Egypt court overturns suspension of Muslim cleric

AP News
Posted: Apr 29, 2013 3:22 PM
Egypt court overturns suspension of Muslim cleric

CAIRO (AP) — A Cairo administrative court on Monday overturned a ministerial decree suspending a Muslim cleric from preaching in a mosque overlooking Tahrir Square after a citizen complained that his sermons were critical of the current Islamist president.

Sheik Mazhar Shahin became known as the "preacher of the revolution" for his sermons in Omar Makram mosque near the square, the site of massive protests during the uprising against ousted President Hosni Mubarak and subsequent demonstrations opposing the country's interim military rulers.

Although Shahin backed Islamist Mohammed Morsi's candidacy for president, he grew critical of him. In a recent sermon in March, Shahin faulted Morsi for failing to reach out to opponents. He also warned of attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Morsi hails, to control state institutions, including the prestigious Sunni learning institute, al-Azhar.

The plaintiff sent a letter to the minister of religious endowments complaining that Shahin's sermon was divisive and accused the cleric of acting like a "TV station or opposition paper." He alleged that Shahin was violating ministerial instructions by speaking about political issues in mosques.

The minister then ordered the suspension of Shahin, pending an investigation of the complaint.

The suspension came amid a spike of legal complaints against government critics, including a well-known TV satirist, and raised objections from rights groups that lamented a crackdown on freedom of expression.

Shahin told The Associated Press at the time he was suspended that his sermon was in line with religious traditions — that it urged consensus and was not a crime or a violation of religion. He called the suspension an act of "settling scores" because he had been critical of the dominant Muslim Brotherhood group.

Shahin challenged the suspension in court. On Monday, a disciplinary tribunal in the state council, the body that reviews cases involving the government, overturned the decree.

The AP could not reach the cleric for comment, but he told reporters outside the court that the ruling was "historic" and would mean that he could return to work immediately.

The ruling can be appealed. Attempts to reach the ministry's spokesman also were unsuccessful.

Shahin had also challenged the suspension by going to the mosque on Friday April 12, days after it was issued, to lead prayers and deliver a sermon, surrounded by his supporters. At the pulpit, he said he wanted his sermons to address matters that concerned people's daily lives because otherwise he would be accused of being a cleric who is isolated and regressive.