Egypt: Students win a round
Arabic media review

Egypt: Students win a round

Violent protests pressure Al-Azhar university to ax its president over health scandal; Arab governments fearful of 'Israeli spying app' Viber

Egyptian protesters chant slogans against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, during a protest in front of the prosecutor general's office in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, March 29, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)
Egyptian protesters chant slogans against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, during a protest in front of the prosecutor general's office in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, March 29, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)

The aftermath of the food poisoning of over 500 Egyptian students at Al-Azhar University in Cairo continues to captivate the Arab media as reports trickle in that the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar, which is similar to a board of trustees, has dismissed the university president and other officials over the issue.

According to a top story in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, angry students continued to protest yesterday afternoon and into the night over the administration’s failure to ensure basic sanitation standards at the campus cafeteria.

In a show of rage, students surrounded the car of one of the university’s vice presidents as he pulled into university headquarters and smashed his windshield and the rest of his vehicle’s windows. It is unclear if the vice president suffered serious injuries.

The Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera states in its lead article, “Chief of Al-Azhar university is sacked,” that the Supreme Council feared the situation getting even more out of hand and immediately fired university president Osama Al-Abd in order to deflect blame from themselves.

The Supreme Council issued a statement “calling to elect a new president of the university immediately.” The director-general of the consortium of universities in Cairo was also fired. The statement went on to note that “Al-Azhar has decided to improve the service quality and will be assigning private companies to operate in the university kitchens. The deans of the various colleges will open a serious dialogue with the students to identify other problems more closely.”

In response to the dismissals, thousands of Al-Azhar students convened at the main campus and were jubilantly celebrating with cheers, singing, and prayer. Abdullah Abdul Muttalib, a spokesman for the university’s student union, said, “We students are satisfied with Al-Azhar’s decisions regarding the university officials, but we still blame them for the delays.”

Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb has promised that elections for a new president will be held within two weeks. The Egyptian political establishment is paying particularly close attention to these developments due to Al-Azhar’s standing as a center of learning in the Sunni Muslim world.

The Dubai-based media channel Al-Arabiya warns that some groups in Egypt, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which has traditionally been at odds with the Al-Azhar leadership, may seek to exploit the election for their own benefit.

Dr. Ahmad Arif, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, reassures the Egyptian people that “the university will have the full respect of the group in the development of standards and regulations for the selection of a candidate without intervention.” Still, Arif was quick to add that candidates affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood were entitled to compete for the office, as long as they were suitable.

Arabs dig Israeli ‘Viber’ app

An Israeli voice over IP app called Viber is fast becoming a hit in the Arab world, much to the dismay of those worried about Zionist conspiracies, as reported in the Cairo-based daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Viber’s website says that its service “lets people use their iPhones to make free calls and send free text and photo messages to other Viber users on any device, network, and country.” The service has over 175 million users worldwide, including 300,000 in Lebanon and several million in Egypt.

The Egyptian and Lebanese governments allegedly believe the application is actually being used to support Israeli espionage efforts, due to the application’s Israeli roots. Apparently, Viber records audio details from each call for a period of 30 months. The service is completely free, which is causing many Arabs to think the catch is that it was created for malicious use against the Arabs.

So far, the Egyptian military has banned all use of the application by its soldiers and their families for security purposes and Lebanon’s main 3G provider has taken it off the network. Nevertheless, numerous Arabic websites offer desperate users tips on how to bypass the blocks.

Al-Masry Al-Youm notes that founder Talmon Marco is an American-Israeli who served for four years in the Israeli army and graduated from Tel Aviv University with a degree in engineering. Although Viber is officially Cyprus-based, it has offices in Israel and Belarus. The Egyptian Ministry of Communications released a statement that it is watching Viber very closely in light of Marco’s Israeli roots.

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