(Vatican Radio) Egypt's president and its highest religious authority have announced new measures to tackle terrorism and combat radicalisation.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Wednesday announced the formation of a new National Council to Confront Terrorism and Extremism. It will be comprised of 10 government ministers, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Coptic Pope Tawadros II, Egypt's former Grand Mufti and the parliamentary speaker. It will be chaired by President el-Sissi himself.
Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report:
Egypt’s new national council is tasked with drawing up a strategy, in coordination with religious institutions and security authorities, to promote moderate religious discourse, as well as studying and proposing amendments to terrorism-related legislation.
President el-Sissi ordered its formation following the Palm Sunday bombings of two churches, back in April, that left at least 45 people dead and more than 100 injured.
Al-Azhar kiosk in Metro station
Meanwhile, Al-Azhar university, the highest religious authority for the Sunni Muslim world, has set up a kiosk in one of Cairo's busiest underground stations, handing out religious advice to commuters queueing outside.
Almost 2,000 people have come to seek advice since the initiative began two weeks ago, in an effort to counter the appeal of militant Islam and reach out to believers at the grassroots.
Modernise religious discourse
Commuters welcomed the initiative, with some calling for more kiosks to be set up at other stations across the capital. Critics, however, accuse the 1,000-year-old Al-Azhar for failing to modernise its religious discourse, saying the new initiative does little to counter the lure of militancy among marginalised young people.
Islamist militants are waging an insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and have killed hundreds of soldiers and police in clashes since 2013. Suicide attacks have increasingly spread onto the mainland, killing tourists and Christians in particular.
In 2015, President al-Sisi called on Al-Azhar to take action and the Azhar Observatory was subsequently launched. Operating in 10 languages, it tracks social media where militants spread their propaganda and has also published books stressing the need to correct extremist interpretations of Islam.
In February this year, a top level Vatican delegation, led by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, held talks at Al-Azhar on ways of working together to combat all religiously motivated violence.