Egyptian media is reporting on what it describes as a “first-of-its-kind” meeting between Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Azar leaders. According to a report at Al-Ahram Online:
In a first-of-its-kind meeting, Al Azhar’s Grand Imam, Ahmed El-Tayeb, and heads of the Muslim Brotherhood discussed the potential of creating a unified Islamic discourse. The meeting was attended by Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Abdallah El-Husseini, head of religious endowments, Osama El-Abd, head of Azhar University, Mohamed Badei, MB supreme guide, Mahdi Akef, former MB supreme guide, Abd El-Rahman El-Barr, member of the MB guidance office and Azhar professor. After the meeting, which lasted half an hour, El-Tayeb said that the MB were always close to Al-Azhar but that past circumstances did not allow for such meetings to take place. He added that the meeting discussed the importance of reaching a unified Islamic discourse that is moderate and that stands against claims of atonement spread by some Islamic movements.
Al-Azhar is considered to be the main center of Islamic and Arabic learning in the world and was founded in 970. A 2003 article published by Jamestown Foundation details the dominant role that Saudi Arabia had come to play at Al Azhar. In December 2005, young men from a Brotherhood student group dressed in black and held a military-style parade, complete with martial arts demonstrations, to protest restrictions on student political activities at Al Azhar. Such demonstrations are forbidden in Egypt and the event was the subject of a great deal of local and international media attention. In July 2008 Youssef Qaradawi, a Global Muslim Brotherhood leader and harsh critic of Israel, was elected to the Al Azhar Islamic Research Council. Another post discussed an October 2008 fatwa (Islamic ruling) that authorized computer hacking as a form of jihad against Israel and the United States.
Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the grand sheik of Al-Azhar, died during a trip to Saudi Arabia in 2010. Previous posts had reported on Sheik Tantawi’s conciliatory posture towards Israel which were at odds with other reports about Al-Azhar. Sheikh Tantawi appeared to have represented the less harsh side of Al-Azhar. Unlike Qaradawi who has issued fatwas authorizing suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, Tantawi condemned such operations and he appears to have attended an interfaith conference in Madrid that was sponsored by the Saud Muslim World League and which included Jewish participants. Qaradawi was also invited to the conference but declined the invitation on the grounds that “Zionists” were present. Although Al-Jazeera characterized Ahmed al-Tayeb, the new head of Alzhar, as a “moderate” the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood website, reported that Dr. Al-Tayeb has made positive comments on the Brotherhood. The Egyptian Brotherhood also demanded that the sheikh of Al Azhar be elected by Azhar scholars and not appointed by the president.