Al-Azhar food poisoning scandal raises more than one question

Nearly 500 students have been admitted to hospital

CAIRO - A senior Egyptian health ministry official said nearly 500 students from Cairo’s Al-Azhar university had been admitted to hospital with food poisoning.
The official, Khaled el-Khatib, said Tuesday that all 479 food poisoning cases came from the university’s dormitories in the capital’s Nasr City district. The poisonings occurred after a meal served at the dormitories on Monday.
Al-Khatib, the Ministry’s Director for Emergency Care, told state agency MENA that samples taken from 152 students hospitalized at the Demerdash Toxicology Center in Cairo have turned up negative for toxicity, adding that the patients had originally suffered intestinal catarrhs but have now stabilized.
Egypt’s top prosecutor on Tuesday ordered an investigation into the case.
Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb decided on Monday to form a committee to investigate the case and requested the hospital provide all amenities required for the treatment of the injured.
Al-Tayyeb also called for bringing those responsible for the incident to account and asked the president of the university to review the food system of the dormitories.
Al-Azhar students plan a protest outside the university’s offices later on Tuesday. On Monday, hundreds of students angered by the incident demonstrated outside the residence halls, blocking roads and chanting slogans against the university’s management.
State agency MENA also reported that a Health Ministry delegation is scheduled to visit the hostel and inspect food safety measures.
Egypt Revolution Youth Movement voiced its full solidarity with the students of Al-Azhar University and its deep regret over the hundreds of poisoning cases. It said the incident was a result of administrative negligence and corruption within the University City.
The Movement denounced the negligent reaction of the University officials who rushed to deny any responsibility for “this humanitarian disaster,” noting that what happened cannot be considered “as a transient mistake. It is a heinous crime.”
Revolution Youth Movement also accused the Muslim Brotherhood of involvement in the incident, noting that the Brotherhood had plotted the student’s poisoning to discredit and rally public opinion against the Al-Azhar institution, with the aim of dismissing the current senior scholars and appointing new pro-Brotherhood religious authority.
The Movement said that this attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow the Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh came after he refused to accept the controversial draft law on Islamic bonds.
Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi Sunday referred a controversial draft law on Islamic bonds – sukuk – to Al-Azhar's Senior Scholars Authority, according to Egyptian state television.
Last week, Al-Azhar criticized the draft law, saying it gives the prime minister the power to form the authority that issues the bonds.
Hassan El Shafei, Al-Azhar's Senior Scholars Authority, called on the Shura Council to present the draft to Al-Azhar again to make sure that earlier remarks were taken into account.
In late February, Al-Azhar, Egypt's leading Islamic religious authority, said its clerics must be consulted on the proposed law, which would allow the government to issue Islamic bonds.
Al-Azhar's statement set it at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood, which drove the legislation through the Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt's parliament, currently endowed with legislative powers) on 19 March.