by Ayman Ahmed
After fraudulent elections in which he claimed to have won 96 percent of the vote, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has launched a crusade against masajid in Egypt. They are seen as a potential source of challenge to his illegitimate authority.
It is easy to control political discourse in a country: arrest those that oppose the regime, charge them with ludicrous allegations and either consign them to the dungeons or try them in kangaroo courts to provide a veneer of legality before sending them to jail or the gallows. This is standard fare in much of the Middle East. The medieval regime of Saudi Arabia (correct name, the Arabian Peninsula, as given by the noble Messenger (saws) but corrupted to Saudi Arabia by the House of Saud) has mastered this technique. Its medieval allies in the region as well as new clients, such as General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt are also operating to this script.
In the short period that the Ikhwan al-Muslimoon-backed government was in power in Egypt (June 2012 to July 3, 2013), there was relative political and religious freedom. Mosques could operate independently and imams could deliver sermons based on the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and Seerah of the noble Messenger (saws). Such freedom, however, has always been a huge source of concern for dictators. Having imposed total control on political discourse including the media, General Sisi’s military regime recently issued a decree banning all independent masajid (mosques) and ‘unlicense’ imams.
The decree called ‘Law of Oration,’ was imposed in June. The aim is to regulate Jumah Khutbahs. As a consequence of the new law, hundreds of small mosques have been shut down and ‘unlicensed’ imams have been forced out of work. The law stipulates that only Al-Azhar graduates who hold a permit from the Ministry of Endowments are permitted to deliver sermons. Those that do not adhere to this requirement will face a year in prison and a fine of 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,000).
The manner in which the law is framed makes it clear that it is not enough for a person to be a graduate of Al-Azhar, although this raises the question as to whether only Al-Azhar is qualified to teach Islam. The person must also be registered with the Ministry of Endowment. Thus, the regime has made clear that it does not repose total confidence in Al-Azhar either; the regime wishes to be the final arbiter of who is permitted to deliver the Jumah Kutbah. The Azhar graduate restriction raises the question about whether a person is not entitled to teach himself or be a graduate of another university. What if a person had a degree from Madinah University in Saudi Arabia; would he be banned as well? Perhaps not since the Saudi regime is the principal sponsor of the military dictatorship in Egypt but those imams educated elsewhere or not specifically at Al-Azhar are being barred.
Is there any restriction in Islam that a person cannot be self-taught? Based on this decree, the late maulana Abul A‘la Maudoodi, for instance, would be banned from delivering a Jumah Khutbah in Sisi’s Egypt. Perhaps the Sisi regime would not want a person of maulana’s Maudoodi’s learning to be delivering a Khutbah anyway because he might say things the regime does not like. Even so, the late Pakistani scholar’s books have been translated into Arabic and are widely read in Egypt as well as the rest of the Middle East.
The question is: why is the Sisi regime that is fully backed by the brutes in uniform, so scared of sermons by independent-minded imams in mosques? The fact is that Sisi has no support among the Egyptian masses despite claiming to have won by 96 percent of the vote. He knows this was a huge fraud perpetrated on the Egyptian people, less than 10 percent of whom bothered to cast ballot. This was only possible after voting was extended by an additional day, people were given holiday from work and told to go and vote. By the end of the second day, only 7.5 percent of eligible voters had bothered to vote. Polling stations looked more desolate than cemeteries in a country where one can get an instant crowd for snake charmers.
It is a brazen attempt by the military dictatorship to monopolize religious discourse in a country that is known in the Muslim world for a lively religious establishment. There are widespread reports that el-Sisi is not a Muslim at all. His mother was of Jewish origins and his maternal uncle was a member of the Israeli Knesset. That is not a crime; what is unacceptable is that Sisi is a hardcore zionist. He serves the interests of the zionist regime in Palestine, not the people of Egypt. Soon after grabbing power, he ordered the destruction of all tunnels from Egypt into Gaza. These were lifelines of the besieged people of Gaza. Starving them is a long-established zionist policy. El-Sisi dutifully obeyed his masters’ command.
This stands in sharp contrast with his disdain for the well being of the Egyptian people. Last month his regime lifted fuel subsidies causing immense suffering to ordinary people. The decision has had a cascading effect resulting in price increases in ordinary consumers and industrial facilities, electricity and natural gas supplies for household use and everything from sandwiches to real estate.
The manner in which price increases will affect people can be gauged from the following. There are different grades of fuel for motor vehicles. The highest and most expensive grade is locally referred to as 95. This is used by expensive and latest model cars. The price of this unleaded fuel went up by 7 percent. The grade below that, 92 gasoline, that is used most commonly by ordinary sedans, went up by 41 percent. The next lower grade, 80 gasoline used by public and private transport buses and minibuses, went up 78 percent while diesel fuel that is used mainly by cargo trucks saw an increase of 64 percent. But here is the rub; natural gas that is used by taxis across the country when up by an incredible 175 percent.
Thus, the military regime imposed the most severe burden on those that can least afford it. For the elites, the fuel price increase was a mere 7 percent, peanuts given their bulging bank balances and the theft they indulge in of state resources. Not surprisingly, cab drivers across Cairo went on strike on July 6. Many refused to turn on their meters and insisted on charging additional fee from customers. There were constant battles between irate cab drivers and even more irate customers while the regime and its cronies sat in their air-conditioned homes or offices enjoying themselves. Let the people fight it out over a decision that they had no influence in making.
Aware that cab drivers’ protests could turn ugly, the cabinet decided to alter fare meters to reflect the increased fuel prices. The regime, however, had another trick up its sleeve: it also announced that each alteration would cost 100 pounds. This is economic war on the poorest for the sake of the rich. The Consumer Protection Authority published a statement coinciding with the government's latest decision, estimating a 200 percent rise in prices of consumer goods, an increase the majority of Egyptians cannot afford.
Those people that voted for the military to bring about stability will soon rue their decision. The military in each Muslim country is only interested in protecting its own bacon and that of its hangers-on; it has absolutely no interest in looking after the needs of the people. The Egyptian people are discovering it the hard way, once more.
Poorly thoughtout decisions often result in more suffering for ordinary people.