07/04/2012, 00.00
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Growing rift between al-Azhar and Muslim Brotherhood for control of Sunni Islam

Islamists want to limit the powers of the Islamic world's most prestigious university and impose their radical vision of the Qur'an. Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam at al-Azhar, walks out of President Morsy's maiden speech because the presidential staff failed to allocate him a seat at the event.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - The long-standing tensions between al-Azhar, the world's foremost Sunni university, and the Muslim Brotherhood are now out in the open, dividing Egypt. Local media have given wide coverage to the spat between Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, and President Morsy. For the president's first address to the nation, the presidential staff failed to allocate a seat to the religious leader, who left the venue before the new president started to speak. 

"The Muslim Brotherhood is trying its steal the limelight from al-Azhar and impose its radical interpretation of Islam," said Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church. "For this reason, the grand imam was not given a seat worthy of his rank during Morsy's address at al-Azhar Islamic University in Cairo."

For the past month, tensions between the two sides have been running high, the priest explained. Before the military dissolved the Islamist-controlled parliament, the latter had passed a law limiting the powers of the university in politics but also religion.

"The Muslim Brotherhood wants to limit the role of al-Azhar, especially its moderate vision of Islam, in government and schools, replacing it with its own and the Salafists' literalist and radical interpretation."

In order to avoid an open conflict among centres of powers, Morsy apologised today to al-Tayeb, claiming that the seating fiasco was due to poor organisation.

In a statement, the university expressed its disappointment over the incident, noting that the grand imam was traditionally seated next to the prime minister.

In recent years, al-Azhar has carried the banner of a more moderate Islam, open to dialogue with other religions, in stark contrast with the extremist positions and literalist interpretations proposed by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists.

Many lecturers and professors at the university are affiliated with the Brotherhood. For this reason, they are given little leeway in the university and are under the constant watch of academic and religions authorities. (S.C.)


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