Between 500 and 600 students at Al-Azhar University in Cairo have been hospitalized due to food poisoning. The incident, which began at lunchtime yesterday in the cafeteria at the foremost center of Sunni Muslim learning in the world, has prompted a new wave of angry protests against the Egyptian government and university administration alike for gross negligence and corruption.
In “Poisoning incident at Al-Azhar University launches political debate in Egypt,” the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that in response to the food poisoning, “hundreds of Al-Azhar students have stormed the Al-Azhar headquarters in Cairo, smashed the front gate, cut off the main road, and are demanding the removal of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb and university president Dr. Osama Al-Abd from their posts.”
Despite the severity of the medical condition of some of the hospitalized students, Egypt’s Ministry of Health has publicly stated that no deaths have been recorded thus far.
According to Suhayb Abdel Maksoud, a past secretary of the Al-Azhar University Student Union, as quoted in the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat, “the poisoning of hundreds of students is a natural result and the accumulation of corruption at this prestigious university. It is a clear result of the administration’s decision to ignore the students’ demands and complaints.”
A current spokesman for student union, Abdullah Abdul Muttalib, told the Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera that “the food has not been in good form for awhile. There have been a lot of problems. We often find insects in our food.”
‘The food has not been in good form for awhile. There have been a lot of problems. We often find insects in our food’
Students and faculty alike have long complained about a major deterioration in services since the start of the Egyptian Revolution that brought down president Hosni Mubarak. Although considered a secular leader, Mubarak was able to develop a solid relationship with the devout leaders of Al-Azhar.
Representatives of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, were quick to deflect blame for the incident onto the Al-Azhar administrators themselves. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Al-Azhar University leadership have been at odds since the latter’s rise to power. Leading scholars and administrators have refused to kowtow to the Brotherhood’s polarizing vision for the country.
“Al-Azhar is entirely responsible for this incident,” said Essam El-Erian, a member of Parliament for the Freedom and Justice Party. “This is another example of Al-Azhar’s leadership refusing to take responsibility for their mistakes.”
Nader Bakkar, a spokesman for the Nour Party, an arguably more hard-line Islamist political movement, rejected Erian’s comments. Bakkar went on to accuse Erian of “political opportunism and of intentionally assassinating the moral character of the Sheikh of Al-Azhar.”
Of course, the leadership of the National Salvation Front, the leading opposition movement to the Muslim Brotherhood-led government, is citing this example as yet another case of the current Egyptian government failing to provide basic human services to its people.
The Cairo-based Al-Masry Al-Youm relays that over a dozen members members of the Shura Council, the upper house of the Egyptian Parliament, have called on Prime Minister Hisham Qandil of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as his deputies, to resign in the wake of this catastrophe. President Mohammed Morsi, on the other hand, was reported to be visiting students recovering in the hospital.
Qatari company produces series about Jews of Arabia
A Qatari cinematic production company called Eco Media has begun filming the first scenes of a series on the flight of the Jews from Arabia, A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports.
The series is called “Khyber” after an Arabian Jewish town which, according to Islamic tradition, opposed the impending rule of the Prophet Muhammad. The series itself “deals with the history of the Jews in the Arabian Peninsula and ends with the evacuation of the Jews due to machinations by them.”
Syrian actor Mehyar Khaddour will be playing the lead role of a young Jew, but has not yet begun filming his scenes.
Most of the filming will take place in Egypt. Arab cinema insiders say a great deal of effort is under way to re-create prominent battles the Prophet Muhammad fought. The series will be aired in episodes across all major Arab media networks during the month of Ramadan.
The purpose of the series is reportedly “to uncover the roots of the conflict between Muslims and Jews.”