In an event unthinkable under the old Egyptian regime, Hamas prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh appeared last Friday at the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo where he said that the “Zionist Enemy” would be driven from all Palestinian land. According to a report in the Egyptian Gazette:
CAIRO – Disappearing into the underground after the brutal Israeli war on Gaza in 2008, Ismael Haniyeh, the prime minister of the ousted Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, popped up all of a sudden in Cairo. Amid the deafening chants of enthusiastic worshippers after Friday’s prayers at Al-Azhar Mosque in Islamic Cairo, Haniyeh climbed the podium and resumed Hamas’ belligerent rhetoric about the ‘Zionist enemy’. He reiterated Hamas’ filibuster that the Palestinian resistance movement would under no circumstances lay its arms down before it had driven the Zionist enemy out of the entire Palestinian land. He said Hamas was sure that it would be victorious at the end of the day and that millions of Palestinian refugees would be invited to return to their homes and land. The agitated Egyptian worshippers at Al-Azhar were reassured that a Hamas-led victory moved closer when Cairo decided to ‘resume its leading and indispensable role in sponsoring the Arab cause in general and the Palestinian issue in particular’. Haniyeh deliberately ignored the fact that Cairo has been committed to a peace treaty with Tel Aviv since 1979. According to the Camp David peace accords, Cairo should not encourage or get involved in any hostile activities against Israel and vice versa.”
A post from May 2011 reported on a historic meeting between Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders and the grand sheikh of Al-Azar in which the Al-Azar sheikh blamed Israel and the West for terrorism and called for cooperation between both sides in order to spread “religious tolerance.” while another post provided initial details on what was described as a “first-of-a-kind” meeting between the Brotherhood leaders leaders and the Al-Azar grand sheikh.
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 former 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 in March 2010 that Dr. Al-Tayeb had made positive comments on the Brotherhood. The Egyptian Brotherhood also demanded at that time that the sheikh of Al Azhar be elected by Azhar scholars and not appointed by the president.