Top Egyptian imam doubles down on refusal to meet Pence over Jerusalem
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Top Egyptian imam doubles down on refusal to meet Pence over Jerusalem

Al-Azhar head says meeting US vice president during his Middle East trip would 'tear up my identity,' warns recognizing Israel's capital will fuel terror

This file photo taken on April 28, 2017 shows Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, delivering a speech during the visit of Pope Francis to the prestigious Sunni institution in Cairo. (AFP Photo/Andreas Solaro)
This file photo taken on April 28, 2017 shows Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, delivering a speech during the visit of Pope Francis to the prestigious Sunni institution in Cairo. (AFP Photo/Andreas Solaro)

A top Egyptian imam is insisting he will not meet with US Vice President Mike Pence during his upcoming visit to Cairo, due to the “rash and uncalculated” American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In an interview with CNN Thursday, Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand iman of al-Azhar, said meeting Pence would “tear up my identity” and come across as “contradictory in front of people.”

In the wake of US President Donald Trump’s declaration, Tayeb cancelled a planned meeting with Pence, who will be in Egypt, Jordan and Israel in the coming days. The US vice president had been set to visit the region in December, but his trip was rescheduled amid Congress’s efforts to pass tax reform.

Tayeb, who has urged Trump to reverse his decision, called the recognition an “aggression toward people, countries, cultures and civilizations,” and said it would “feed terrorism in the region.

“Decisions like this one nurture terrorism, create it and propel it forward to act and express itself in methods we all reject,” he told CNN. “When terrorism rises again, the East and West will drown in seas of blood.”

In addition to Tayeb, Pope Tawadros II, the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, also announced last month he would not meet with Pence in protest of the Jerusalem declaration.

Egypt’s Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed al-Tayeb (R) and the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria attend a conference in Cairo, Egypt on February 28, 2017.(Khaled Desouki/AFP)

Pence is scheduled to land in Cairo Saturday to meet with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. On Sunday, he will head to Amman to meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan, before traveling to Israel.

Both Egypt and Jordan, which are close US allies, have vehemently criticized the Trump administration’s recent moves on Jerusalem.

Pence will not travel to Ramallah or meet with Palestinian Authority officials while he is in the region, due to the PA’s decision to boycott the US administration over Trump’s move.

Already tense relations between Washington and Ramallah continued to deteriorate when the administration vowed to cut or suspend funding to the Palestinian Authority. On Sunday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a fiery speech denouncing Trump and rejecting his administration’s bid to broker a peace deal with Israel.

On Tuesday, the US State Department announced that it was withholding $65 million to the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians known as UNRWA, a move the Palestinians condemned vociferously. The State Department said Thursday it will hold up another $45 million in food aid for UNRWA.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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