The Ministry of Religious Endowment warned “imams of mosques to not even consider entering political elections” in a statement, cautioning of the “dangers” of combining religion with politics.
The ministry’s religion department issued a statement Sunday, in which it said that the ministry asserts that it is necessary to not “exploit religion for electoral purposes”, warning against any attempt to “exploit” mosques for these purposes.
The date for Egypt’s parliamentary elections has yet to be set but they are expected to be held before the end of March 2015.
The ministry said imams must not contribute to the political polarisation of the country, adding that it will take “decisive action” against any imam who runs for elections.
It added that if a leading figure in the ministry decides to run for elections, supports a party or candidate, or participates in an election campaign, the ministry will be forced to “exclude” them.
This statement comes days after a court banned the Islamist Istiqlal Party, a vocal government opponent and one of parties in the Anti-Coup Alliance, a coalition of political forces that includes the Muslim Brotherhood.
Last week’s Friday sermons in mosques across the country were amended by the ministry to address corruption and “wicked” attempts to destroy the military and the state, ahead of planned protests called for by the Islamist political organisation the Salafi Front.
The ministry had already imposed restrictions on mosques earlier this year and recently took steps to amend the Friday prayer speeches in mosques throughout the country.
Based on a ministerial decree issued in January, the Ministry of Religious Endowment now has authority over all mosques in Egypt.
It chooses a unified topic every week for the Friday sermon after an online discussion with the registered imams on the ministry’s forum. The first unified Friday sermon topic was delivered on 31 January and was about security.
Since the decree in January, the ministry has banned 12,000 imams who are not certified by Al-Azhar to deliver sermons. They were replaced with 17,248 qualified imams with degrees from Al-Azhar who applied to the ministry.
On 27 April, Sheikh Mohamed Abdel Razek, undersecretary to the Minister of Endowments for Mosque Affairs, said any imam involved in a political group will be banned from orating.
More recently, in September, the ministry issued a warning against politically-affiliated religious NGOs, adding that the country is currently suffering due to “the exploitation of religion for the purposes of political and electoral interests”.
Religious political groups, with the Brotherhood at the forefront, have come under a crackdown by authorities since July, 2013. Minister of Religious Endowment Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa warned in a statement in September that the Brotherhood will assign roles to different teams, one of which will “kill, destroy, vandalise, or bear arms”.