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Egypt role in Lebanese mufti's election signals new strategy

The success of an Egyptian initiative for electing a new mufti in Lebanon points to a reassertion of Egypt’s regional role and part of Cairo's strategy to combat radical Islamism.
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After long weeks of strenuous effort, a deal brokered by the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut paid off on Aug. 10 with the reunification of Dar al-Fatwa, the leading Sunni religious institution in Lebanon, and the election of a new mufti, the highest Sunni religious authority in the country. The success of the deal highlights several important developments, most notably Egypt’s reassertion of its regional role following a hiatus that began after the 2011 revolution. Furthermore, with its assistance, Egypt has helped Lebanese Sunnis project moderation in the face of attempted advances by radical Islamism.

The Lebanese Dar al-Fatwa — which espouses Ash’ari ideas, a moderate Islamic school of thought also adopted by Al-Azhar — has always provided religious cover for Lebanon's official, Sunni political leadership. The outgoing mufti, Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, preserved this tradition throughout the greater part of his mandate, which ends in September. In recent years, however, Qabbani's interests sometimes conflicted with the political leadership of the Future Movement, which represents the majority of Lebanese Sunnis, including over the movement's desire to amend Dar al-Fatwa’s manifesto to prevent the mufti's holding office for life. Disputes also arose between the two sides over Dar al-Fatwa real estate and financial issues.

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