Egypt tightens grip on 'unauthorized' preachers

Egypt tightens grip on 'unauthorized' preachers
Sun Jun 8, 2014 12:43:18

Egypt has banned unauthorized preachers from offering sermons or teaching Islam in mosques and other public places, according to a decree marking further measures by the military-installed interim government to curb Muslim Brotherhood influence.

The decree issued by interim President Adly Mansour's office also threatened fines and jail for freelance imams, especially if they wore clerical garments associated with the respected Al-Azhar center in Cairo.

Selected employees of the religious endowments ministry will be empowered by the Justice Ministry to arrest anyone caught violating the decree, it added.

"No preacher will mount a minbar [a pulpit in the mosque where the imam (prayer leader) stands to deliver sermons] next Friday without a permit," the ministry said on its Facebook page.

The decision was taken to "preserve national security," it said.

The military-backed government sees mosques as recruiting grounds for extremist parties and has moved to bring them under tighter control since the army toppled President Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last July.

It said in April it had licensed more than 17,000 state-approved preachers to give Friday sermons to stop mosques from falling "into the hands of extremists." It also disclosed it had removed 12,000 unapproved preachers.

Many Egyptians pray at small neighborhood mosques beyond the control of the state, where outsiders can easily move in to take over and preach their brand of Islam.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been driven underground, with most of its leaders in jail or in hiding. It denies any involvement in lethal attacks on security forces since Morsi's overthrow.

According to the decree, "only designated specialists at the Ministry of Religious Endowments and authorized preachers from Al-Azhar shall be permitted to practice public preaching and religious lessons in mosques or similar public places."

Only Al-Azhar officials and graduates as well preachers from the ministry or the grand mufti's office will be allowed to wear the trademark "turban" - a red hat with a white cloth band - and robes that designate an Al-Azhar cleric, it said.

Unauthorized preachers face jail terms of up to a year and fines up to 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,000). Wearing or denigrating Al-Azhar garments in any way will carry similar penalties, it added.


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