Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, Egyptian Imam of al-Azhar Mosque (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt's highest Islamic authority Al-Azhar denounced statements made by Islamist preacher and Muslim Brotherhood supporter Safwat Hegazy “insulting' Al-Azhar's Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb during the mass demonstration staged in Cairo on Friday by 17 Islamist parties in support of President Morsi.
"Al-Azhar is deeply sorry to know of the incident in which its grand imam was insulted during Friday's demonstrations, where one of the participants spoke lies about [El-Tayyeb's] personality and honourable past, with no one to correct or denounce him," Al-Azhar said in a statement Sunday.
"Those lies came from the sick mind of someone who used to go to Tahrir Square only to boast about being part of the revolution and was known among Tahrir protesters to be selfish, two-faced and divisive," the statement added, referring to Hegazy.
Speaking on the podium during Friday's demonstration, Hegazy said that it was El-Tayyeb who released a fatwa (a religious edict) during the uprising prohibiting rebellion against Mubarak. Hegazy went on to say that El-Tayyeb was a member of the policy committee of the Mubarak regime's National Democratic Party – a key party institution known to have included the regime's closest aides.
"The grand imam advised Tahrir's youth hours before [Mubarak's step-down] not to go to the square, fearing for their precious blood from a regime we all know the true nature of. If only those who compromise the blood of Egyptians now can understand the meaning of protecting innocent lives," the statement said.
El-Tayyeb has faced criticism from Islamist supporters of President Morsi following the former's criticism of "false" fatwas by "incompetent" sheikhs who state that those who oppose the ruler are "hypocrites and infidels" in the eyes of Islam, as the country expects nationwide anti-Morsi protests on 30 June.
Friday's demonstrations, with an estimated attendance in the hundreds of thousands, were a response to the anticipated protests.
Al-Azhar's statement also explained that El-Tayyeb's membership in the policy committee was automatically granted to him when he filled the post of head of Al-Azhar University in 2003, and stressed that El-Tayyeb only attended one meeting of the committee and resigned once he became the head of the Al-Azhar institution in early 2010.
Opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, have in the past accused the Islamist group of seeking control over Al-Azhar by planning to replace El-Tayyeb with a Brotherhood figure, a claim which the Brotherhood has repeatedly denied.