Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

North Africa

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

North Africa

Article excerpt

Egypt Will Continue Nationalizing Mosques

The Aug. 11 Daily Star of Beirut drew attention to the Egyptian government's ongoing nationalization of mosques since 1996, part of Cairo's battle against militant Islamists affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood who tried to overthrow the government in the early 1990s. Today, four years since the insurgents renounced violence, government critics are calling the continued nationalizing campaign an attack on public dissent and civil liberties. According to Deputy Minister of Awqaf (religious endowments) Mohammed Zidan, between 10,000 and 20,000 of Egypt's estimated 83,000 mosques are not yet under government control. With nationalization proceeding at the rate of 6,000 mosques a year, however, that number is decreasing. "Within a year or two," Zidan told the Daily Star, "we will control all the mosques."

Government supporters argue that the nationalization serves the people by ensuring that only individuals with proper training communicate Islam to the masses, which prevents the politicization of the pulpit and staunches the spread of militant Islam. "The government is simply saying don't speak about religion if you're not specialized in religion," Zidan asserted.

Critics disagree, citing the case of Amr Khaled, whose apolitical, moderate, middle-class Islamist preaching led the government to expel him from one mosque after another until his sudden exile in November 2002. This high-profile case, critics say, supports accusations that government subjugation of mosques is a symptom of the ongoing repression of political parties, NGOs, human rights organizations, free expression and civil liberties in Egypt. …

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