JAFFA, Israel – The Egyptian government has warned against an alleged Iranian plot to bolster Shi’a Islam in five regions, from which it plans to take over the entire country, Al Masr al Youm newspaper reported.
The investigative report suggested that “foreign efforts” are being made to expand and strengthen Egypt’s 15,000-strong Shi’a population. Most recently, Shi’a television stations have covered the conversion of two Sunni Egyptian women to Shi’a Islam.
Iranian-sponsored Shi’a organizations date back to the 1970s, when President Anwar Sadat maintained cordial relations with Iran’s Shah, the report said. Officials and academics were quoted saying that Iran has targeted five Egyptian regions, stretching from Aswan to the Sudanese border, in a bid to take over the south of the country.
“The Iranian-backed Shi’a ‘creeping takeover’ strategy may turn Egypt into the third Arab country where Shi’ites became a majority, alongside Kuwait and Bahrain,” said Waleed Ismail, a scholar of Shi’a Islam.
A common feature of the three societies, he said, is the incremental, low-profile proselytizing “that ends up in the Shi’ites declaring themselves a majority.”
The purported Iranian agenda is winning hearts at Al Azhar seminary, the leading Sunni institution in the Arab world, the paper said, pointing to the recent visit of Sheikh Ahmed Karima, one of Shi’a Islam’s most eminent theologians.
Karima told the paper he was surprised at the reaction, saying that he doesn’t consider Iran an enemy state. He said that the purpose of his visit was to promote religious tolerance, and that intolerance towards Shi’a Islam is propagated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi extremists.
The sheikh’s detractors said that Iran tries to spread Shi’a under a cloak of openness and dialogue.
The paper also claimed that Iranian groups are targeting Egyptian job-seekers on social media, offering them employment in Iran and Lebanon.
“The failure of homegrown Islamic streams, like the Muslim Brotherhood, has led many young Sunnis to seek refuge either in Shi’a or atheism,” said Islamic affairs scholar Dr Khaled al Zaafrani.
Religious Affairs Ministry Director-General Muhamad Abdel Razeq said that the authorities follow the growth of Shi’a Islam closely, while Al Azhar declared that its entire staff – sheikhs, lecturers, and students – are committed to halting the spread of Shi’a.
“The spread of Shi’a and radical Islam is a danger,” said Ahmad el-Tayeb, the former president of Al Azhar, in a statement.