In a story that has been under reported or ignored by most Arabic media outlets, Egypt’s top Islamic body’s call for dialogue to end extremist behavior. By contrast, Alhurra and Radio Sawa’s news coverage has been providing extra focus on Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious center of learning in Egypt, call for Shia and Sunni leaders to work together to find a way to counter extremism.
In addition to newscasts on both networks, Alhurra’s daily talk show Free Hour had a discussion with religious experts to examine what Al-Azhar’s call means to the future of Sunni/Shia relations. Fahran al Saeidi, a professor at the seminary in Najaf, stated that Al-Azhar’s initiative should be received with great respect. He went on to say it is meant to create understanding and to isolate extremism and violence. It might not find ultimate solutions for problems, but it is better than silence.
Ahmed Ban, a researcher at the Nile Center for Strategic Studies, cautioned that Al-Azhar cannot do it alone. There should be cooperation from other organizations, such as the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). He went on to say, the role of Al-Azhar is important, but is not enough. It has to be supported by political regimes and organizations such as OIC.
Al-Azhar University professor of religion, Abdel Monem Fouad agreed that this crisis is political. Al- Azhar Imam invited the Arab Sunnis and Shia to stop bloodshed in Iraq and come to an understanding among each other. He wanted to let everyone know that Al- Azhar wants to be in peace with everyone, even if it disagrees with them doctrinally.
Alhurra’s Al Youm program surveyed reaction to the announcement calling for a conference of Sunni and Shia leaders. The network’s primetime newscast profiled a new YouTube channel produced by Al-Azhar that will curate videos of people talking about religious tolerance and moderation.
Alhurra’s Facebook page asked readers what they thought of the announcement that Al Azhar wants to start a conference between Sunni and Shia leaders. The post had approximately 500 “likes” and more than 200 comments. The network’s newscasts highlighted some of their opinions on air.
Radio Sawa’s Sawa Magazine also focused on the overture for peace made by Al-Azhar. The magazine program interviewed Mohamed Mohana, Al-Azhar’s Foreign Relations Advisor. During the interview, Mohana said that dialogue between Sunnis and Shias is vital to close the gap between the two doctrines and end sectarian conflicts and fragmentation. He admitted that there is a sectarian war in the region, adding that Al-Azhar approaches preachers and imams not extremists fighters. Mohana also said that Azhar is ready to engage in a dialogue with Iranian clergymen.