CAIRO: Sunni Islam’s top religious body condemned the US on Monday for its criticism of religious freedom in Egypt, branding it “unacceptable interference” in the country’s affairs.
Al-Azhar considered the US report to be “ignorance, slander, and blatant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Egypt,” state news agency MENA quoted Al-Azhar spokesman Mohamed Al-Tahtawi as saying.
The oldest seat of Islamic learning rejected “whatever is said in the US report,” said Al-Tahtawi following a meeting of various senior officials within the Egyptian-based body, including Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayyeb.
The annual US International Religious Freedom Report, which was released in mid-November, carried a sharp complaint about the status of religious freedom in Egypt.
“The status of respect for religious freedom by the government remained poor, unchanged from the previous year,” the report said.
It singled out minority groups such as Christians and members of the Bahai faith, stating that they “face personal and collective discrimination, especially in government employment and their ability to build, renovate, and repair places of worship.”
Furthermore, members of the banned political opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood “remain subject to arbitrary detention and pressure from the government,” the report said.
Egypt angrily dismissed the US complaints, saying the report “is rejected on principle because it has been issued by a party which has no right to make such an evaluation.”
Coptic Christians, who comprise between six and 10 percent of Egypt’s 80-million-strong population, frequently complain of discrimination and sectarian attacks.