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Greetings From the Gulf to Al-Azhar’s Free Sheikh | 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)

The above title is taken from a tweet sent by UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, in recognition of the stance adopted by Al-Azhar grand sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb towards the Iranian president, during the latter’s recent visit to Egypt. During the visit, Al-Azhar, and its grand sheikh, adopted a critical attitude towards Iran’s policies in the region.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed’s sentiments here reflect the position of the entire Arabian Gulf. The Arab world rejects Iran’s interference in the countries of the region, and particularly its blatant and flagrant support for the tyrant of Damascus, Bashar Al-Assad. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Al-Azhar grand sheikh’s severe and clear statement, after meeting with President Ahmadinejad, was a historic speech that will live long in the memory. It was a speech displaying the conscience and responsibility required from the leader of Sunni moderation in Egypt. He rejected prejudice in the region, including in the Arabian Gulf, saying that Iran must not interfere in the affairs of the independent state of Bahrain, or the rest of the Gulf States for that matter, as well as in Syria. Likewise the grand sheikh rejected Iran’s attempts to spread the Shia doctrine throughout the region, most dangerously through politics and the media. He remarked that this spread is now rampant, the credit for which goes to the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, and this is the crux of the matter.

Yet the fear today is that the Al-Azhar grand sheikh will be targeted because of his strict stance towards Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and his critical attitude towards Iran’s policies in the region, specifically in the Gulf and Syria. One may argue here that the Egyptian foreign minister also expressed to the Iranian president that the Gulf was a red line, but this is not enough of course. If the Egyptian foreign minister had told Ahmadinejad that Syria and the blood of its citizens was a red line, and that defending Bashar Assad puts Iran among the ranks of enemies, then one could say that Egypt today is united behind one position, but that did not happen. Therefore, the reality of the matter-and the course of events in Egypt over the past two years-tells us that we must look out for any attempt to target Al-Azhar grand sheikh Ahmed Tayeb, especially as he leads Egypt’s predominant moderate Sunni trend.

Previously, I warned of those seeking to control Al-Azhar in my article entitled “’The region caught between two guides”’ on 16 December 2012. Today I return to warn of the danger of targeting Al-Azhar; an institution that has displayed its independence to ensure the protection of Egypt as a whole. This is not just evident by Al-Azhar’s noble stance towards Ahmadinejad’s visit, but also because of its insistence on the unity of Egypt and all its components ever since the fall of the Mubarak regime. However, today the danger is growing, and the grand sheikh must be a red line for all citizens of Egypt, the Gulf, and the Arabs in general and indeed anyone who advocates tolerance, stability, and moderate discourse. Thus, as UAE foreign minister said: “Greetings from the Gulf to Al-Azhar’s free sheikh”. He deserves this greeting without a doubt.