CAIRO: Al-Bayt Association for Egyptian Shia announced that security forces have arrested 306 followers of the Shia sect last Tuesday and Wednesday, June 23 and 24, the association’s secretary general, Mohamed El-Deriny, said.
“Egyptian Shias are being arrested on suspicion of links to Hezbollah [the Lebanese Shia group] cells in Egypt, said El-Deriny.
Earlier this year, security officials had charged 49 people, 22 of whom are in custody, of operating a cell in Egypt which was taking orders from Hezbollah.
“We are extremely disappointed at this treatment of Shias in Egypt. We have always been looked down upon and discriminated against, we are never allowed to practice our beliefs publicly through celebrations of our holidays, he explained.
A police officer confirmed the news to Al-Quds Al-Araby newspaper. He said that they are being interrogated as part of the Hezbollah case.
El-Deriny explained that they are putting together a defense committee for the detainees which will embark on fierce negotiations for their release.
He suspects that times will be difficult for Egypt’s Shia who will suffer at the heavy-handedness of security forces.
Among the detainees is Shiekh Hassan Shehata, a popular Egyptian Shia figure who used to be a Sunni imam at a mosque. According to news reports, he allegedly visited Iran twice in the past year.
Ahmad Al Nafees, an Egyptian who follows the Shia sect, told the news portal Masrawy that he knows nothing about the arrested last week, but that “security forces have always been arresting Shias.
He said that the media incites hatred against the Shia, adding that the authorities are using satellite channels with a Wahabi ideology “to turn public opinion against the Shia.
There are no official figures denoting the number of Shia in Egypt, but it is believed to be around 750,000.
“The state and public opinion has recently become interested in the Shia for three main reasons, said Nabil Abdel Fattah, deputy head of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. The first, he says, has to do with foreign policy and the increasing regional role of Iran, which raised authorities’ concern about possible political instability in the country.
The prevalence of Shia missionaries particularly active in Morocco and Algeria, has also been a fear factor for majority Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, especially since they are blamed for the conversion of around 20 percent of Sunnis there.
“Finally, said Abdel Fattah, “the security authorities in Egypt are afraid that the Shia sect will spread and possibly influence or change the nature of religious practice in the country.