Cairo investigates Muslim Brotherhood connections in civil service
Cairo - Egypt’s Islamic Endowments Ministry is reviewing files of all civil servants it hired during the presidency of Islamist Muhammad Morsi. The ministry is trying to ensure that members of the Muslim Brotherhood — designated a terrorist organisation by Egypt in 2013 — have been removed from government.
“These people must be taken away from state institutions at all costs,” said Gaber Taye, the official spokesman of the ministry. “Their presence in these institutions is very dangerous because they constitute sleeper cells that set the stage for the return of the Brotherhood.”
This comes as part of a crackdown on the Islamist movement that has gained momentum in recent months amid concerns that civil servants appointed during the Morsi era could be hindering the pace of reforms.
Analysts have criticised the presence of civil servants with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly when Cairo has pledged to reform its bloated civil service. There are an estimated 6.4 million public sector employees working in more than 2,500 departments and 33 ministries, costing the government approximately $16.5 billion per year.
“There can be no stability or progress while the authorities allow the affiliates of Morsi’s regime to control state institutions,” said Mustafa Bakri, a member of parliament and a staunch anti-political Islam lobbyist. “We warned numerous times in the past that the affiliates of the Brotherhood can hold state institutions back.”
Tens of thousands of Brotherhood members and sympathisers were reportedly given government jobs during Morsi’s time as president in 2012-13. Morsi’s term in office, observers said, included a Brotherhood “invasion” of state institutions.
Almost all high-level Morsi-era political appointees were quickly removed from office but many lower-level civil servants remained in their positions.
With Egypt facing a multifaceted war on terror and attacks indicating that the whereabouts of police patrols and officials were being leaked to terrorists, some observers blamed civil servants appointed during the Morsi era. As an example, a helicopter carrying Egypt’s defence and interior ministers on an unannounced visit to El Arish in North Sinai was attacked December 19 after it landed at the city’s military airport.
An ambush of Egyptian police in the Sinai Peninsula in October, which left more than 50 people dead and others captured, also demonstrated terrorists’ suspected strong counter-intelligence abilities.
The Islamic Endowments Ministry, which controls more than 230,000 mosques in Egypt, was by far the largest state institution hiring Brotherhood affiliates during Morsi’s time as president.
Thousands of Brotherhood members were hired as imams, allowing them to directly influence Egypt’s mosque-going public. Subsequent laws sought to tighten restrictions, including requiring that mosque imams be graduates of al-Azhar and unified Friday sermons.
“We have already controlled all mosques and kicked the affiliates of this organisation out,” Taye said. “We are conducting a revision of the file of everybody in cooperation with the security establishment to ensure that the Brotherhood has no presence in the ministry.”
After reasserting control of Egypt’s mosques, the ministry is reviewing junior ministry employees to ensure that all Brotherhood members are removed.
Other ministries, state agencies and offices are conducting investigations of employees hired from 2011-13.
While the constitution bans discrimination against citizens for political and religious reasons, supporters of the review process said that was explicitly targeting members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The investigation into state employees remains an internal issue within the civil service, although some have sought to formalise the purge. MP Mohamed Abu Hamed proposed a bill that would commit state officials to firing Islamists working in their institutions.
He has repeatedly warned against Brotherhood sleeper cells in state offices.
“These people sabotage efforts made by the authorities to improve the living conditions of the people,” Abu Hamed said. “They are dangerous, which makes their removal an urgent matter.”