Egypt's government said it would not backtrack on its controversial decision to standardise sermons at Friday prayers, adding that scripted sermons would only be a "guideline" until a final endorsement of the move.
The endowments ministry announced last week that Muslim preachers would be required to read from a pre-written script during the weekly sermon at Friday prayers.
The move, which is meant to tighten control on religious discourse and combat extremist views, sparked an outcry among many clerics who say scripted sermons would waste imam's talents and fail to cater to different communities.
But despite the opposition, Endowments Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said on Monday the decision is irrevocable, adding that pre-written sermons the government started to issue would only run as a "guideline" to preachers until a final endorsement by a committee of state–hired scholars.
"Until now we are working within the framework of guiding sermons," the minister told a meeting of top scholars on Monday.
"So far, the imam can modify the script -- within the subject matter -- add facts, re-write it or read it if he is convinced with it."
The government already started to post weekly sermons on its website a few weeks ago.
Gomaa said that the ministry would take a "more serious" step every week towards implementing state-issued sermons, a move he says is aimed at "improving the form and performance of sermons" and crushing radical ideas.
Gomaa said the government will prepare 54 sermons covering 52 weeks in addition to religious holidays, and that there will be a long-term plan to write 270 sermons to cover five years.
He said that until the decision is brought into effect, improvising clerics would be required to deliver sermons that are 20-minutes-long as a maximum. Since 2014, the ministry has been setting the topics for weekly sermons delivered during Friday prayers across the country.
The latest move was part of the government's effort to stop the use of mosques as a platform for political groups and to clamp down on “extremist views” that authorities said were being spread by preachers supporting former president Mohamed Morsi's now-banned Muslim Brotherhood group and its ultraconservative allies.
It comes against the backdrop of calls by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to reform "religious discourse."