Egyptian President Gen. Abdel Fatah el-Sisi continues to demonstrate leadership on a world stage. As his country is surrounded by ISIS terrorists and threatened by Turkey, the el-Sisi government is closing more than 25,000 Mosques in Egypt. Known as smaller, “local places of worship” the closure of these facilities indicates that el-Sisi is taking steps to “revolutionize” Islam, which he called for during a speech at al-Azhar University in Cairo late last year.
The decision to close these smaller venues is expected to have the effect of forcing practicing Muslims out of buildings and into public spaces. Conversely, the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowment also awarded 400 preaching permits to Salafists. While these two decisions may seem at odds with each other, they also appear to be rather strategic, based on el-Sisi’s comments at al-Azhar in December; they are worth another look:
As to the news of the closure of these 27,000 mosques, the reaction of the Salafists’ political party would seem to indicate el-Sisi’s move could be effective. When Muslim extremists complain that an action taken against them would cause more extremism, it’s often a sign you’re on the right track:
…the Salafist Nour Party claimed that closing down places of worship without providing a larger alternative serves to further bolster extremist ideology, considering that the larger existing mosques cannot accommodate Friday worshippers who line surrounding streets to pray.
One of the consequences of the closures is that many of those who attended such “local places of worship” will now be out in the open, which could get the Egyptian government closer to knowing what kind of fundamentalist issue it has on its hands. El-Sisi’s move also seems to have the support of some of the clerics at al-Azhar:
Ahmed Karimeh, a professor of Sharia at Al-Azhar University, told Al-Monitor that legal teachings and conventions specify that Friday, Eid and main prayers must be conducted in a mosque, and not in a neighborhood place of worship. The five daily prayers can be held at these informal sites, but not the special celebration prayers. In that sense, the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments upheld a recognized religious law.
In short, el-Sisi appears to be working within the system that currently exists in Egypt. The closing of 27,000 mini-mosques will take away one opportunity for fundamentalists to operate in the shadows. It also has the support of some Salafist clerics who oppose such places being used for “special celebration prayers”.