Police attempted to remove efendi Sulejman Rexhepi as head of the Islamic Community of Macedonia (IVZ) today.

The main Muslim cleric in the country is involved in a bitter dispute with the Zoran Zaev Government and the police raid in the IVZ offices comes only days after he threatened Zaev that he will call on the Muslim faithful not to vote for his presidential candidate Stevo Pendarovski.

During one of the chronic IVZ leadership disputes, a Skopje court ordered that Skender Buzaku, who claims to have majority support in the IVZ leadership, should be appointed as a new reis ul ulema. Police appears to be acting on this court order. TV stations shared footage of police cars parked in front of the downtown Skopje office where reis Rexhepi works from. So far there is no indication whether the raid has been successful.

Ahead of the presidential elections, Rexhepi demanded that the Zaev Government hands over significant landed estates which are now mostly state owned, but were once ownership of the Islamic community, mostly as grants given in Ottoman times. IVZ also demanded that the Government allows the construction of several mosques in disputed locations, and Rexhepi insisted that work continues on a minaret towering over the Ohrid old city, despite protests from local residents.

Rexhepi threatened the Government that, if the property requests are not met, he will call on the faithful to vote against Pendarovski. SDSM deputy leader Muhamed Zekiri, himself an imam by education, publicly rebuked Rexhepi and asked that he is removed from office. Rexhepi also faces hate speech charges after he said that the “Macedonians are a wild people without identity” during a mosque groundbreaking ceremony.