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Kazakhstan's Nur-Mubarak U Keeps The Faith

An anti-Mubarak protester holds a noose around Mubarak's picture outside Cairo's police academy.

An anti-Mubarak protester holds a noose around Mubarak's picture outside Cairo's police academy.

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may be an international political pariah today, but the enfeebled 83-year-old still has friends tucked away in a few corners of the world -- including, of all places, Kazakhstan.

Mubarak is half of the namesake of the Nur-Mubarak Egyptian University of Islamic Culture, a religious educational institution located in Almaty, the Kazakh capital. Founded in 2001 as a joint Kazakh-Egyptian initiative, the school quickly became a touchstone for bilateral cooperation between the Mubarak government and the government of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Today the university is one of the country's primary training grounds for aspiring religious clerics. Nazarbaev paid a publicized visit to Nur-Mubarak in October together with Kazakhstan's top religious official.

After protests against Mubarak's rule erupted in Egypt in January, domestic pressure to rename Nur-Mubarak grew. RFE/RL reported in February on an open letter from Kazakhstan's Union of Muslims and the Muslim Committee for Human Rights in Central Asia to Nazarbaev demanding that "Mubarak" be dropped from the university's name. A similar letter was also sent to university administrators, all to no avail.

Now, nearly nine months after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation, Kazakh officials are digging in their heels over the issue.

"My personal opinion is that the university should stick by this name," Yershat Ongarov, the Almaty chief of Kazakhstan's state agency on religious issues, told RFE/RL's Asylkhan Mamshuly on November 3.

When Mamshuly asked whether officials had reconsidered their position since the start of criminal proceedings in Egypt against Mubarak and his closest associates, Ongarov batted away the question, and sought to discredit the ongoing legal effort against Mubarak. "This [trial] is all about politics."

The naming controversy illuminates a tricky political dilemma for the Nazarbaev government, which is torn between two unfavorable options. Should it continue to embrace the legacy of a widely discredited foreign tyrant? Or distance itself from a man whose strong-armed rule in Egypt and relationship with Islam closely resembled Nazarbaev's own governance in Kazakhstan?

So far, it seems that Almaty prefers to go with the devil it knows.

-- Charles Dameron

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at