Muhammed Sayyed Tantawi is in trouble. The high-profile Egyptian Muslim leader was caught on camera shaking hands with — gasp! — Israeli president Shimon Peres at the Interfaith Dialogue Conference in New York last month. Although at first he claimed it was an accident, he later asserted that he would meet with Peres for the sake of peace.
Back home, however, Tantawi’s symbolic gesture is being taken as a massive stab in the back. “The hand that shook Peres’ hand is tainted with the blood of Palestinians and reeks of the smell of their corpses and remains,” wrote Egyptian columnist Fahmi Huwaidi. “There is a verbal tradition that says that in such a situation the hand should be washed seven times.” As Ynet reports, Egyptian opposition MP Mustafa Bakri declared that Tantawi should be fired immediately from his post at Al-Azhar University, where he serves as imam. “It’s a blow to al-Azhar’s functioning and sanctity in the Arab world. This meeting was like al-Azhar’s clear normalization with the Zionist enemy. . . . His meeting with the Zionist president is demeaning to all Muslims.”
Thirty years on, this is the face of Egyptian peace with Israel.