Wires

FEATURE-Egypt's radical preachers enjoying freedom of airwaves

* Egypt's Grand Mufti denounces edicts

* Mursi's critics say addressing fanaticism is a test of hispledges

* Muslim Brotherhood under pressure to take a clearer line By Shaimaa Fayed and Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO, Oct 10 (Reuters) - When Islamic scholar Zaghloulel-Naggar recommended the consumption of camel urine, describingit as an Islamic remedy for incurable diseases on a televisionshow last month, the channel's switchboard was bombarded withangry phone calls within minutes.

"Medicine is based on evidence ... Surely I don't need to beteaching you this?" well-known doctor Khaled Montassir toldNaggar on the show, barely concealing his frustration. "I am nothappy with what's happening to Muslims because of your ideas."

Egypt's media, once tightly controlled by the state, hasbecome a free-for-all platform for ideas, theories and advice,which can range from the ignorant to the bizarre and to whatsome see as outright dangerous.

Much of the talk is the largely innocuous and inevitableproduct of democratic reforms promoted by the revolutionarymovement of the Arab Spring, opening up space to new voices.

But some Egyptians are concerned that such freedoms arebeing exploited by hardline Islamists and self-appointedreligious experts to extend their influence in a society stillfinding its feet after months of turmoil.

The Grand Mufti, Egypt's most senior Islamic legal official,has denounced edicts made by unqualified preachers anddeclarations such as those suggesting that treating the ill withcamel urine is somehow an Islamic teaching. "Such talk iswrong," said spokesman Ibrahim Negm.

Egypt's Islamist leader Mohamed Mursi won elections in Junepromising to be a president for all Egyptians, and one of hisbig tests will be how he deals with radicals whose ideologiesworry mainstream Muslims and minority Christians.

His allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, which has aconservative vision of society while vowing to supportdemocracy, are under pressure to take a clear line.

POLICING THE AIRWAVES

"The Brotherhood is now in power. They need to act as rulersand ... state their position regarding such radical views andpreachers," said political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah.

When Mursi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak was in power, thegovernment strictly policed the airwaves, and managers ofprivate TV channels were often harassed by state security iftheir guests displeased the authorities.

The restrictions stifled pro-democracy activists andcriticism of the Mubarak regime, but they also put a lid onadvocates of religious extremism.

While some Egyptians welcome today's lively public debates,others say that airing fanatical or eccentric ideas makes themseem more acceptable and encourages bigotry and intolerance,sometimes playing on ignorance in a religiously conservativesociety where many are illiterate.

Government officials and media commentators were quick tocondemn Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, a well-known ultra-orthodoxSalafi Islamist, when he suggested last year that ancientstatues including the Sphinx guarding the Pyramids of Giza becovered up as they might be idolatrous.

In February, Shahat suggested that soccer matches should beforbidden and only horse and camel races allowed, seen as partof his drive to strictly emulate the days of the ProphetMohammad and shun modern activities.

Other Salafi leaders have said it was against Islam tosalute Egypt's flag or to sing the national anthem, called onMuslims to declaim as an infidel anyone who is "secular, liberalor modern", and argued against English being taught in schools.

The Grand Mufti has condemned such declarations in the nameof religion.

"Untrained amateurs who attempt to issue fatwas are notauthentic scholars, and their fatwas are more like independentunscholarly statements made according to their whims anddesires," his spokesman Negm said.

THIN END OF THE WEDGE

While there have been few indications that any of thesesuggestions have been taken seriously, they alarm moderateEgyptians who worry that they are the thin edge of the wedge ata particularly sensitive time.

A 100-strong assembly of scholars, politicians, academicsand others is drawing up a new constitution to determine therole of Islam and Islamic law in Egypt's government and legalsystem. Liberals and Islamists have been at loggerheads.

Moderates also are concerned about how the riot of ideas maybe subtly influencing the way people think and act.

Many viewers were indignant when the female host of apopular talk show agreed to a request from Assem Abdel Maged, aleading figure of the ultraorthodox Salafi group al-Gama'aal-Islamiya, to be interviewed through a screen because she wasnot wearing a veil.

"It would have been better for Hala Sarhan to apologise fornot running this shameful episode than to accept thissituation," wrote one viewer on YouTube, where the interview wasshown.

Muslim lawyer Sherif el-Hosseiny, 35, reflected the views ofmany Egyptians by saying: "One of the reasons I risked my lifein protests last year is to have the country go forward anddefinitely not have it go backward to pre-historic times."

But for others, the public outcry shows a society stilluncomfortable with an open democracy.

"In the United States a film was produced insulting theProphet Mohammed ... and here too we have people who expressrational and irrational views," said political analyst Mustafaal-Sayyed, adding the government had a duty to promote moderatethinking.

"This is the price every society has to pay for freedom ofspeech," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer,Sonya Hepinstall and Will Waterman)

((shaimaa.fayed@thomsonreuters.com)(+20 2 2578 3290)(ReutersMessaging: shaimaa.fayed.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: EGYPT FANATICISM/