CAIRO: Egypt’s Al-Azhar University on Monday reversed an earlier decision to expel a student after she was filmed hugging a male friend.
A video that went viral earlier this month shows a man bearing a bouquet of flowers, kneeling before a woman and then hugging her.
A university spokesman, Ahmed Zarie, said the woman was expelled because the video had sparked outcry and she had given the institution a “bad reputation.”
But there was an intervention from the country’s top cleric, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, who called on the university to reconsider.
He cited the student’s age and her educational future, although he described her conduct outside campus as unacceptable and unbecoming.
Days later the university said it would scrap the punishment and instead stop her from sitting exams this term.
The woman protested her innocence. “I did not even know he would come (to the university),” she told local media Ahl Masr. “My friends asked me to close my eyes and when I saw him he had flowers. One of the students shot the incident and later I was surprised with what happened in the media.”
The video was shot at Mansoura University in the north, where the man in the video is a student, according to news agency AFP.
“We are almost engaged and I won’t leave her until we get married,” said the man in a separate video. He was expelled from Mansour University for two years over the hug.
The hugging video, and the reaction to it, prompted a debate online and also the hashtag “love is not a crime.”
One of the most popular tweets supported the woman.
“I am supporting the female student in Mansoura. I am ready to defend her, and I have many colleagues who will fight against her expulsion decision,” said lawyer Mohamed Abdel Aziz.
Another tweet, from Ahmed El-Sonbaty, said: “Love is not a crime but a blatant act and wrongdoing is a crime.”
One social media user asked why only the woman was being blamed, condemning society and the media’s double standards and hypocrisy.
“It’s all nonsense!” tweeted Youmna Sheta, from Mansoura. “Public and talk shows labeled the poor girl to be ‘the hug girl’ while they left the guy without a label! As if the hug is an action taken by only one person!”
She said that students were being targeted while other groups, who published photos that featured hugging and drinking, were left alone.