By Connor Molloy
New President Mohamed Morsy has not had an easy first five days as president of Egypt.
Faced with a dissolved parliament, judges appointed by ousted Hosni Mubarak, and protesters milling at the gates, he now seems dangerously close to entering into a fracas with the upper echelon of religious authority in the Sunni world.
On Tuesday, Morsy attempted to calm rising tensions with Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayyeb and the Islamic scholars of Al-Azhar.
The problems began during Morsy’s speech at Cairo University this past Saturday, when a number of scholars from Al-Azhar, including Al-Tayyeb, walked out in protest against their seating arrangement.
The Brotherhood has tried to brush the incident aside as a quirk of poor event-organising. However, religious leaders have called it a sign of disrespect.
Regardless of what happened, Morsy called Al-Tayyeb to make sure those at Al-Azhar know they are appreciated by the president.
If there is indeed a schism forming between the Brotherhood and the scholars of Al-Azhar it would see two of the most preeminent institutions in the Sunni world battling in a very public light.
Al-Azhar long served as a counterweight to the power of underground Islam in Egypt, with Egyptian presidents allowed by law to handpick the institution’s Grand Sheikhs. Al-Tayyeb himself was chosen by Mubarak.
This status quo is being challenged on many fronts.
SCAF passed a decree, derided as illegal by the Brotherhood, which grants further autonomy for Al-Azhar.
Meanwhile, a coalition of thousands of Al-Azhar sheikhs is advocating for even more independence.
All of this, in addition to the relationship between Morsy and Al-Tayyeb, will work to structure a new, post- revolution relationship between the members Al-Azhar and those who rule Egypt.