Ministry uses Friday sermon to warn against January 25 protests
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Egypt’s Endowments Ministry declared sermons nationwide this Friday will focus on “destructive calls” to destabilize the country and spread sedition, referring indirectly to calls for anti-government protests on the upcoming fifth anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

The model sermon, published Sunday on the ministry’s official website, described those calling for January 25 protests as “ill-hearted, weak believers; those who don’t believe in the country and carry extremist ideas, who work on disintegrating society and destabilizing it.”

The ministry asserted such calls are “malignant conspiracies” that aim to destroy the state, spread chaos, breach the state of law, threaten national security and fuel extremism and terrorism.

The sermon stresses the importance of obeying the “guardians” — a term used in Islamic theology to refer to political leaders. “Obeying guardians is like obeying God and upholding the interests of the country should be a way by which Muslims get closer to God. If [a guardian] orders [him/her] to do or not do something, obedience is obligatory, as long as the order veers away from what God has prohibited,” the speech continued.

The ministry asserted the consequences of disobeying political leaders are wider reaching than the benefits of obedience, and that there are various peaceful and democratic means of advice and reform.

In 2013, the Endowments Ministry announced the unification of sermon topics worldwide, and began to publish a detailed outline of Friday sermons every week for imams and preachers to follow. Officials have regularly addressed topics of extremism and terrorism through this medium.

The Endowments Ministry has systematically attempted to strengthen its grip over religious discourse following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. As part of the state’s conflict with the ousted organization, mosques have been a key battlefield between the ministry and the Brotherhood over who controls religious discourse.

Directly after his appointment as endowments minister in 2013, Mokhtar Gomaa banned Friday sermons in small mosques, which are mostly controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. He also revoked the licenses of over 50,000 preachers giving Friday sermons.

The ministry also centralized religious discourse by ensuring that all mosques fall under its supervision, and all imams are licensed by the ministry.

The ministry also recently revoked the licenses of many religious non-governmental institutions, mostly affecting Salafi-affiliated religious centers. Any new religious organizations are obligated to obtain permission to operate from the ministry. Most of them were described by the ministry as “hubs of terrorism and extremism.”

Calls for demonstrations on the fifth anniversary of the January 25 revolution have intensified as the date draws nearer, and as anger is mounting against brutal police practices, deteriorating conditions in prisons, the jailing of activists and journalists and the winning of pro-government figures in the recent parliamentary elections.

At the forefront of these calls is the campaign, “We are Back to the Square,” by which activists are calling for an uprising against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his government.

A number of deaths in police stations have spurred mounting anger against the government in recent weeks. Thousands of citizens took to the streets in Luxor and Ismailia governorates to protest the deaths of citizens Talaat Shabeeb and Afify Hosny, who were reportedly tortured to death by police.

The recent arrest of journalist and political sociology researcher Ismail Alexandrani is the latest in a series of incidents leading to calls for protests. Alexandrani was arrested at Hurghada Airport last week on his way back from Berlin and was sentenced to 15 days, pending investigation, on accusations of joining a banned organization and spreading false news.

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