Shi'ism in Egypt

Though numbering roughly a million—a small minority of Egypt’s Muslims—Egypt’s Shi’a community has deep roots. Cairo itself was founded under the Egyptian Fatimid Dynasty (969-1171), which was led by Isma’ili Shi’a rulers. Members of the Prophet Muhammad’s family revered by Shi’a Muslims are buried in Cairo and elsewhere, and are visited by Shi’a and Sunni alike.

Like other non-Sunni Muslim communities, the Shi’a face institutional and societal discrimination which has included being barred from practicing religious rituals, quotidian harassment, threats of violence, and acts of violence. Shi’a Muslims are viewed by large numbers of Egyptian Sunnis as heretical and are accused of ties to Iran. Shi’a families themselves often do not openly profess Shi’ism, and make efforts not to draw attention to themselves or the broader community.

The civil war in Syria has worsened anti-Shi’a rhetoric; Syria’s leader, Bashar Al-Assad, is himself an Alawi Shi’a and Iran and its proxies are increasingly involved in the conflict there. In June 2013 following weeks of sectarian rhetoric from local Salafi preachers, a mob killed four Shi’a men who had gathered for a religious ceremony at the home of a Shi’a imam in a village near Cairo while police stood by. Sectarian rhetoric was heightened during the presidency of Muhammad Morsi, both among Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen as well as politicians of other Islamist parties, including the Salafi Nour Party.

Some Shi’a are visibly active in Egyptian political life. Notably, a Shi’a political organization was barred from registering as an official party in 2012. While the government cited the illegality of a party based on religion, other Sunni Islamist parties such as the Freedom and Justice Party and the Nour Party registered without issue.


Jeffrey Fleishman, “Egypt’s authorities under fire for sectarian killing,” Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2013, accessed January 10, 2014.

U.S. Department of State, “International Religious Freedom Report for 2012: Egypt,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (2012), accessed January 10, 2014.