Egypt’s parliament has passed a law criminalising protests in places of worship, a measure the government’s opponents see as part of a wider pattern of reining in popular opposition.
The bill has been touted as a bid to protect the sanctity of places of worship by a government eager to burnish its religious credentials, tarnished by unpopular foreign policy decisions and a continuous crackdown on the Islamist opposition.
However, the law passed on Wednesday is widely seen as an effort to clamp down on the protests often held in major mosques such as al-Azhar, the university-mosque that has been a center of Islamic learning for over a thousand years.
Protests are illegal without government approval in Egypt, and mosques such as al-Azhar are among the few venues available for the public to voice discontent, possibly because the government would be reluctant to be seen as violating such a hallowed place by sending in riot troops.
Such protests have enjoyed extensive coverage on pan-Arab channels such as al-Jazeera, and this seems to have irked the government, which recently spearheaded a drive to bring satellite broadcasters to heel.