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 on Saturday.
Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar institution, was quoted by German weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung's on 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 immediately be reached to confirm the comments.
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 of Egypt."
This critical situation in the country, 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.