Top Egyptian clerics reject regime scripted sermons
High-ranking religious authorities from Egypt's oldest higher learning establishments have rejected a new government ruling that requires weekly sermons to be pre-written a state panel.
Authorities are the usually timid and pro-regime al-Azhar University said the move would be counterproductive and not help in tackling extremism.
The Council of Senior Scholars of the Cairo-based establishment - one of Islam's highest seats of learning - said in a statement on Wednesday that the standardised sermons would "superficialise" the thinking of religious scholars.
"The imam will find himself unable to discuss, debate and respond to [extremist] ideas and warn people about them," it said.
The ministry of religious endowments said it would take control of Egypt's weekly Friday sermons in mosques across the country earlier this month.
It is viewed by many as part of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's campaign to tighten control over religious discourse and rein in possible critics following the post-coup clampdown on Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers.
The first government-written sermon was delivered earlier this month by the Minister of Religious Endowments, Mokhtar Gomaa.
He famously took to the pulpit with a batch of notecards. Gomaa defended the move as part of a drive to tackle extremism and stimulate religious reform.
The minister also said that the speeches would be writted by scholars approved by the state, with plans in place for the panel to write 270 sermons to cover a period of five years.
This would be enforced by a ministerial committee responsible for monitoring the performance of clerics across the country.
The ministry of religious endowments have responded to al-Azhar's criticism by affirming that the "generalising" of sermons would go ahead and that authorities would continue to meet with clerics to explain the process "without forcing them".
Egyptian authorities have led crackdown on religious leaders and movements that oppose the rule of Sisi who came to power after removing the Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamad Morsi, and his Muslim Brotherhood government in a 2013 coup.
The 2013 military coup was backed by religious authorities, including al-Azhar's Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb.
Shortly after this, 55,000 Egyptian preachers who were not approved by al-Azhar were fired. Most of these were accused of being sympathetic to the now banned Muslim Brotherhood, which has since gone underground as thousands of the movement's supporters languish in dungeons on death row.