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Egypt's Top Sunni Cleric Dies of Heart Attack at Age 81


Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, 81, had been in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, for a ceremony

Egypt's most senior Muslim cleric has died of a heart attack while on a visit to Saudi Arabia.

Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi was the head of Sunni Islam's most prominent seminary, the Cairo-based Al-Azhar institute. The 81-year-old cleric had been in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, for a ceremony.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appointed Tantawi as head of Al-Azhar in 1996. The institute runs schools, universities and other educational institutions across Egypt.

Tantawi led a moderate branch of Sunni Islam championed by Egypt's government. Last year, he barred women from wearing a full face veil known as a niqab in some Al-Azhar classrooms, a ruling that angered Egyptian Islamists.

A son of Tantawi says his family has decided to bury the cleric in the Saudi holy city of Medina. Egyptian state television initially reported the cleric's body would be transferred to Egypt for burial.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.

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