CAIRO (AFP) - Egypt's Muslim authorities have stepped in to keep a wave of anti-Semitic sentiment from getting out of control, disowning an edict by a firebrand cleric calling for Israeli Jews to be killed.
On the eve of last week's truce in the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah, cleric Safwat al-Higazi issued an edict calling on worshippers to kill "any Zionist anywhere in wartime".
Speaking on the religious satellite network Al-Nas, the Cairo imam specified that the use of "fire arms, knives and poison" should be preferred to suicide bombings "in order to spare innocents".
Higazi later limited the edict to Israeli Jews, whom he said were all reservists in the army and therefore legitimate targets.
"I myself am ready to slash the throat of any Israeli I meet," he told the Sawt al-Umma newspaper.
Al-Azhar mosque, the leading theological authority for many Sunni Muslims, had to step in with a counter-fatwa and banned Higazi from preaching at Friday prayers.
"Killing Jews on the Egyptian territory would be a terrorist act," said the edict, issued three days after Higazi's.
However, the Al-Azhar fatwa said nothing about killing Jews in other countries.
In Tuesday's edition of the independent Al-Masri Al-Yom daily, Egypt's government-appointed grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, explained that any Israeli who has been granted a visa should be spared.
"A visa is a 'safe-conduct pass' granted by the authorities to civilians and travellers wishing to enter a country, which bans his killing even if there is a war between us and his country," the sheikh told the newspaper.
Gomaa had initially reacted to Israel's offensive in Lebanon by praising the resistance of Hassan Nasrallah's Hezbollah guerrilla against the "blood-thirsty murderers" and condemning the "lies" of the Israeli government.
"These lies have exposed the true and hideous face of the blood-suckers," he had told the state-owned Al-Ahram daily, referring to a 19th century anti-Semitic book alleging that Jews used human blood to make Passover bread.
Mohammed Raafat Othman, a professor of Islamic law at Al-Azhar -- whose grand imam is also government-appointed -- echoed Gomaa's views by stressing that killing a Jew or anyone else holding a valid visa "would be considered a major criminal act in Islam."
Al-Masri Al-Yom editorialist Magdi Mehanna argued that too much attention is being given to Higazi and that the country's religious authorities should close the file.
While the story itself is amazing, what makes it even worse is that this happened over a week ago and essentially no one noticed or decided it was newsworthy. Even now, it barely registers on Google News. Moreover, AP reported most of the same facts last week, and only one newspaper I could find (in China) printed it - letting us know that the fatwa against Jews was declared on July 13!
For a solid month the fatwa was publicly known in Egypt, having been broadcast on a Muslim TV channel, and no one thought it was newsworthy!