Salafi Preacher Safwat Hegazy said on Monday that Shia Islam “will never exist in Egypt,” reacting to the recent visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“Any country’s intervention in another country to spread its own doctrine means either that this country has a new religion to spread or that it believes the old religion is more valid,” he said.
In an interview with the satellite channel Al-Arabiya, Hegazy claimed that the World Federation of Muslim Scholars has researched Shia Islam within the Sunni world, alleging that “the research includes numbers that refer to what Iran does to turn Sunnis to Shias.”
“Were there Shias in Egypt 20 years ago?” he asked rhetorically, before claiming that there were no Egyptian Shias in 1973 and slamming Shia Islam as “blasphemous” and “wrong.”
Hegazy also accused Shias of being paid by Iran, without offering evidence, and said that Shias visit Egypt to perform “blasphemy.”
By contrast, Hegazy said that Wahhabism is a Sunni school and not a new religion. He also said that he would welcome the spread of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam, since it was not a “blasphemous” one.
Hegazy also alleged that Shia preachers were trying to deceive Egyptian Sufis and make them Shia.
Shias were shunned from Egypt's political and social life throughout the 30-year rule of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. There are no official statistics on the number of Shias in Egypt, but experts on the country's religious minorities estimate their number between 50,000 and 80,000, a relatively small percentage of Egypt's population of 85 million.
Under Mubarak, some Shias were banned from traveling abroad, and many were repeatedly arrested by state security. Since the revolution that overthrew Mubarak, religious conservatives and many members of the Sunni establishment have ratcheted up their rhetoric against Shia Muslims.