Thursday 7 February 2013

Azhar rebuke & Syrian shoe greet Iran’s Egypt foray

From top: Ahmadinejad greeted by Morsi, next to the Grand Sheikh and then gloomy after the upbraiding

It was not exactly “veni, vidi, vici” (ecclesiastical Latin for “I came, I saw, I conquered”).
It was more like “I came, I saw, I tried” for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he ended the first visit by a president of Shiite Iran to Egypt since the Khomeini Revolution in 1979.
He arrived in Cairo Tuesday for a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). But his priority was to try and thaw long, frigid ties with the Arab world’s most populous nation following the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi as president in June.
Morsi gave Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome on the tarmac at Cairo airport, shaking his hand, hugging and exchanging a kiss on each cheek.
In the days he was in Cairo, Ahmadinejad called for a strategic alliance between the two regional heavyweights to counter Western domination and promote unity in the Islamic world. He even offered Egypt a “big credit line.”
But Egypt's presidential spokesman Yasser Ali yesterday said an end to the Syria crisis is a condition to restore Cairo’s diplomatic relations with Tehran.
Additionally, Sunni-Shiite tensions dominated talks between Ahmadinejad and Egypt's most prominent cleric Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar mosque and university, who gave the Iranian leader a dressing down on a string of issues.
Al-Azhar is the highest seat of religious learning in the Sunni-Muslim world.
According to a sum up of the talks posted on al-Azhar’s website, al-Tayeb told Ahmadinejad:

  • Al-Azhar mosque and university have over a millennium-long history. Over half a million men and women students from 103 countries are enrolled at the university, which teaches all roots, branches and philosophies of Islam without exception
  • “Allow me to say we are extremely disappointed to hear ceaseless insults hurled at the (Prophet’s) Companions and the Believers’ Mothers, God bless them. That’s totally unacceptable.” (Those figures are widely resented among Shiites because they are seen as having pushed aside Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb, the prophet's son-in-law, who Shiites consider his rightful successor. The dispute over succession is at the root of the centuries old split between Islam's Shiite and Sunni denominations.)
  • “We absolutely reject the extension of Shiite reach” in Sunni countries and in Egypt.
  • “Despite all what al-Azhar sees and hears of the insults hurled at the Companions and Aisha – God bless them – and Imam Bukhari, we don’t want to engage in a dispute we all can do without.”
  • Iran must give its Sunni citizens their full rights. Citizenship is indivisible according to modern law and Islamic Sharia.
  • A word about (Iran’s) meddling in the affairs of Bahrain and the Arab countries: The loyalty of Bahrainis should be to their homeland. No one should interfere in the Bahrainis’ internal affairs or in the affairs of Gulf Arab states.
  • Immediate action is needed to bring a halt to bloodshed in beloved Syria.

As the Iranian president walked past the ancient al-Hussein mosque near al-Azhar, a man believed to be Syrian attempted to hurl a shoe at him.
Ahmadinejad in tears next to Sayyida Zaynab's tomb
Unperturbed, Ahmadinejad later visited the mosque and mausoleum of Sayyida Zaynab in the capital's Old Cairo district, where he cried beside the Muslim matriarch's tomb.
Sayyida Zaynab was the daughter of Imam Ali, the central figure of Shiite Islam and the cousin of Prophet Muhammad.
Ahmadinejad greeted the mosque's superintendents with hugs and kisses. After praying inside the mosque, he headed to the adjacent mausoleum where he shed tears and prayed next to Sayyida Zaynab's tomb.
Editorially, Mohammed bin Abdellatif Aal ash-Shaikh, writing for today’s edition of the Saudi daily newspaper al-Jazirah, says the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar must have “greatly embarrassed” Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
“He is a stumbling block hindering Egypt’s move away from its traditional political positions toward rapprochement with Iran. That’s what the Brotherhood’s Egypt is trying to do.”
Ash-Shaikh recalls, “The Brotherhood was the first Sunni group to applaud Khomeini’s takeover in Iran. It sent a delegation to congratulate him on his return to Tehran and considered his accession to power a triumph for Islam and Muslims…
“At the same time, the Muslim Brothers want to draw closer to Iran, the Number One enemy of Gulf Arab countries, to sponge off financial aid from them. The Brothers’ links with Iran, in other words, are meant to pump off cash” from the Gulf Cooperation Council partners. Except that the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb will continue standing in their way.
Egypt’s famed talk show host Imad Adeeb, writing for the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, says al-Tayeb told Ahmadinejad in the face, “Stop persecuting the Sunnis of Iran. Respect the security of Gulf Arab states. Don’t back Bashar’s regime in his campaign against Syria’s Sunnis.”
Adeeb notes, “The Egyptian press and TV channels did not welcome Ahmadinejad. The masses did not crowd the streets to greet him. What was supposed to be a historic visit had nothing historic about it. The dream proved a nightmare. The signals from political and religious forces were disappointing…
“Ahmadinejad had hoped the Egyptian capital would compensate for the imminent exit of Assad’s Damascus from Iran’s sphere of influence. The Cairo visit dissipated that hope.”