Choice of Salafist as Egypt's religious endowments minister provokes criticism

Ahram Online, Randa Ali, Sunday 29 Jul 2012

News Salafist Mohamed Ibrahim has been chosen as minister of Awqaf evokes fear of threats to Egypt's 'moderate' religious identity; critics say pick has strong ties to Brotherhood strongman, Khairat El-Shater

Left, Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat El-Shater and Mohamed Yosri Ibrahim ,November 2011(Photo: Mohamed Ibrahim's official facebook page)

A number of religious and political figures expressed their discontent with the appointment of Mohamed Yosri Ibrahim, a member of the conservative Salafist Call organisation, as minister of religious endowments – Awqaf – in the new cabinet, voicing fears that this heralds an imposition of Wahabbism, a Saudi-influenced conservative form of Islam.

According to a statement issued on Saturday by a number of Sufis and other religious groups, the choice of Ibrahim, to head the Ministry of Awqaf will negatively influence Egypt cultural and religious identity.

The ministry of religious endowments regulates mosque activities, issues licenses to imams, and runs large swathes of real estate.

The groups accused Ibrahim, who is a staunch advocate of the implementation of Sharia, of rejecting the long-established theocratic teachings of Al-Azhar, which is considered by many as the main centre of Islamic frame of reference in the world, in his writings.

Mohamed Ibrahim, an engineer by training, a published author on religious matters who received his PhD in islamic theology from Al-Azhar in 2011, had revealed on Friday on his official twitter account that he accepted to head the Ministry of Awqaf following a meeting with newly appointed prime minister Hisham Qandil.

Qandil has indicated that the new cabinet will be announced on Thursday.

Islamist liberal activist Ibrahim El-Hodaiby also used his Facebook page to express his disapproval of the appointment, pointing out that Ibrahim had failed to win a seat in the parliamentary elections last winter when he ran on the electoral list of Al-Asala Salafist party.

El-Hodaiby further claimed that both Ibrahim's presence in the Constituent Assembly, which is currently drafting a constitution for the country, and now his appointment as minister of Awqaf are due to his strong relations with one of the Muslim Brotherhood's leading figures' in rumoured references to the influential Muslim Brotherhood figure Khairat El-Shater.

However, Ibrahim used Twitter to deny claims that he won the post because of his good relations with El-Shater.

El-Hodaiby also accused Ibrahim of "dressing in the garb of Al-Azhar scholars, fooling people that he is a moderate man, while in fact he fights its principles and embraces Salafist ideologies."

Ibrahim confirmed his respect for the entity of Al-Azhar and the role it played in his own education, adding that theoritical differences does not mean disrespect of the other.

Former MP Mohamed Abu Hamed, known for his anti-Islamist stance, slammed the news of Ibrahim's appointment describing it as "proof of the Muslim Brotherhood's embrace of Wahabi thinking."

Abu Hamed, a liberal, claimed such appointments show Wahabi preaching could spread in mosques across Egypt, and that the Wahabis "could use the road of democratic elections in order to establish a fascist dictatorship."

Meanwhile, Mostafa Al-Naggar, a liberal member of the dissolved parliament who defeated Ibrahim in the last parliamentary elections in Nasr City, Cairo, congratulated him for the new post on his twitter account.

Ibrahim was one of several Salafist preachers who led a number of protests for months against the Coptic Church after they claimed that a Christian woman, Camilia Shehata, was kidnapped and kept against her will by the church in 2010 after she converted to Islam, thus raising sectarian tensions between Muslims and Christians in the country. However, Shehata who surfaced later in 2011, gave a televised interview refuting any claims that she had converted to Islam or that she was kidnapped by the church at any time.

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