Chinese Students of Al-Azhar and their impact on Sino-Egyptians relations

Maurice Gajan

MA candidate, intern at the Center for Arab West Understanding

icon-calendar December 15, 2015

20151215_Seminaire_Maurice_GajanSince 1931, when the first delegation of four Chinese Muslims came to study to al-Azhar, and today, when they are an estimated of 1,000 to 2,000 students (among a total of 160,000 foreign students altogether), a great deal of soft diplomacy has taken place between Egypt and China. With China now becoming a world economic power, this kind of South-South cooperation is less needed today and is replaced by mere economic relationships.

The majority of these Chinese students at al-Azhar belong to the well itegrated Hui ethnic minority, which itself represent almost half of the 23 millions Chinese ethnic Muslims (along with nine other ethnic groups). The more visible Uyghurs regularly complain from a ban on travels abroad, which could explain their underrepresentation at al-Azhar. The fact that almost all of the 300 Chinese fighters having joined Daesh belong to this ethnic minority probably justifies this ban in the eyes of the Chinese government.