Egypt: 306 Shias arrested

Unverified - al-Mesryoon and translation via Mideastwire:

- “Arrest of 306 Shi’is on charges of undermining Egypt security”
On June 30, the independent Al-Mesryoon daily carried the following report by Fathi Magdi: “Al-Mesryoon learned from prominent sources that Shi’i cleric Hassan Shehata, the former speaker of the Kobri el-Gam'a mosque, was arrested earlier this month along with dozens of young men among his followers to be interrogated in the utmost secrecy. The sources who requested anonymity told Al-Mesryoon that Shehata who had been laying low for the last 14 years, was arrested in his house in the Center of Cairo on June 22, and was accused along with his group which includes 306 elements of undermining Egyptian national security and of showing contempt to one of the heavenly religions.

“The investigations with Shehata emerged against the backdrop of two visits which he conducted to Iran in parallel to the uncovering by the Egyptian authorities of the Hezbollah cell led by Lebanese citizen Sami Chehab and accused of planning to carry out operations inside the Egyptian territories and target foreign ships crossing the Suez Canal. According to the sources, Shehata went to Iran via Lebanon in September of 2008, then conducted another visit whose date was not specified via Syria. It is probable that these two visits were the reason behind the launching of the campaign of arrests which affected Shehata and his followers, and it is likely they will be facing charges of affiliation with Hezbollah on the organizational level as a result to the ongoing investigations.

“In this context, many online forums have been circulating news related to the arrest of Hassan Shehata who is a famous Shi’i cleric and is known for his speeches in which he insults the Companions of the Prophet, Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him, and Sayeda Aisha the Mother of Believers, without this arrest being officially confirmed by the Egyptian authorities... Shehata was previously arrested in 1995 for having offended Sayeda Aisha whom he described as being “the little donkey” as well as the Companions of the Prophet, Peace and Blessings be Upon Him, whom he described as being “ignorant who resorted to the Prince of Believers (Ali Ibn Abi Taleb) whenever they faced a problem.” - Al-Mesryoon, Egypt


This would suggest quite an increased crackdown on Shias, possibly merely as a result of the "Hizbullah in Egypt" affair or wider worries about Iranian influence. But it could also simply be prejudice - either the Shia preacher described in the article really did incite against Sunnis, as mentioned, or the bigotry is on the government's side. Or both.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.