Cairo: Egypt’s Ministry of Waqf (religious endowments), in charge of mosques in the mostly Muslim country, on Saturday suspended two of its officials in the southern province of Minya after a hardline cleric gave a sermon without a licence at a prayer marking Eid Al Fitr.
The action was taken against the ministry’s director in the province and a preacher at a local mosque. They have been suspended from duty pending questioning for allowing Osama Hafez, a senior leader in the radical Al Jamaa Al Islamia (Islamic Group) allied with the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to address worshippers on Friday, which marked the first day of Eid in Egypt.
The ministry said it had filed a legal complaint against Hafez for delivering the sermon without prior permission in violation of rules.
Minya, around 245 kilometres south of Cairo, was for decades a stronghold of ultra-conservative Islamists before Egyptian authorities moved to bring mosques across the country under state control around two years ago.
A senior Waqf official told state-run newspaper Al Ahram that Hafez gave the sermon illegally after the mosque’s appointed preacher failed to show up to lead the Eid prayer.
Al Jamaa Al Islamia insisted that Hafez did nothing wrong. “Hafez regularly prays in this mosque and worshippers there ask him in particular to lead them,” Abdul Rahman Saqr, a leading member of the group, told independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.
“No-one can prevent the Al Jamaa leaders from being there [in the mosque].”
The move against Hafez came days after the Ministry of Waqf slapped a ban on well-known cleric Mohammad Jebril after he gave a sermon in a Cairo mosque seen as critical of the government and its loyalists and slanted towards the Muslim Brotherhood.
Authorities also barred Jebril from leaving for Britain after the Ministry of Waqf accused him of manipulating religion for political gains.
Jebril has denied the accusation in a Facebook post.
Thousands of the Brotherhood’s followers have been rounded up since 2013 when the army toppled president Mohammad Mursi, a senior leader in the Islamist group, following enormous street protests against his rule.
The government has since sought to tighten its grip on mosques, denying the Brotherhood and allied groups a major forum to influence devout Muslims.