During a visit to Egypt's Al-Azhar Sheikhdom headquarters in Cairo on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron told Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb that France appreciates the institution’s role in combating extremist ideas.
Macron’s visit to Al-Azhar wraps up his first official trip to Egypt, which started on Sunday with a stop at Aswan, where he visited Abu Simbel Temple.
During the visit to Al-Azhar by Macron and his wife Brigitte, El-Tayyeb said that the French president's visit carries special significance given the historical relations between France and Al-Azhar.
The grand imam of Al-Azhar – the world's oldest institute of Sunni Islamic learning – said that studies and visits to France by Al-Azhar scholars have helped them become symbols of thought and culture in Egypt, and that the French schools of thought are still the most influential among the institution’s scholars.
"These historical relations commit us to helping France defeat terrorism," El-Tayyeb said, affirming that Al-Azhar is committed to confronting those who kill others in the name of religion.
El-Tayyeb also said that Al-Azhar is prepared to provide scholarships for French students to study at the institute to help turn France into a hub for spreading moderate Islamic thought in Europe.
The grand imam affirmed that the message of Islam is peace, which is always promoted by Al-Azhar.
"Al-Azhar is ready to help stop anyone in any part of the world from getting killed in the name of religion," El-Tayyeb told the French president.
El-Tayyeb also said that Al-Azhar is continuously working to build bridges of dialogue with the West and major religious institutions such as the Vatican, the World Council of Churches and the Archbishopric of Canterbury, referring to his expected participation in the UAE's Global Conference for Human Fraternity in February next year. The conference is held in cooperation with the Vatican to spread peace among the followers of different religions.
Macron said he is glad to be meeting with one of the most important Islamic figures in the world, expressing his desire to increase cooperation with Al-Azhar to promote the values of citizenship, coexistence and stability in French society and confront extremist thoughts that infect young Muslims in France.
Macron also encouraged all French imams and preachers to receive training at Al-Azhar University and to ensure respect for the principals of citizenship and stability, stressing the importance of boosting cultural relations between Al-Azhar and France by exchanging scholarships and building academic relations.
Meeting with Pope Tawadros II
French President Emmanuel Macron meeting with the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II in Cairo, 29 January (Photo courtesy of the Coptic Orthodox church spokesman official Facebook page)
Earlier on Tuesday, Macron visited St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo's Abbasiya district and met with the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II.
In a televised press conference at the Cathedral, Pope Tawadros II told Macron that stability and peace will only be achieved through dialogue, pointing out that there is a continuous dialogue to preserve national unity through a number of Islamic and Coptic institutions in the country.
The pope explained that Egyptian society is built upon with the foundations of national unity, adding that “no one can differentiate between an Egyptian Copt and his Muslim brother when walking the streets of Cairo.”
On Monday, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and his wife received the French president and first lady at Cairo's Ittihadiya Presidential Palace.
During his visit, the French president also witnessed the signing of a number of agreements between the two countries to develop education, social protection, health, transportation, foreign affairs, trade, culture and youth issues in Egypt.
The two presidents also held a press conference where they exchanged views on international issues and the human rights situation in Egypt.
Macron said that during his meeting with El-Sisi, he stressed that stability and security cannot be separated from human rights.
El-Sisi said that the Egyptian people alone can assess the political, economic and social rights they enjoy, and he highlighted Egypt's advancements in healthcare and social housing.
The two presidents also took part in the Egyptian-French joint economic forum on Monday evening.
Macron's first visit to Egypt comes amid unrest in France as a result of the so-called yellow vest protests, which have now reached 11 weeks of marches against Macron's economic reforms.
The visit also marked the start of 'France-Egypt 2019,' which was launched earlier this year by El-Sisi and his French counterpart to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Suez Canal.
Egypt and France have strengthened economic and military ties since El-Sisi assumed office in 2014.
Egypt's President El-Sisi last visited Paris in October 2017, where he met with Macron and discussed joint efforts to combat terrorism, the Middle East peace process, the situation in Libya, and issues related to bilateral cooperation.