The influential Qatar-based Muslim cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi on Sunday called on Egyptians to boycott presidential elections and shun front-runner Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, saying the former army chief had "disobeyed God".
The Egyptian-born cleric, who has close links to the Muslim Brotherhood and whose religious shows on Al Jazeera television were watched by millions, has been critical of Egypt's military-backed government, accusing Sisi of betrayal for ousting Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last year, Reuters reported.
"People of Egypt in the capital and the provinces, cities and villages, sit in your houses and do not burden yourselves with a great sin...," Qaradawi said in an emailed statement.
"It is not permissible for you to vote for he who has disobeyed God," he added.
Sisi is expected to easily win the May 26-27 presidential election. His only challenger is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the 2012 vote won by Mursi.
Since Morsi was ousted, the new military-backed government has cracked down hard on the Brotherhood, once the country's best organized force, accusing members of fomenting violence and unrest. Thousands were killed or rounded up by security forces.
The Brotherhood accuses Sisi of staging a coup and masterminding the removal of Morsi, who was Egypt's first freely elected president.
"The duty of the nation is to resist the oppressors, restrain their hands and silence their tongues," said Qaradawi, who has previously said he only supports peaceful resistance in Egypt.
"I refuse to participate in the election... do not go to participate in the injustice," he said.
Qaradawi said that Sisi's victory in the poll would please the "Zionists" and "enemies of the nation" -- an apparent reference to Israel.
‘Crackdown could cause regional instability’
Meanwhile, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader warned that government oppression in Egypt is fanning militancy that will pose a threat abroad unless the army-backed authorities start respecting freedom and human rights.
Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, who left the Brotherhood in 2011, said that once former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi wins a presidential election this week - as is widely expected - he had two choices: restore Egypt's path to democracy, or risk more instability that will dash hopes for economic development.
In an interview with Reuters, Abol Fotouh predicted wider consequences flowing from the crackdown launched last year after the military overthrew Morsi.
He noted, for example, how past oppression in the Middle East had bred radicalism of the type that led to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
"The world around us must recognize that it will not be stable unless Egypt is stable, and what is going on now is producing terrorism for which Egyptians are paying the price, and for which the world will pay the price," he said in the interview, which was conducted on May 21.
Jihadi group denies report of leader's death
Meanwhile, Egyptian jihadi group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis denied Sunday that its leader has been killed, after security sources said the group's commander Shadi al-Menei had been shot dead in an ambush.
The group also denied Menei was its leader, in a statement published on Islamist militant Internet forums accompanied by a picture of him reading a report about his "death" on a laptop, AFP reported.
The picture could not be immediately authenticated.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, based in the Sinai Peninsula, has spearheaded attacks that have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers since July 2013 when the army ousted Morsi.
"As the military suffers losses in its ranks, it claims illusory great victories," the statement said.
"They announced that they killed Shadi al-Menei and that he was the emir (leader) of the group. He was neither killed nor was the emir."
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