Last update - 22:59 02/12/2008     
      Egypt's Grand Sheik: I shook Peres' hand because I had no idea who he was 
      By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent  
      Tags: Peres, Israel news, Egypt   

      Egypt's Grand Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, considered the most senior 
institutional religious authority in Egypt, announced Tuesday that he had 
shaken the hand of Israel's President, Shimon Peres, at a conference several 
weeks ago, because he did not recognize him and did not know who he was. 

      The handshake, which took place at a United Nations-hosted interfaith 
meeting in New York last month, sparked harsh criticism among the Egyptian 
opposition, who went as far as to demand Tantawi's resignation. 

      The two men met at a small dinner for world leaders, attended by the 
Saudi king, the emir of Kuwait and other Arab leaders. It was the first time 
that Israeli and Saudi leaders were present at the same public event. 
      At the conference, Tantawi was the first leader to approach Peres and 
engage in conversation with him. The two men spoke for several minutes without 
releasing their handshake for the duration of the conversation. 

      Peres' office declined to comment on the incident. 

      Tantawi told the independent Egyptian paper Al Masri al Youm that "I 
shook the hand of anyone who held out his hand. Among those was Shimon Peres, 
whom I did not recognize, so I shook his hand like I did the others, at random 
without even knowing him... And if I had known who it was, would the handshake 
amount to heresy?" 

      Tantawi condemned anyone who publicized the picture of him shaking hands 
with Peres, saying it had been a "group of lunatics." 

      Those who criticized Tantawi were affiliated with Egypt's Muslim 
Brotherhood and other opposition groups who oppose maintaining relations with 
Israel as well as normalization with Israel. 

      Egyptian Parliament member Moustafa Bakri asked Egyptian President Hosni 
Mubarak on Monday to dismiss Tantawi, saying that his meeting with Peres was 
"an affront to all Muslims everywhere." 

      Related articles: 

      a.. Saudi king musn't shake Peres' hand at interfaith meet, pan-Arab 
newspaper editor says 

      a.. Saudi FM: In UN speech, Peres left some parts of Arab peace plan 

      a.. Saudi King meets with group of prominent U.S. Jews in New York 



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