Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Window on Eurasia: North Caucasian Muslims Outraged by Egypt’s Arrest of Students from Region

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 2 – Egypt’s arrest and plans to deport Muslim students from the Russian Federation has so infuriated some in the Islamic community there that the leaders of the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus have cancelled plans to visit Cairo during a long-planned visit to the Arab world later this summer.
In comments yesterday to the IslamRF.ru portal, Sultan-Haji Mirzayev, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Chechnya and the deputy head of the Coordinating Center, said his group had taken that decision because the Egyptian government by its actions had demonstrated a lack of respect for Islam (www.islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/8883/).
He added that the arrests last week were especially disturbing because the Egyptian authorities had justified them by pointing to the upcoming visit of US President Barak Obama and because they had subsequently kept the students in “swine-like conditions,” something that he said was profoundly “un-Muslim.”
Mirzayev’s anger is the result of the decision of the Egyptian authorities to arrest on May 26-27 as many as 190 students -- the number at Al-Azhar, the leading Islamic university in the world, from CIS countries, including 35 from Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia, and announcement that some of them are going to be deported.
According to the Russian embassy in Cairo, the Egyptian authorities as of today continue to hold “no fewer than 25 students from Russia.” Of these, at least 13 have been charged with violating visa and passport regulations or other local laws and will be deported to their homeland in the near future (www.islamrf.ru/news/world/w-news/8901/).
Those students who have been checked and released told the diplomats that conditions in the Egyptian prisons were appalling. “We even staged a revolt and declared a hunger strike” in an effort to get things improved, one Chechen student said, adding that he was concerned that two Chechen women still remain behind bars.
Russian media, including Interfax, “Vremya novostei,” and “Vesti” have played up the case, suggesting in almost every article that the Egyptians have taken this step against Muslims from the CIS as a precautionary measure as part of Cairo’s effort to prevent and demonstrations against the US president during his visit (www.islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/8882/).
And today, “Novyye izvestiya” carried a major article entitled “’This is Completely Illegal!’” on these events. It cited Russian diplomats as saying that only 34 students from Russia had been detained, that 20had been released, and that 13 will be deported because of legal problems (www.newizv.ru/news/2009-06-02/109702/).
Most of those released, a Russian foreign ministry spokesman said, will continue their studies in Egyptian universities. The Moscow paper quoted Egyptian diplomats as saying that the authorities in their homeland had acted according to a 1981 law which gives the authorities the right to detain foreigners without a prior court order.
This back and forth especially since Russian commentators have routinely argued that Muslims from the North Caucasus studying abroad have played a key role in promoting the radicalization of the Islamic peoples in that region. But in this case, Russian officials appear to be presenting themselves as the defenders of these students.
Equally noteworthy is that Muslims in the Middle Volga apparently were not detained. A representative of the Russian foreign ministry in Kazan specifically said none of the 40 Tatars studying in Egypt had been arrested, something officials at the MSD of Tatarstan have confirmed (www.islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/8898/).
Akhmad-khazrat Khalikov, a spokesman for that organization, said that Al-Azhar officials have always worked closely with Kazan in order to prevent any problems and that the Kazan Muslim organization had not received “a single report about the detention of our students either from themselves or from their relatives.”

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