CAIRO: Egyptian clerics and employees of state Islamic religious bodies are demanding an end to what they say is rampant corruption by senior officials who manage religious endowments.
No official figures exist for the sums donated to Egypt’s top Islamic institutions to help manage and build mosques and pay imams, but independent estimates suggest they run to the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The bodies have been under state control for more than three decades and their reputation among many Egyptians has declined as part of broader discontent at the failings of government.
Last month’s popular revolt that ended President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule was the cue for an anti-corruption drive targeting senior officials in the former regime.
On Wednesday a top official in the religious endowments ministry set part of the building alight by accident while he was burning "important documents inside his office", according to Egyptian state news website www.egynews.net.
Sheikh Mostafa Hassan, head of a mosque and an employee in the endowments ministry, said kickbacks and book-fiddling in Egypt’s Islamic religious bodies were rife.
"We want an end to the huge administrative and financial corruption practiced by officials in the endowment ministry for many years," he said.
"We also want the head of (Egypt’s highest Islamic authority) Al-Azhar to be elected. We want measures for reviewing religious authorities that are fair and transparent," said Hassan. Dozens of Islamic scholars and employees of the endowments ministry have protested daily in front of the cabinet office in Cairo asking authorities to investigate what they call huge corruption at the ministry and for more pay.
Another demonstration organized by employees of Al-Azhar called for the removal of senior consultants who they say are unnecessary and overpaid.
Some say all religious bodies should be made independent from the state.
"We are in deep need of a new system that would ensure officials don’t take donated money," said political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah, researcher in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
"We must have a council to supervise all religious bodies and monitor their internal affairs."