Iran wants Al-Azhar branch in Tehran

* Iranian official says move aimed to bridge sectarian divide among Muslims

CAIRO: Despite Egypt-Iran tensions, the Islamic republic has made an unprecedented request for Cairo’s Al-Azhar University to open a branch in Tehran.

The overture has, however, sparked speculation in Egypt that Iran, increasingly embattled over its controversial nuclear programme, is merely seeking Arab support in its standoff with the West. “We have asked officially, but so far we have had no response,” said Karim Azizi, spokesman at the Iranian interests section in Cairo where there has been no Iranian embassy since diplomatic relations were cut almost 30 years ago.

Bridging differences: Azizi told AFP the request to Al-Azhar – founded in 975 AD – was aimed at “reinforcing Iranian-Egyptian relations and bringing closer together the different Islamic sects, especially Sunnis and Shiites.” The surprise move comes amid anger in Egypt after Iranian television screened a film reportedly calling assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat a traitor and hailing his executed killer as a martyr.

After “Assassination of a Pharaoh” was shown, Egypt in July cancelled a football match, summoned Iran’s envoy in Cairo and closed an Iranian satellite TV channel’s office. Officially Iran has sought to distance itself from the broadcast, saying it does not represent Tehran’s position and instead hailing relations between the two Middle East heavyweights as… >>>

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