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Grand mufti chosen in Egypt; many activists surprised by pick

February 11, 2013|By Reem Abdellatif

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt-- Senior Egyptian clerics elected a new top Islamist jurist Monday in the first such ballot in six decades.

Shawky Ibrahim Abdel Karim, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Tanta University, was chosen as grand mufti to succeed moderate Islamist Ali Gomaa, according to state media. President Mohamed Morsi must ratify the nomination.

News of Abdel Karim's appointment stunned many Egyptian activists, who assumed such a position would be won by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Many believed Abdel Rahman Bar, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau, was the leading candidate for the post.

Morsi was a leader of the group until his election as president last June, and the Brotherhood has been moving to consolidate its power over public and religious institutions. But clerics at Al Azhar mosque and university, one of Sunni Islam’s most revered institutions, decided to select a man with no firm political affiliations.

"The Brotherhood is not usually timid to show their grip on power, but this is a post that they might have chosen to lose," said Nada Azmy, a 22-year-old university student. "The president already works closely with the mufti and the mufti's position is known to lean towards moderate Sunni practices, which works out well for the Brotherhood's vision."

Al Azhar should be a “genuinely independent institution. That's something we truly support," said a post on the Muslim Brotherhood's official Twitter website.

The president of Egypt long had been responsible for appointing the country's grand mufti, who oversees religious fatwas and the running of Al Azhar. After the 2011 ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, the interim government amended the law to allow Al Azhar clerics to vote for the Islamic leader.

The new law requires nominees for the position to be graduates of Al Azhar University and to have held a top position at an institution affiliated with Al Azhar. After serving for eight years, Gomaa will end his term in March.

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