Al Azhar sets up religious edict booths in Cairo metro

The Sunni institution's Islamic Research Academy said it had launched the project as part of its efforts to correct misconceptions and radical ideologies

In this May 16, 2017 photo, commuters reflected in glass ride a metro car, in Cairo, Egypt. Some 5 million people a day in the city of 18 million use the subway. Running along three lines, it is by far the fastest mode of transport, since nightmarish traffic can jam the streets at all hours day and night. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
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Egypt's Al Azhar, the world's foremost Sunni institution, has set up booths in Cairo metro stations to provide religious edicts to commuters.

It is the latest bid in Egypt to dispel religious misconceptions and misinterpretations of religious texts seen as fostering Islamic militancy in the country, which is mainly targeting security personnel and Coptic Christians.

Earlier this month, militants killed at least 28 security personnel in two separate attacks — one in the restive Sinai Peninsula and the other outside of Cairo, close to some of Egypt's most famous pyramids. Meanwhile, more than 100 Coptic Christians have been killed since December in four separate attacks.

Al Azhar's Islamic Research Academy said on Thursday last week that it had launched the metro project as part of the institution's efforts to correct misconceptions and radical ideologies.

Photos of Al Azhar clerics manning the booths and engaging with commuters circulated on social media networks.

But Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights, expressed scepticism about the effectiveness of the move, saying other measures should be taken to confront terrorism like fighting corruption and oppression.

"I don't think these booths will confront terrorism," Mr Eid said. "This measure is not a priority."

Mohi El Din Afifi, the research academy's secretary general, slammed such critical remarks, however, saying that what Al Azhar is doing serves the interests of the nation and its citizens. "Who will face the violent currents and protect the nation and citizens from their edicts?," he asked.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has repeatedly blamed what he believes to be outdated religious discourse for rising Islamic militancy in the country and has called for the "modernisation of religious discourse" since he took office in 2014.

Militants have carried out a series of suicide bombings and attacks in Egypt since the ouster of former Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, whose one-year rule proved divisive. The violence has been concentrated in the northern Sinai Peninsula, but it has also spread to the mainland, including the capital, Cairo.

The Egyptian interior ministry said on Sunday its forces had killed eight and arrested five members of Hasm movement, a militant group with suspected links to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood from which Morsi hailed.

The group, which routinely targets Egyptian security forces with bombings and drive-by shootings, claimed responsibility on Friday for an earlier attack on a three-car police convoy that killed one policeman and wounded three others in the Fayoum governorate south-west of Cairo.