CAIRO ø Egypt has bolstered the authority of state-employed Islamic
clerics in what could be a prelude to the formation of a religious police force.
The regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has granted the
state-operated Al Azhar seminary the authority to supervise and seize
material deemed in violation of Islamic law. The regime has approved the
an Al Azhar force to inspect book stores and kiosks for material that
counters the Sunni Islamic mainstream.
Al Azhar inspectors, however, can not make arrests, Egyptian officials
Instead, they can report violations to authorities for either subsequent
further investigation, Middle East Newsline reported.
In May, Justice Minister Farouk Seif Nasser empowered Al Azhar clerics
as part of Egypt's campaign against Islamic opposition groups. Authorities
have arrested scores of Brotherhood members over the last two months on
charges of belonging to an illegal organization and seeking to overthrow the
On June 5, the Egyptian daily Nahdet Masr reported what it termed was
the first raid of the new Al Azhar force. The newspaper said that two days
earlier clerics from Al Azhar's Islamic Research Academy searched bookstores
and publishing houses for unlicensed religious tracts. Hundreds of
unlicensed copies of the Koran as well as unauthorized Islamic tapes were
The government decision was meant to empower Al Azhar to stop the
distribution of anti-regime religious tracts. In 2003, Egypt was rocked by a
series of demonstrations organized by the Muslim Brotherhood against the
U.S.-led war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian war.
Al Azhar inspectors have been allowed to demand the search of any
suspected of harboring unauthorized religious tracts, officials said. They
then could confiscate literature deemed un-Islamic.
Al Azhar clerics have acknowledged the raids. They said their goal has
been to remove what they termed unauthorized versions of the Koran from
Egyptian book stores.
Egyptian human rights groups have warned that the new force could become
a local version of the Saudi Arabian religious police. Al Azhar clerics,
however, denied that this was their or the government's intent.