Egypt's Sisi 'embarrassed' by al-Azhar's strong stance on Trump's Jerusalem move

Egypt's Sisi 'embarrassed' by al-Azhar's strong stance on Trump's Jerusalem move
Egypt's top Muslim cleric has 'unilaterally' decided to strongly condemn Trump's announcement that the US recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital, sources say.
3 min read
11 December, 2017
Al-Azhar has long been accused of being a state mouthpiece [Getty]

Egypt's top Muslim cleric "unilaterally" decided to strongly condemn President Donald Trump's announcement on Wednesday that the US now recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Al-Azhar's Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb's rebuke - and decision to cancel a meeting with US vice-President Mike Pence - has reportedly "embarrassed" Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has taken a softer stance on the issue.

Tayeb - as well as Egypt's Christian clerics - have cancelled scheduled meetings with Pence later this month in protest of the Jerusalem decision.

The grand imam of al-Azhar also issued a fiery statement, accusing Trump of "inciting hatred in the hearts of Muslims" and called for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Sources close to the grand imam told The New Arab on Sunday that his statements "were made unilaterally without coordination with state bodies".

"Tayeb has taken into account his responsibility as head of al-Azhar and anticipates the entire Muslim world to take a similar stance," the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.

"Tayeb fully understood that his decision would anger Sisi. But after authorities failed to take a tough position he chose to distance himself from political understandings as the issue of Jerusalem is a matter of doctrine."

The public condemnation could lead to a potential clash with Egypt's leader.

"He will refuse any pressure from authorities to back down from his position," they added.

Al-Azhar has long been accused of being a state mouthpiece, which issues religious rulings and statements that favour the military and political elites of Egypt.

On Tuesday, Sisi warned Trump against making the divisive move, which has drawn global condemnation. Since then he has been silent on the issue.

The Egyptian president will meet with Pence during his upcoming visit, despite the Palestinian Authority snubbing the US vice-president.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet Sisi in Cairo on Monday to discuss the crisis.

Sources close to the Sisi administration told The New Arab that Tayeb's move has "embarrassed" the president.

"The initiative has caused a great stir within the government, especially because they came without coordination and will put Sisi in an embarrassing position during the Pence visit," the sources said.

They added that Sisi has shied from taking a strong stance on Trump's decision to maintain good relations with the US, allowing him to attempt to influence Washington policy on the issue.

Anger throughout the Muslim and Arab world has included protests in Jordan, which also has a special role as the official custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

At least eight protesters were also detained following a protest in Cairo on Saturday, accused of "association with a terrorist organisation" after joining a small gathering against the Jerusalem move.

Israel seized Arab east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed, although the move was never recognised by the international community.

The Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

The international community does not recognise the ancient city as Israel's capital, insisting that the issue can only be resolved through negotiations.