercised crackdowns involving mass murder and repression, the current Salafist growths were part vengeance and part vindication.
Nevertheless, past grievances cannot possibly justify the on-going bloodshed and, it is critical to clarify, few can monopolise righteousness. (...)