Since the outbreak of violent events marking the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution on January 25, 2013, several fatwas have been issued by Islamic clerics in Egypt encouraging violence against regime opponents. In recent days, in the lead-up to the second anniversary of the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2013, the language of the fatwas has become increasingly severe, even to the point of sanctioning the killing of the leaders of the National Salvation Front – the umbrella organization of opposition forces in Egypt – including former IAEA director Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, and former Egyptian presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi. Consequently, many warn that there could be a wave of political assassinations that would spark a civil war in Egypt, especially in light of the murder of former Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid on February 6, 2013.[1]

The fatwas have been harshly condemned by both regime supporters and opponents. While the Egyptian Interior Ministry has increased security around the homes of ElBaradei and Sabahi, many in the media complained that this was not enough and called to take actual steps against the authors of the fatwas. On February 11, 2013, Egypt’s prosecutor general ordered Sheikh Mahmoud Sha’aban, an Al-Azhar lecturer who authored one of the fatwas, detained for questioning.[2]

Following is a review of these fatwas and the reactions to their publication:

Political assassinations ignite Tunisia and Egypt

‘Political assassinations’ ignite ‘Tunisia’ and ‘Egypt.’

Fatwas Sanctioning The Killing Of Opposition Members

Islamic Jihad Mufti And Professor At Al-Azhar University: The Punishment For The National Salvation Front Is Death

Islamic Jihad Mufti Osama Qassem issued a fatwa on February 8, 2013, according to which “the leaders of the National Salvation Front deserved the haraba sentence [Koranic punishment for thieves and others, involving expulsion, amputation of limbs, or execution] since they attack public installations, act violently, block roads… [and] fight President Muhammad Mursi – which divides the nation into several parts and leads it towards civil war.”

The fatwa stated: “Those who harm public property are the same as someone who assaults – that is, who pounces on [another person] and attacks him. In terms of the shari’a, they deserve haraba, because the actions of the [National Salvation] Front constitute political corruption and an attack on the ruler. They rend and divide the ranks, and the shari’a intended for them to be killed…”[4]

It added that defending the president is the shari’ duty of state mechanisms, but that if these mechanisms cannot carry this out, the duty passes to all citizens, especially members of the Islamic streams. “The protestors must be stopped,” it said, “before they reach the presidential palace, even if this is done by killing them, and then they must be punished for harming property and lives. They must be dissuaded [from their actions] – but if they do not comply, they must be killed.”[5]

On February 7, 2013, it was reported that Al-Azhar lecturer Sheikh Mahmoud Sha’aban had issued a fatwa on his show on Al-Hafez TV stating that under Islamic law, National Salvation Front members should be punished with “death.”[6] He said: “Mohammed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi have repeatedly called for ousting the regime and holding new presidential elections, and have objected to the constitution… It is clear to all that they corrupt and that they seek the reins of power.”

Sha’aban’s fatwa relies on a hadith that states that anyone who swears fealty to the Imam “must give him everything he can. If someone comes to rival [the Imam], he must be struck on the neck.” According to these reports, Sha’aban’s interpretation of the hadith is that those who try to oust the ruler must be struck, and if striking them is not enough, they must be killed.[7]


Following the outrage sparked by the fatwa, Sha’aban denied the reports and claimed that the video was fabricated.[8] Al-Azhar announced that if such a fatwa had indeed been issued, Sha’aban would be handed over to the university’s ethics committee, since the fatwa had the potential to cause anarchy.[9]

On February 11, 2013, Egypt’s prosecutor general ordered Sha’aban detained for questioning.[10]

Salafi Preacher: Islamist Groups Are Willing To Kill The Corrupters – In Place Of The Police, Who Are Lax In Their Duty

On January 29, 2013, Salafi preacher Wajdi Ghanim uploaded a video to YouTube in which he addressed President Mursi and called on him to deal harshly with protestors, “with an iron fist.” He said: “Are you still waiting to be attacked in your palace? I know you are strong, and I do not understand the weakness you are showing… Treat all these [protestors] with might and strength…”

Ghanim added, “The president’s men from among the Islamic groups are willing to take to the streets to restore security – in place of the police, who are lax in their duty.” He also called to “go and kill the murderers, thugs, and corrupters, because the people have had enough…”[11]

In a recorded sermon posted on YouTube on February 8, 2013, Ghanim called for the haraba sentence for the Egyptian opposition. Calling them murderers who shed blood, he said that the punishment for those who start fires, besiege mosques, and seek to oust a legitimate elected president must be death. To establish his claim, Ghanim quoted the Koranic verse on haraba: “Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption, is not but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet on opposite sides be cut off, or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment [Koran 5:33].” Ghanim explained that he does not mean that anyone is permitted to perform the killing himself, but that the justice system should impose the punishment, in accordance with Islamic law.[12]

Islamic Preacher: It Is Permitted To Kill ‘Black Bloc’ Members If They Do Not Mend Their Ways

On January 27, 2013, Islamic preacher Muhammad Nazmi Al-Athri, who hosts a show on Al-Hafez TV, published a fatwa on his website permitting the killing of members of the Egyptian opposition movement calling itself “The Black Bloc” – a movement opposing the Muslim Brotherhood rule that emerged following the events of January 25, 2013; its members copy European protest movements by participating in marches masked and dressed in black. Al-Athri said that Black Bloc members, whom he called corrupters who do not respect the authority of the Imam, must be warned, and that “if they do not mend their ways, they must be prosecuted, and if they persist [in their behavior], then killing them is permitted.”[13]

In addition, Mohamed abu Samra, a leader of the Safety and Development Party, which is the political wing of Islamic Jihad, said that the Black Bloc must be totally eliminated, and that such groups must be dealt with most violently because they spark terror in the hearts of citizens.[14]

Image from the Facebook page of Islamic preacher Muhammad Nazmi Al-Athri Sharia response to the Black Bloc groups
Image from the Facebook page of Islamic preacher Muhammad Nazmi Al-Athri: “Shari’a response to the Black Bloc groups.”[15]

National Salvation Front: Belaid’s Murder – A Warning For Cairo

A February 8, 2013 National Salvation Front communiqué in response to these fatwas stated: “Intimidating the opposition and publishing fatwas sanctioning the killing of its leaders… in Egypt and Tunisia will not stop [us from achieving] the goals of the revolution, and will not succeed in oppressing the Egyptian people and its brother Tunisian people, or in stopping their noble revolution against oppression, dictatorship, and a police state that tramples human rights…”

The communiqué also called the February 6, 2013 assassination of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid “a warning for Cairo – a warning against the cancerous growth of terrorist organizations, under the guise of the religion, that have begun implementing a large-scale plan to physically and morally eliminate the opposition, in an attempt to recreate fascist regimes that monopolize power in the name of the religion and depose all the values of freedom and democracy for which the people rose up.”[16]

Similarly, the Egyptian Popular Current, led by Hamdeen Sabahi, one of the National Salvation Front leaders targeted by some of these fatwas, warned that the phenomenon of assassinations of oppositionists could spill over from Tunisia to Egypt, and that the Arab Spring countries would enter an era of political assassinations. The Egyptian Popular Current communiqué states: “The political conditions that led to the first political assassination in Tunisia also exist in Egypt, due particularly to the similarity between the regimes in both countries, and in light of the political tension, polarization, and misguided religious fatwas issued by several ignoramuses who presume to be devout. These fatwas set a precedent sanctioning extremists’ killing of the other…”[17]

Mohammed ElBaradei, who has also been threatened by these fatwas, warned on his Twitter account that the fatwas could bring about Egypt’s collapse. He wrote: “When sheikhs publish a fatwa requiring killing in the name of religion and are not arrested, then we must say to the regime and its country: ‘Rest in peace.'”[18]

 Mohammed ElBaradei Twitter account fatwas could bring about Egypts collapse




The Black Bloc’s Facebook page posted a response to Sha’aban’s fatwa, which stated: “To the terrorist Mahmoud Sha’aban – in which Koranic verse or hadith by the Prophet do you find text ordering the sanctioning of the killing of [National] Salvation Front [members]? Yes, you will find it in the Koran and Sunna of the [Muslim Brotherhood] General Guide, but in the Koran and Sunna of the Muslims you will find only mercy and forgiveness.”

One Black Bloc member said: “Our purpose is to fight this corrupt regime… we will relax for a little while and [then] deal a deadly blow to the regime, so that it knows that there are those who protect and defend the revolution. We will not rest until we avenge our victims…”[19]

Condemnation In Government And Islamic Circles: The Fatwas Are Irresponsible – And Contrary To Islam

As discussed above, these fatwas have been condemned by the regime as well as by various Islamic elements. The President’s Office said in a statement that dialogue was the only way to achieve the goals of the revolution, and that political violence or incitement to violence was one of the important challenges faced by Arab revolutions. It added that it is unusual that some in Egypt, who presume to speak in the name of the religion, incite political violence and sanction the killing of others on the basis of political disagreement.

The statement also said that the presidency opposes this hateful dialogue, of which the religion itself is innocent, and called for stopping the danger of fitna and the attempts to sow schism in Egypt. It concluded by saying that these crimes must be fought by legal, political, social, and cultural means.[20]

Ministry Of Religious Endowments: The Fatwas Are Contrary To Islam

Egyptian Prime Minister Dr. Hisham Qandil said that change in Egypt should not be brought about by violence but by free elections, and not by threats and force but by obeying the law and by the minority respecting the will of the majority. He expressed hope that the Egyptian people was aware of the severity of these fatwas, and called on all political groups to oppose violence and to persist in dialogue, for sake of the country, which, he said, needs stability and unity now more than ever.[21]

The government announced that it intended to take legal action against anyone issuing fatwas that incite violence.[22] The Ministry of Religious Endowments also condemned Sha’aban’s fatwa, calling it contrary to proper Islam.[23]

Muslim Brotherhood: The Fatwas Are Irresponsible – We Can’t Have Political Assassinations In Egypt

Dr. ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Bar, a member of the office of the Muslim Brotherhood General Guide who is often called the movement’s mufti, published an article on the official MB website rejecting the fatwas calling for violence against the opposition. Noting that it is impossible to extrapolate this from the sources on which these fatwas rely, Al-Bar explained that Islam does not forbid opposition but permits nations to try to bring about regime change peaceably, but not by the sword.

Al-Bar said that oppositionists must be fought only when someone who opposes a legitimate regime appoints himself leader in its stead and gathers armed men who fight the nation and corrupt the land – and that this was not the case with today’s Egyptian opposition.[24]

MB spokesman Yasser Mehrez said that the fatwas are irresponsible and should be condemned, and that they encourage fitna and violence. He called on the Sheikh of Al-Azhar to intervene and stop the authors of these fatwas.[25]

Salafi Stream: Islam Forbids Taking Up Arms Against Political Opponents

‘Abbud Al-Zumar, a member of the Shura Council of Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya, also criticized the call to assassinate Egyptian oppositionists and said that “a man must not take up arms against his political opponents,” and that his organization would not use violence against anyone.[26] Nader Bakkar, deputy chairman for media affairs of the Salafi Al-Nour party, Tweeted that Sheikh Mahmoud Sha’aban should be arrested and interrogated since his statements are contrary to the shari’a and the law, and are a threat to public safety.[27]

Criticism In Egyptian Press: The Regime’s Condemnation Of The Fatwas Is Not Enough

The regime’s response to the fatwas sparked criticism in the Egyptian press, because until February 11, the Egyptian authorities only condemned the fatwas, and took no actual steps against the authors. However, on February 11, 2013, the prosecutor general ordered that one of the authors, Sheikh Mahmoud Sha’aban, be detained for questioning.[28]

Hassan Nafa’a, a professor at Cairo University and general coordinator of the National Association for Change, wrote in the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm: “If Egypt would deal seriously with the ‘new preachers’ who have become experts in inciting sectarian fitna by using fatwas… we would not have people like Dr. Mahmoud Shukri [i.e. Sha’aban] and his fatwa that incites the killing of oppositionists…

“The ruling party’s condemnation of these fatwas is not enough. We need a law setting a penalty for anyone who mobilizes the religion for political purposes in a way that sparks fitna – a law that regulates the publication of religious fatwas [to ensure] that they are true to the path of Allah and to the defense of the religion, and are apart from the turmoil of politics.”[29]

Criticism of the Egyptian regime’s laxness with regard to the authors of the fatwas came also from the former head of Egyptian state television’s news department, ‘Abd Al-Latif Al-Munawi. In an article in Al-Masri Al-Yawm, Al-Munawi wrote:

“When the fatwa… sanctioning the killing of the leaders of the National Salvation Front was issued, one would have expected a response befitting the severity of the matter, since it is a prelude to calling for political assassinations… But the new rulers may not anger their alies, even if their actions would necessarily set the homeland ablaze…

“Where is the state? Where is the law? Where is the regime? … If this absurdity does not end immediately, the regime will be held responsible…”[30]


L. Lavi is a research fellow at MEMRI.

© The Middle East Media Research Institute All Rights Reserved.


[1] Al-Dustour Al-Asly (Egypt), February 8, 2013.

[2] Ahram Online, February 11, 2013.

[3] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 10, 2013.

[4] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 8, 2013.

[5] Al-Watan (Egypt), February 8, 2013.

[6] See MEMRI TV Clip No. 3732, Egyptian Cleric Mahmoud Sha’aban Calls to Kill National Salvation Front Leaders, February 1, 2013.

[7] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 6, 2013

[8] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 8, 2013.

[9] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), February 7, 2013.

[10] Ahram Online, February 11, 2013.

[11] Al-Watan (Egypt), January 29, 2013.

[12] Al-Wafd (Egypt), February 8, 2013.

[13] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), January 27, 2013.

[14] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), January 27, 2013.

[15] Facebook page.

[16] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 8, 2013.

[17] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 8, 2013.

[18], February 6, 2013.

[19] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 8, 2013.

[20] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 8, 2013.

[21] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Egypt), February 7, 2013.

[22] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 8, 2013.

[23] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 8, 2013.

[24], February 10, 2013.

[25], February 7, 2013.

[26], February 7, 2013.

[27] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 6, 2013.

[28] Ahram Online, February 11, 2013.

[29] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 7, 2013.

[30] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 11, 2013.