Cairo: A mosque preacher appeared on state television improvising the Friday sermon that precedes the weekly congregational prayer, signaling the Egyptian government’s backdown on pre-written sermons that has triggered controversy in the country.

Last month, the Ministry of Religious Affairs ordered mosque preachers to deliver unified sermons authored in advance by authorities. The move angered clerics of Al Azhar, Egypt’s influential Sunni Islamic seat of learning. Al Azhar rejected the plan as superficial and said it would “freeze creative thinking”.

On Friday, prominent preacher Ahmad Omar Hashem took the pulpit in a Cairo suburban mosque and delivered a sermon broadcast live on Egyptian television without reading from paper in the presence of Minister of Religious Affairs Mohammad Jumaa- a staunch advocate of pre-written sermons.

Jumaa previously said that the plan is aimed at reducing sermon time length and curbing extremism.

Egyptian media on Friday quoted a statement released by the Ministry of Religious Affairs as saying that it is “optional” for mosque preachers to observe pre-written sermons.

Egyptian authorities have tightened control on mosques in the mostly Muslim country since mid-2013 when the army deposed Islamist president Mohammad Mursi following enormous protests against his rule.

The control is aimed at denying Islamists a major platform to influence worshippers.