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Officials in the Egyptian institution for issuing religious decrees are denying that a recent fatwa, or religious ruling, constitutes a blanket prohibition from joining all Islamist organizations.
The fatwa, allegedly issued last Saturday, bans membership in Islamist organizations with political or military platforms that are against the good of the Muslim world.
The decree drew criticism from Islamist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, a powerful opposition movement in Egypt.
The institution, Dar Al-Ifta, is now clarifying that the fatwa refers to specific organizations such as Al-Qa'ida, according to a report on Al-Arabiya TV.
Several Islamist organizations criticized the fatwa, saying it was politically motivated in order to discourage people from joining the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hizbullah.
A spokesman for the institution said this was an old decree and that the media was inflating the matter.
"I think it had to do with joining Al-Qaida," he said.
"It's limited to specific organizations, which have political or military programs that are intended to lure youngsters to fight the state and social organizations. It certainly doesn't talk about all Islamic groups that don't include this in their aims and manifestos."
He also said the fatwa was not issued last Saturday, as reported, but has been on the institution's website for some time.
The Muslim Brotherhood said a religious institution needed to be more specific on these issues.
"The content of the fatwa and its timing are proof that there is an attempt to restrict the role of Islamist organizations, frighten people away from joining them, cast doubt on the humanitarian, social and Islamist role that they play, taint their image and label them as infidels," Muhammad Habib, a senior Brotherhood official told Al-Arabiya.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest opposition movement in Egypt.
It has been officially banned since 1954, but the government tolerates its operations to a limited extent because of its huge popularity.
Egyptian security forces periodically carry out sweeping arrests of Brotherhood members, when the government feels the movement is undermining the regime.
More recently, dozens of Brotherhood members were arrested ahead of planned demonstrations throughout the country, which were staged to criticize Israel and express solidarity with Palestinians following the IDF operation in Gaza.