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Egypt orders Muslim preachers to deliver identical weekly sermons
by Mohamed Abdellah

Egyptian authorities said on Tuesday Muslim clerics would be required to read out identical pre-written weekly sermons as part of the government's campaign against extremism, drawing angry criticism from some preachers.

The ministry of religious endowments has since 2014 been providing imams with topics for their sermons at Friday prayers but the latest move confines preachers across the country to reading from the same script.

"No one disagreed during the meeting (of officials on Tuesday) and all the undersecretaries received the new instructions on pre-written unified sermons without incident," said the ministry's First Undersecretary for Qalyubiya province Sabry Dowaidar.

"The minister (Mohamed Gomaa) said he would start with himself and deliver the pre-written sermon (in a mosque) next Friday."

An undersecretary from a different province who requested anonymity said the sermons would be written by ministry officials and senior clerics from Al-Azhar, the 1,000-year-old center of Islamic learning in Cairo.

Members of parliament on the House Committee on Religious Affairs would contribute too, as would sociologists and psychologists.

Officials say the move will force preachers to stick to a suitable time limit and ensure they do not "lose their train of thought".


Several preachers voiced anger at the move, saying it would prevent talented preachers from shining and that different communities had different issues of interest that needed to be discussed in the mosque.

"Everywhere in Egypt, every city or village, has different circumstances. A certain village might have a robbery problem and so the sermon should talk about thievery. Another place might have widespread murder and that is what should be discussed," said Abdelsalam Mahmoud, an imam at a mosque in the southern city of Luxor.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power after leading the military overthrow of an Islamist president, has made "reforming religious discourse" and combating extremism a priority. He sees militant Islamism as an existential threat.

In 2013 the religious endowments ministry fired 55,000 preachers not authorized by Al-Azhar, shortly after the military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi from the presidency, following mass protests against his rule.

The preachers were accused of inciting violence and spreading extremist views and supporting the Brotherhood, the world's oldest Islamist movement.

The government does not differentiate between groups like the Brotherhood, which says it is peaceful, and Islamic State which is mounting an insurgency in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and has killed hundreds of soldiers and police.

(Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; editing by Andrew Roche)

Tehran gets first batch of missiles for S-300 complex

Russia has delivered the first consignment of surface-to-air missiles for S-300 air defense complexes supplied to Iran earlier this year, reports Tasnim News Agency. The initial contract called for delivery of at least five S-300 air defense batteries.

Iranís Air Defense Commander, Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, said earlier this month that all purchased S-300 systems will be fully functional by the end of the ongoing Iranian year, which ends on March 20, 2017.

The first delivery of the Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile system arrived in Iran in early April, the countryís Foreign Ministry announced.

Iran put some vehicles that are part of the sophisticated missile system on display at a military parade marking the National Army Day on April 17.

The ceremony in Tehran included two S-300 radar systems, a missile launcher, and command vehicles, as well as a crane for reloading the missile carrier vehicles, Tasnim reports.

The long-range S-300 air defense systems supplied to Iran by Russia have finally been deployed at Iranís Khatam al-Anbia Air Defense Base, the Tasnim news agency cited Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan as saying in mid-May.

The S-300PMU-2 Favorit model delivered to Iran is a more advanced version of the S-300 system than was promised in the original contract.

Russia and Iran signed an $800 million contract to supply S-300 systems in 2007.

The contract was put on hold in 2010 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev due to UN sanctions imposed on Iran.

Moscow said at the time that the delivery of S-300s would upset the balance of power in the region and escalate tensions.

The contract was revived in April of 2015 by President Vladimir Putin after Iran and six leading world powers signed a nuclear deal, which addressed concerns about Tehran achieving a potential nuclear breakthrough that would allow it to produce nuclear weapons.

Iran says U.N. report on its ballistic missile tests 'unrealistic'
by Parisa Hafezi

Iran has rejected as "unrealistic" a report by the U.N. leader that criticized its ballistic missile launches as inconsistent with its nuclear deal with world powers, the semi-official Tasnim news agency said on Friday.

Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) conducted ballistic missile tests in early March and called them a demonstration of its non-nuclear deterrent power.

The United States and its European allies said that by testing nuclear-capable missiles, Tehran had defied a U.N. Security Council resolution and urged U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to tackle the matter.

Reuters reported on Thursday that a confidential report by Ban had found Iran's missile tests to be inconsistent "with the constructive spirit" of the 2015 deal under which Iran curbed sensitive nuclear activity and won sanctions relief in return.

"We suggest that Mr. Ban and his colleagues... produce a realistic report...They should not yield to political pressures from some members of the (Security) Council," Tasnim quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official as saying.

Ban's report stopped short of calling the missile launches a "violation" of Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear agreement that defused Iranian-Western tensions which had raised fears of a wider Middle East war.

His report said it was up to the Security Council to decide if Iran violated Resolution 2231 which "calls upon" Iran to refrain for up to eight years from activity related to ballistic missiles with cones that could accommodate a nuclear warhead.

Iran has consistently denied its missiles are designed to carry an atomic device. Ban's report said Iran had stressed that it had not undertaken "any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons."

The Council is due to discuss Ban's report on July 18.

Tehran has accused the United States of failing to meet its commitments under the nuclear deal, saying Washington should do more to lift its own sanctions affecting banks so businesses feel confident of being able to invest in Iran without penalty.

"I hope the Reuters report is not true ... I suggest that Mr Ban give a fair report ... in which he also mentions America is not fulfilling its commitments under the deal," the official said told the Tasnim agency.

The German government, responding to reports by its spy service that Iran has been trying to acquire nuclear technology in Germany, said on Friday certain forces in Iran may be trying to undermine the nuclear deal.

International sanctions on Tehran were lifted in January under the nuclear deal, but current U.S. policy bars foreign banks from clearing dollar-based transactions with Iran through U.S. banks.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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