BERLIN – Egypt's top Sunni Muslim cleric says the country's former president Hosni Mubarak should be granted mercy instead of facing prosecution, a German newspaper reported Saturday.
Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar institution, was quoted by German weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung's Sunday edition as saying that "mercy should prevail over justice" given Mubarak's achievements and his poor health.
Representatives of Al-Azhar, the pre-eminent theological institute of Sunni Islam, in Cairo could not be reached to confirm the comments.
"One should consider that Mubarak has done a lot for Egypt over a long time. He's an old and sick man. Mercy should prevail over justice," he was quoted as saying.
The weekly, which said it interviewed el-Tayeb in Egypt's capital, further quoted him as saying that toppling Mubarak was an expression of the people's desire for change "which Al-Azhar supports."
El-Tayeb also voiced concern in light of the recent clashes between Copts and Muslims in Cairo, saying those were directed "from interested groups outside" the country, accusing "the West of seeking to foment chaos in Egypt."
"Muslims and Christians have lived peacefully together since Islam's introduction 1,400 years ago," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
This critical situation in the country in the wake of Mubarak's demise, he was further quoted as saying, "could force the military to remain in power."
The French-educated el-Tayeb was appointed to his post last year by Mubarak. He had been a member of Mubarak's ruling party but left it after public criticism that the head of Al-Azhar shouldn't also be in politics.
During the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak, el-Tayeb condemned the sit-in in Tahrir square after Mubarak promised concessions. He said the continued protests were not religiously condoned.
He is considered a moderate cleric, is an expert in Islamic philosophy and issues of faith, and has criticized hardline Islamists.
The 82-year-old Mubarak has been held in custody since last month on charges that include misuse of power and ordering attacks against protesters in the 18-day uprising that drove him from power in February.
His 70-year-old wife, Suzanne, was released this week after she relinquished assets and property valued at some $4 million, a move aimed at settling corruption allegations against her, though it was unclear whether she might still face trial.
Bringing Mubarak to trial has become a rallying point for protesters, who turned out in Tahrir Square by the hundreds Friday to express their frustration at the failure by the military council, which currently rules the country, to bring about more democratic change.
Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed reporting.