04/13/2011, 00.00
EGYPT - VATICAN

Egypt, Al-Azhar reaffirms opposition to dialogue with Vatican

In a meeting with the papal nuncio, the Grand Imam El-Tayeb reiterates the accusations against the Vatican after the Pope's appeals for the safety of Christians. AsiaNews sources underline the contradictions of the Muslim world and the dual position of the Egyptian authorities of Al-Azhar, intransigent towards the Vatican, but claiming to be the moderate face of Islam.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - Al-Azhar will only resume talks with the Holy See after an apology from the Pope, who was accused of criticizing Islam following an attack against the Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria last January 3. As much was revealed in an informal meeting between Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, and Michael Fitzgerald, Vatican ambassador to Cairo. In the meeting, which took place yesterday in Cairo, the Muslim leader said that relations between the two religions are normal, but demands an official apology from the Pope, as a condition to restarting any dialogue between Al-Azhar and the Vatican.

"It's not fair to ask the Pope for an apology - says a source, anonymous for safety reasons - because he never insulted Islam, he just asked for the protection of Christians wherever they are, as is his duty." The source points out the dual position held by the authorities of Al-Azhar, which on one hand demand an apology from the Pope, but still want to be seen as the moderate face of Islam. "The Vatican – continues the source - must be firm on its positions and ask the imam of Al-Azhar the reasons for an apology and where the error of the Holy Father lies. Al-Azhar should instead explain why there continues to be violence against Christians in Egypt before it demands excuses".

According to the source, the relationship, viewed as courteous in the past, were in fact ambiguous. "Islamic leaders - he says- have always imposed a dialogue of superficial courtesy with the Church, in this way avoiding discussing or addressing contentious issues and problems encountered between Christianity and Islam. Now the Vatican is aware of the situation and is not afraid to adopt a more firm and rigid stance. "

The Jasmine Revolution and the fall of Mubarak has highlighted the confusion and instability within Egyptian Muslim society, teetering between secular and democratic movements, radical Islam and the risk of a new military regime. According to the source this would in part explain the contradictory attitude of Al-Azhar.

"The Egyptian Muslim world - he says - is currently very divided. At Al-Azhar, there are contrasts between the positions of Ahmed El-Tayeb and other imams with scholars of the university. In turn, Al-Azhar is at odds with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, internally divided between the hard line of the older members and the young reformers. The contrast also exists between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist movement, who clash on many topics. " The source says that these divisions could clarify the positions and currents within Islam, the result of contradictions within the Koran and the absence of final authority in the Muslim world.

The military government, currently guarantors of stability, is an expression of this confusion. The source says the arrest of Mubarak and his sons, which took place today, is a device used by the army to regain the popular consensus, lost after the violent repression of demonstrations on April 8. "The military - he says - want to show they are still part of the population, attacking Mubarak and dispelling the doubts of collusion with the old regime." (Sc)

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