Egyptian authorities moved on Monday to demolish a mosque in Alexandria to make way for a major road project aimed to ease traffic congestion in the Mediterranean city.
The move came two days after President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi made firm remarks about the matter during live comments, saying the mosque in the central Karmuz district was standing in the way of "public interest" as it obstructs the development of the 22-kilometre Mahmoudiya Axis project and the erection of a new bridge in the area.
El-Sisi gave the interior ministry and the Armed Forces a three-day deadline to resolve the issue.
The Abu Al-Ekhlas Al-Zarakany Mosque was named after a leading Sufi sheikh whose body had been buried at a shrine there for decades. Local authorities have temporarily moved the shrine and the bodies of the sheikh and his sister to a landmark square in Bahari neighbourhood. The shrine is planned to be moved to a new mosque that will be built along with 14 other mosques along the Mahmoudiya Axis.
The Ministry of Endowment said in a statement on Monday that there was "no problem" in removing the mosque and moving the shrine to "serve the public interest."
Many Sufi followers of the revered Sheikh have expressed dismay on social media over demolishing the mosque and moving the shrine. But Sheikh Mohamed Safwat Fouda, who heads the Sufi orders in Alexandria, has said that Sufis do not mind the move so long as it serves the public interest.
"Opening roads to ease traffic or connect road networks and makes people's life easier and is more beneficial," Sheikh Gaber Tayeaa, who heads the ministry's religious department, said in TV comments on Monday.
He dismissed claims that Egypt is tearing down its mosques as "sheer defamation" and "plots hatched by enemies of the country."
"The place itself is not sacred," he said.
Referring to the abundance of mosques in the country, Tayeaa said that some 1,000 mosques come into service in Egypt every year, whether through completing maintenance work on old mosques or setting up new ones.
El-Sisi said he hopes his administration will open the EGP 5.5 billion ($313 million) project, which serves four Alexandria districts and involves building four bridges, in three months' time.
Egypt is on a national development drive that involves mega infrastructure projects aimed to draw investments and boost the economy.