Sheikh Shawky Ibrahim is due to begin his tenure as grand mufti in March, when the term of the current Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa draws to a close.
Ibrahims election a fortnight ago by the Supreme Council of Scholars has been approved by President Mohamed Morsy, who is likely to give it the go-ahead.
The change in leadership comes at a critical time, when growing political polarization has challenged the rule of Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhoods political arm, from which he hails.
But, more than a political battle, the choice of Ibrahim, who keeps a relatively low profile, would seem to reflect a desire by the council to keep the post nonpartisan, amid growing concern over the politicization of the countrys top religious institutions.(...)
The selection of a politically neutral figure has dispelled mounting concern after a wave of speculation pinpointed Brotherhood-affiliated Abdel Rahman al-Barr as the likely candidate for the post from among a list of 28.
Barr, however, did not make it to the final list of three candidates, which included Ibrahim along with two similarly nonpartisan scholars of Sharia and jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University.(...)
Some foresaw battles between moderates and hardliners within Al-Azhar as extending to Dar al-Ifta. Ibrahims appointment is perceived as a victory for a current in Al-Azhar led by Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, reportedly engaged in a pseudo cold war against hardline religious groups.(...)
The Supreme Council of Scholars was revived in January last year when the then-ruling military council passed a law stipulating that the council appoint both the mufti and Al-Azhars grand sheikh.
The military junta passed the law just days before the first post-uprising elected Parliament was seated. It stipulates that the Al-Azhar grand sheikh appoint the supreme councils members, who are then entitled to elect the grand sheikh and the mufti, as well as to make decisions on all issues pertaining to the institution.
Islamist parties who had enjoyed a majority in the now dissolved Parliament had heavily criticized the way in which the law was passed, but failed to further challenge the decisive legislation.