Egyptian Shia activist and journalist banned from travelling to Russia
CAIRO – Egyptian Shia Muslim activist Haidar Kanil was banned from travelling to the Russian capital Moscow earlier last week, in the latest crackdown on Egyptian religious minorities.
Kandil told The New Arab that he has been monitored by police on a weekly basis in his hometown, northern Tanta city, following his release on bail by the state security prosecution.
He was accused of allegedly spreading Shia Islam and ideas against the state, as well as founding an illegal organisation, accusations he fervently denies.
"I was stopped by a police officer at Bog El-Arab airport [on the outskirts of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria] as I was getting ready to travel to Russia to look for a job. My passport was confiscated, although I had not been on the travel ban list and I had a valid visa to Russia. But the officer told me I should go claim my passport from the state security that ordered the ban," he said.
Earlier in December 2019, Kandil was subjected to enforced disappearance after being taken from his home in Tanta. His whereabouts remained unknown for almost three months until he appeared at the state security prosecution office for interrogation.
According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Kandil was questioned by state security officers about being a follower of the Shia doctrine, his beliefs, and how he practiced his religious rituals.
Kandil was further asked about reasons for earlier trips he had made to Shia-majority Iran and Iraq. He claimed he was tied up and blindfolded throughout his detention in the state security building.
"I travelled to these two countries to visit Shia holy sites. I have no affiliations to Iran as some would claim. Neither have I ever received funding from any entity or country," Kandil said.
"The problem is Egypt's government has always linked Egyptian Shias to Iran, accusing us of being affiliated to it, which is not true. We are only interested in the holy sites there."
After being confronted with the accusations by the prosecution, Kadil was referred to emergency state security court.
"Upon my release, I got back to my job as a reporter and a photojournalist at El-Dostour newspaper. But shortly afterwards, I was asked to leave and informed that I was no longer allowed to practice journalism as per the orders of the authorities," Kandil recalled.
Historically, the differences between Sunnis and Shias originated in who should lead the Muslim world, following the death of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Followers of the Prophet's cousin, Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib - a key figure in Shia Islam - believed the leadership was rightfully his. Since then, both sides have been having an ongoing dispute over religious and political matters.
Shia Muslims have faced discrimination and persecution in Egypt for decades. Dozens have been subjected to detention and imprisonment by the Egyptian successive regimes as well as discrimination by the Sunni majority.
The country's Shia minority even has no right to practice their rituals or celebrate religious festivals in public freely.
Al-Azhar, the highest religious Sunni authority in the region, has always warned against Shia Islam over the years. In 2015, an Al-Azhar magazine republished a 60-year-old book titled "The Outline of the Shiite Religion", describing Shia Islam as a different religion rather than an Islamic sect.