Iran’s Ahmadinejad Draws Criticism From Egypt Religious Leaders

Egypt’s top religious officials rejected what they described as Iranian attempts to extend the reach of Shiite Islam into Sunni nations, and voiced objections over perceived insults to the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.

The exchange, aired during a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to al-Azhar, the Sunni world’s pre-eminent religious institution, underscored the divide between Shiite Iran and Sunni Egypt -- two nations whose ideological rifts precede the political tensions that Ahmadinejad’s visit is partly aimed at bridging.

Ahmadinejad, in a televised press conference, said he hoped the trip marked a new start in the relations between Egypt and Iran. Minutes later, he was frowning as an adviser to the head of al-Azhar briefed reporters on the discussion. Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb reportedly asked Ahmadinejad to issue religious edicts criminalizing insults to the prophet’s wife and his immediate successors, who have factored prominently in centuries-old rifts between Shiites and Sunnis.

He also stressed the need to not interfere in the internal affairs of Bahrain, whose king is a Sunni ruling over a Shiite majority, according to an e-mailed statement from the institution.

Ahmadinejad’s arrival in Cairo marked the first visit by an Iranian president to Egypt since the 1979 revolution in Iran.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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