Authorities remove and ban ten Muslim Brotherhood’s preachers from mosques

Control over the mosques and the schools allowed the Islamist group to reach many members of the public.
Sunday 01/12/2019
Worshippers sit, pray and read from the Quran inside the 10th-century historic al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo’s Islamic quarter. (AFP)
A target of infiltration. Worshippers sit, pray and read from the Quran inside the 10th-century historic al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo’s Islamic quarter. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egyptian authorities have stepped up their crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by taking moves to keep preachers affiliated with the Islamist group away from mosques.

The Ministry of Islamic Endowments, which is responsible for organising the work of tens of thousands of mosques across Egypt, recently sacked ten preachers for belonging to the Brotherhood, the movement of late Islamist President Muhammad Morsi.

The same preachers cannot preach at any of the nation’s mosques in the future, the ministry said in a statement on November 21.

The ministry’s decision is part of a nationwide clampdown on the movement that rose to power in 2012 but then turned into the main source of instability after Egyptians protested against it with help from the army a year later.

Egyptian authorities accuse the Muslim Brotherhood, which started as an educational charity organisation in 1928 but then turned to politics using the Islamic religion, of destabilising the country and staging hundreds of terrorist attacks.

Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated militias have carried out numerous attacks against state institutions and churches and targeted dozens of members of the police force.

In late 2013, Egypt designated the Brotherhood a “terrorist” organisation. A year later, the parliament passed a law that banned the appointment of the affiliates of terrorist organisations in state agencies.

These were the two laws the Ministry of Islamic Endowments used in justifying the dismissal of the ten aforementioned preachers.

“The ministry has rules that ban the involvement of mosque preachers in politics,” said Sheikh Fouad Abdel Azeem, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Islamic Endowments. “This involvement affects their independence negatively and does not serve public interests.”

Muslim Brotherhood affiliates are at the centre of an all-out purge in other state institutions.

Muslim Brotherhood loyalists had been part of Egypt’s administrative apparatus for decades. Thousands of these affiliates were given jobs in state institutions in the one year during which Morsi ruled, specialists said.

“They succeeded in infiltrating all institutions, especially during this one year,” said leading political Islam specialist Muneer Adeeb. “This is very dangerous.”

In October, Minister of Education Tarek Shawqi revealed that his ministry had sacked 1,070 schoolteachers who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The dismissal of these teachers, he said, aimed to protect the pupils against extremism.

The Muslim Brotherhood is deeply entrenched in Egypt’s schools and mosques. Control over the mosques and the schools allowed the Islamist group to reach many members of the public.

Apart from preaching at the mosques, Muslim Brotherhood affiliates offered free tutorials to poor children. Outside the mosques, they offered free food and medicines to the poor.

The presence of the Brotherhood in the mosques is seen as an unparalleled danger by authorities because mosque preachers have access to millions of people every day.  The mosques have also proven to be important recruitment grounds for terrorist organisations.

Egyptian educational authorities have revised school curricula with the aim of removing extremist content. Al-Azhar, the epicentre of Sunni Islamic learning, is also doing the same with the curricula it teaches at its schools and universities.

In July, Minister of Islamic Endowments Mokhtar Gomaa warned against the Muslim Brotherhood presence in state institutions and called for its presence to be eradicated.

The ministry sends the applications of potential workers, especially preachers, to security agencies to check whether they are connected with terrorist or extremist groups before hiring them.

Ministry inspectors keep an eye on the preachers after they are hired and assess their performance.

The ministry also asks the members of the public to send evaluations of the preachers at their local mosques and complaints, if there are any.

“These three mechanisms decide whether preachers will keep their jobs,” Abdel Azeem said.

Keeping extremists away from the mosques is seen as an important step in Egypt’s war against extremism and extremist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.

There are 102,000 mosques in Egypt. The Ministry of Islamic Endowments has a total workforce of 60,000. These workers have a strong influence on the beliefs and the behaviour of the public in a country where religion is the orbit of  life for many, analysts said.

“The presence of the Brotherhood in state institutions is extremely dangerous,” said political science researcher Ammar Ali Hassan. “It is especially dangerous in the case of the mosques because it can use these mosques in spreading its ideology.”