The move is being seen as a bid to stamp out subversion and anti-government activity in the country.

Sources said on Monday that: "The ministry is examining a proposal to co-ordinate the content of sermons by telling imams what they should preach on Fridays in the 71,800 mosques answerable to the Ministry of Religious Endowments."

An official at Cairo's Al Azhar university,the highest authority in Sunni Islam, said the Egyptian government "has been considering the sermon question for two months".

'Preventing extremism'

"They want to prevent extremism or incitements against the regime of President Husni Mubarak," another source said.

Al-Azhar's Muhammad Tantawi
controls sermon content in many
Egyptian mosques  

Egypt has exerted tight control over the country's mosques for several years, but there are thousands outside its direct jurisdiction.

Many were set up under former president Anwar al-Sadat who introduced tax exemptions for those who opened mosques in homes.

Muslim preachers, some of them belonging to the now banned Muslim Brotherhood, often used these private prayer houses to voice anti-government messages.

Egypt has been under martial law since Sadat was assassinated in 1981.

The law gives the government extensive powers to arrest and detain people for extended periods without charge.

Egypt has been accused by human rights organisations of abusing these powers to crack down on Islamic opposition groups.