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Troubled relationship with Shiite community

In Cairo, the authorities allegedly target Shiite groups, who themselves stand accused of being linked to Iran and of trying to destabilise Egyptian society. The Shiites claim they are just trying to follow their branch of Islam.


For the Egyptian authorities, Mohamad El Derrini is a traitor. He's accused of spreading Shiism, a minority school of Islam, through a centre he heads for defending the rights of the Shiite community in Egypt. The centre was recently closed down because it was allegedly financed from abroad.


"I defy anyone to prove these accusations. It's what the security forces always do. They accuse everyone of being financed from abroad. People believe this kind of story more easily," replies Mohamad El Derrini.


Nor does he give much credence to the recent arrests of terrorist cells allegedly linked to Shiite Iran. He says it is pure propaganda aimed at sustaining a popular paranoia.


In the land of Al-Azhar, the world's highest institute of Sunni learning, Shiites and Sunnis sometimes pray together unawares. Shiism is not recognised and the faithful are do not have their own place of worship. The Egyptian state reckons there are just a few hundred Shiites in the country, while Shiite activists say there are hundreds of thousands of them, living in hiding for fear of the police.


Journalists at the El-Masryoun news website, which is reportedly close to the Egyptian intelligence services, are convinced that the threat is serious. The mere presence of Shiites in Egypt is seen by them as an Iranian bid to destabilise the country.


"This is an infiltration by Iranian security. The threat should not be measured in numbers but by their financial means, by their capacity to obtain weapons. If they're well organised, a hundred people can be stronger than a million", explains Gamal Soltan, editor in chief of Al Masryoon.


At Said Mouftah's office, they're used to hearing this argument. He is a Cairo lawyer who defends members of the Shiite community in their increasingly frequent tangles with the authorities: "We've reached a point where state security officers put pressure on the preachers in mosques for them to stand against Shiism. Political power is playing a role that it shouldn't. The role of the security forces should be to protect the population from threats based on facts, but they're becoming a thought police."

Founded by Shiites more than a thousand years ago and today a beacon of Sunni learning, Al-Azhar only recognised Shiism as a legitimate school of Islamic thought in 1965. A step that the Egyptian state still refuses to take.

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