The main Shiite institution in Egypt is Al-Majlis Al-A’la Le-Al Al-Bayt (The Higher Council for the Protection of Ahl Al-Bayt – the House of Prophet Mohamed). As with other religious groups, there are no official figures about the number of Shiites in Egypt. News reports estimate their numbers between 650-750 thousand. Mohamed El-Dereiny, head of the Shiite community in Egypt, reported that the number is one million according to the estimates of the Egyptian security apparatuses. Most Shiites, according to El-Dereiny, affiliate with Sufi orders and do not expose themselves for fear of persecution.
During the Mubarak era, Shiites were under strict security restrictions and control due to their alleged affiliation with Iran. This security situation escalated after the 2009 arrest of a cell allegedly under Lebanon’s Hizbullah charged with plotting for terrorist attacks in Egypt. According to Middle East Online, the year 2009 also witnessed a wave of arrests of Shiite leaders under the Emergency Law for accusations that include “forming a group trying to spread Shiite ideology that harms the Islamic religion” and insulting Islam.
One of those arrested was Sheikh Hassan Shehata, a Sunni scholar who adopted Shiism more than 10 years ago and was fired from his position as Imam of the Mosque of Shohada’ El-Gama’a (the University’s Martyrs), a mosque located blocks away from the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Shehata is known as a hardliner Shiite whose fiery sermons attack the Prophet’s companions and wife ‘Aisha. Shetata was first detained in 1995 after he was heavily criticized by Sunni scholars as well as the general public who called for considering him an infidel (kafir) and expelling him from the country. Shehata was detained again in June 2009 with more than 300 other Shiites under the charges of plotting against national security and disgust of religion. The investigations showed that Shehata visited Iran twice, around the same time that the Egyptian authorities captured the so-called Hizbullah Cell in 2009.
After Mubarak, the Shiite attempts at openness and political presence was met with Salafi threats. Salafi leader Mohamed El-Marakby, member of the Board of Ansar El-Sunna, harshly rejected the intention of Egyptian Shiites to establish a political party and called upon other Muslims to fight against this trend. He alleged that Shiites in Egypt were attempting to create a political party and a newspaper financed by Iran. Despite these sectarian tensions, Al-Azhar recognizes Shiism as a legitimate.