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EGYPT: Cleric backed by Iran charged in Egypt

July 19, 2009 | 12:33 pm

AP_Iran_Ayatollah_Ali_Khamenei_03Jun08_190 An Egyptian cleric backed by Iran has been arrested with 11 other people and charged with promoting the Shiite doctrine of Islam in this overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim nation.  

Police have indicted Hassan Shehata Moussa, a mosque preacher who hosted a religious show on Egyptian public television in the 1990s, accusing him of  leading the illegal group. According to authorities, the "Shiite organization" includes more than 300 people, mostly Arab students living in the country.

The general prosecutor formally accused Moussa of using Friday sermons in promoting his Shiite ideals, recruiting foreign elements, leading a banned group, receiving financial support from foreign governments, as well as  possessing books defaming Sunnism.

Police investigators say Moussa is strongly supported by the Iranian Shiite regime, adding that the preacher previously spent two months in Iran, from where he traveled to Syria to meet with senior officials, including an official in the office of Islamic Republic Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The rift between Shiites and Sunnis is centuries old, but the recent arrests also reflect the regional political tensions between Cairo and Tehran.  

Egyptian media confirmed that state security prevented the defendants' Shiite lawyer from attending the ongoing investigations. Human-rights organizations have been prevented from closely monitoring the case. Members of the Shiite community in Egypt are angry over the arrests; some said they had been planning to file lawsuits demanding that the Egyptian government recognize Shiism as a religious doctrine.

"Egyptian Shiites have always been oppressed and abused by the Egyptian regime. We were always looked upon as outsiders until further notice," said Ahmed El Nafis, a professor of medicine at Mansoura University and one of the most prominent Shiite figures in Egypt. "The regime has always been in the hunt for Shiites. While other religious doctrines like the Wahabis are allowed to spread their ideas through satellite channels."

The current investigations come three months after Egyptian authorities arrested a number of Egyptians, Lebanese and Palestinians who were allegedly recruited by the Shiite- and Iran-supported Hezbollah to carry out terror attacks against foreign tourists in the Sinai Peninsula.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Ali Khamenei. Credit: Associated Press