Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Angry imams

Muslim preachers complain that the Ministry of Religious Endowments is becoming an agency of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

“We want to be independent. We are against mosques being used in the political conflict between government and opposition,” read a statement issued by the new group Imams without Restrictions.
The movement was launched last week during a press conference at the Press Syndicate. More than 1,000 imams voiced concern over what they say are attempts by the Minister of Religious Endowments Talaat Afifi to Ikhwanise the ministry by appointing members of the Muslim Brotherhood to senior posts. At a press conference on Tuesday, Afifi refuted the “allegations”, dismissing them as sheer lies.
The dissident imams say Islamic preachers have been struggling since the start of the revolution to create a professional association and prevent mosques from being used for political campaigning. They are also campaigning for an increase in basic salaries paid by the ministry.
“The role of mosques is to showcase Islam’s tolerance. Attempts to use them as a tool in political conflicts is to insult our beloved religion,” said the statement.
Imams without Restrictions coordinator Mahmoud Al-Abidi told Al-Ahram Weekly that the movement was calling on the Ministry of Endowments to issue a decree banning political activities in mosques which should be “the place where Muslims are united not divided”.
Al-Abidi added that preachers are demanding a new pay structure similar to that applied in the education sector. The government currently pays less than LE300 a month to imams, meaning many have to take a second job. The group is also demanding an end to the misuse of endowment funds which, says Al-Abidi, should only be used “on Islamic daawa in Egypt and abroad”. 
Secondary demands include the provision of books and a systematic campaign to combat administrative corruption in the ministry’s district offices.
Since the revolution preachers have also been demanding better healthcare.
While Hisham Kandil’s cabinet has admitted the legitimacy of the imams’ demands it has taken no steps to meet them.
“Since President Mohamed Morsi came to power the Muslim Brotherhood has tightened its grip over the Ministry of Religious Endowments. Muslim Brothers have been assigned senior posts in the ministry in Cairo and in the provinces,” says Ahmed Tork, a co-founder of Imams without Restrictions. A majority of ministry governorate directors are now Muslim Brothers, says Tork, giving the Brotherhood a final say over appointments and promotions.
Ahmed Al-Bahi, another co-founder, complained to the Weekly that in the last five months Afifi has surrounded himself with advisors known for their affiliation to, or sympathy with, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Last week Al-Watan newspaper published leaked documents showing that Afifi had replaced 200 ministry officials, from department directors to deputy ministers, with new appointees, all of them Muslim Brotherhood members.
Since being appointed to the post by President Morsi last August Afifi has repeatedly denied that he is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“My policy is to introduce new blood to the ministry and provide opportunities for younger preachers to take senior positions. Recently appointed officials were chosen on the basis of their efficiency and qualifications. We did not ask which political party or group they support,” Afifi told MENA, Egypt’s government run news agency. 
Under ousted president Hosni Mubarak the Ministry of Religious Endowments was run as an adjunct to the ruling National Democratic Party, with all appointees screened by the security apparatus. 
With a remit that includes the supervision of more than 198,000 mosques the ministry is one of the country’s largest bureaucratic organisations. 

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