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Ahmadinejad in Al-Azhar | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, attends a press conference with Egyptian Sunni clerics at Al-Azhar headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Was the direct stance adopted by Al-Azhar institution—in its recent meeting with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—at odds with the orientations of Egyptian president Mohammed Mursi, since opponents of the Brotherhood claim the group is traditionally in favor of the Iranian revolution project? Or is Al-Azhar’s stance in tune with the strong position that President Mursi outlined himself in the Iranians’ own back yard, when he rebuked Iran’s policies in Syria by criticizing the Assad regime and delegitimizing it, and then referenced the rightly-guided Caliphs and the insults they have been subjected to in Shia literature?

The truth is that Al-Azhar’s tough stance could be interpreted either way, but this is not important. It was a stance independent of the Egyptian government, and this in itself carries two positives: Firstly, it means that Al-Azhar has opened a new page in terms of the independence of its decisions from the Egyptian government, whatever the affiliation of its president, and this is a healthy situation that is consistent with the institution’s honorable history. Secondly, Al-Azhar has abandoned the courtesies that used to characterize its relationship with the Iranian religious authority. The Iranians took advantage of such courtesies recently to infiltrate Egypt in the middle of the night, unbeknown to Al-Azhar and dressed in the gown of unity and the robe of rapprochement, in order to spread Shiism in a Sunni Muslim society and create sectarian hotbeds capable of igniting at any moment. If Al-Azhar’s stance is in line with President Mursi’s position in Tehran, in other words the second case I described above, then this is another positive. It means that both Al-Azhar and the Egyptian presidency are adopting the correct stance towards Iran’s policies, at a time when Brotherhood opponents are speculating that Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Egypt was an effort to encourage rapprochement with Tehran.

President Ahmadinejad certainly wanted his visit to Egypt and his meeting with Al-Azhar leaders to be Iran’s salvation. The country is experiencing a state of isolation that has been reinforced by its sectarian and inhumane stances in support of its bloodthirsty ally Bashar Al-Assad. This shameful stance—in alliance with the heinous crimes of the Assad regime against its own people—was the final straw that ended Iran’s credibility in the Islamic world, and it was natural that Al-Azhar’s position would reflect this.

It is noteworthy in this regard that Iran, without any consideration for its own dignity, still insists on playing the symphony of unity, rapprochement, resistance, and opposition to Israel; a symphony which is no longer pleasing even to the ears of its allies. The arrogant Iranian leadership relentlessly sought to highlight Israel’s recent battle against Gaza, at the same time as Bashar Assad was continuing to fight his own people. Yet the difference is that the Israeli assault killed an average of ten people per day and stopped after a few days, while the Assad killing machine—with Iranian weapons and expertise—plows down an average of 200 Syrians per day. The Syrian regime has been carrying out these horrific massacres for the past two years. When I speak of a lack of “Iranian dignity”, I mean that the strong messages Iran has received from Mursi in Tehran, and from Al-Azhar in Cairo, have not deterred Iran’s tireless attempts to end its isolation and further penetrate into the Sunni Muslim world, talking advantage of political disorders and economic crises. How else can we explain Iran’s recent move to open its political borders for the Egyptians to enter without a visa?

It remains to be noted here that there is a fine line separating anti-Shiite sectarianism, which is deplorable, and criticizing Iran, its policies and its ideological extension into all Sunni Muslim states. If Iran had turned inwards on itself and its ideology, as in the case of the moderate Shiite state of Azerbaijan, and not spread out like an octopus in all countries of the Sunni world, then we would not see this negative attitude towards Iran and its policies. In past years, members of Al-Azhar condemned those warning of Iran’s plans and its attempts to spread Shiism in the Sunni world, labeling such warnings as short-sighted and sectarian. However, now that Al-Azhar has felt the heat of some of the Iranian flames in Egypt it has become convinced, and it is the most tolerant and moderate religious voice in the region, that standing in the face of this Iranian influence is now a religious duty and a national responsibility for all Arab states.