Al-Azhar, traditionally Egypt’s most respected and influential center for Islamic study, adopted an increasingly bold platform opposing Egyptian government policy throughout the mid-1990s. Al-Azhar defied government policy on a variety of sensitive issues, including population control, the practice of clitoridectomy, and censorship rights. Moreover, al-Azhar directly challenged the government in high-profile forums such as the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in September of 1994. This open opposition was remarkable in light of the tremendous capacity that the Egyptian government has shown in the past to manipulate and control al-Azhar. Over the past century, and particularly since the 1952 Free Oficers’ coup, the Egyptian government virtually incorporated al-Azhar as an arm of the state through purges and control over Azhar finances, and by gaining the power to appoint al-Azhar’s key leadership. Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Husni Mubarak all benefited from this dominance over al-Azhar by securing fatwas legitimating their policies. Given this overwhelming leverage, what can explain al-Azhar’s increased opposition to the government throughout the mid-1990s?
“Conflict and Cooperation between the State and Religious Institutions in Contemporary Egypt” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 32 (2000), 3-22.
International Journal of Middle East Studies
Conflict and Cooperation between the State and Religious Institutions in Contemporary Egypt
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