Cairo investigates Muslim Brotherhood connections in civil service

The Islamic Endowments Ministry was by far the largest state institution hiring Brotherhood affiliates during Morsi’s time as president.

Still active. A 2013 file picture shows a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood making the four-fingered Rabaa sign from inside al-Azhar University campus in Cairo’s Nasr City district. (Reuters)

2018/01/07 Issue: 138 Page: 9

The Arab Weekly
Ahmed Megahid

Cairo - Egypt’s Islamic Endow­ments Ministry is review­ing files of all civil serv­ants it hired during the presidency of Islamist Muhammad Morsi. The ministry is trying to ensure that members of the Muslim Brotherhood — des­ignated a terrorist organisation by Egypt in 2013 — have been removed from government.

“These people must be taken away from state institutions at all costs,” said Gaber Taye, the official spokesman of the ministry. “Their presence in these institutions is very dangerous because they con­stitute sleeper cells that set the stage for the return of the Brother­hood.”

This comes as part of a crack­down on the Islamist movement that has gained momentum in re­cent months amid concerns that civil servants appointed during the Morsi era could be hindering the pace of reforms.

Analysts have criticised the pres­ence of civil servants with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, particu­larly when Cairo has pledged to reform its bloated civil service. There are an estimated 6.4 million public sector employees working in more than 2,500 departments and 33 ministries, costing the govern­ment approximately $16.5 billion per year.

“There can be no stability or progress while the authorities al­low the affiliates of Morsi’s regime to control state institutions,” said Mustafa Bakri, a member of parlia­ment and a staunch anti-political Islam lobbyist. “We warned numer­ous times in the past that the affili­ates of the Brotherhood can hold state institutions back.”

Tens of thousands of Brother­hood members and sympathisers were reportedly given government jobs during Morsi’s time as presi­dent in 2012-13. Morsi’s term in of­fice, observers said, included a Brotherhood “invasion” of state institutions.

Almost all high-level Morsi-era political appointees were quickly removed from office but many lower-level civil servants remained in their positions.

With Egypt facing a multifaceted war on terror and attacks indicat­ing that the whereabouts of police patrols and officials were being leaked to terrorists, some observ­ers blamed civil servants appointed during the Morsi era. As an exam­ple, a helicopter carrying Egypt’s defence and interior ministers on an unannounced visit to El Arish in North Sinai was attacked December 19 after it landed at the city’s mili­tary airport.

An ambush of Egyptian police in the Sinai Peninsula in October, which left more than 50 people dead and others captured, also demonstrated terrorists’ suspect­ed strong counter-intelligence abilities.

The Islamic Endowments Min­istry, which controls more than 230,000 mosques in Egypt, was by far the largest state institution hir­ing Brotherhood affiliates during Morsi’s time as president.

Thousands of Brotherhood mem­bers were hired as imams, allowing them to directly influence Egypt’s mosque-going public. Subsequent laws sought to tighten restrictions, including requiring that mosque imams be graduates of al-Azhar and unified Friday sermons.

“We have already controlled all mosques and kicked the affiliates of this organisation out,” Taye said. “We are conducting a revision of the file of everybody in cooperation with the security establishment to ensure that the Brotherhood has no presence in the ministry.”

After reasserting control of Egypt’s mosques, the ministry is reviewing junior ministry employ­ees to ensure that all Brotherhood members are removed.

Other ministries, state agencies and offices are conducting inves­tigations of employees hired from 2011-13.

While the constitution bans dis­crimination against citizens for political and religious reasons, sup­porters of the review process said that was explicitly targeting mem­bers of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The investigation into state em­ployees remains an internal issue within the civil service, although some have sought to formalise the purge. MP Mohamed Abu Hamed proposed a bill that would com­mit state officials to firing Islamists working in their institutions.

He has repeatedly warned against Brotherhood sleeper cells in state offices.

“These people sabotage efforts made by the authorities to improve the living conditions of the people,” Abu Hamed said. “They are danger­ous, which makes their removal an urgent matter.”

Ahmed Meghid is an Egyptian reporter based in Cairo.

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