Millions of Egyptian Muslims honoured one of the most important religious duty of the year, morning prayers to celebrate El-Adha Eid, in mosques and public squares around the country early Sunday morning.
This marked the first El-Adha Eid celebration after the outbreak of the January 25 revolution and the ousting of Hosni Mubarak from power.
A year ago, the press in Egypt marked Eid, as they did for thirty years, by reporting on where Mubarak performed the morning prayer and which high-level public figures stood by his side as he did so.
In fact, the ousted president celebrated the previous Eid ritual at the Police Mosque in Cairo with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and a slew of top government ministers and National Democratic Party (NDP) officials.
Mubarak and a host of his men performed what was to be their last public prayer together just weeks before the January uprising swept them from power, and eventually sent many to prison.
On Sunday, Field Marshal Tantawi, who assumed power from Mubarak on 11 February, was the leading Muslim man in the country facing east to Mecca in order to pray to Allah, as believers do when they reconfirm their Islamic faith five times a day.
The field marshal performed the Eid prayers along with a number of generals from his ruling military council and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar at the Army mosque in Cairo.
Interestingly, both the Eid celebrations in 2010 and 2010 fell just weeks from two sets of parliamentary elections which represented milestones, though in disparate ways, in the contemporary history of Egypt.
The 2010 elections were, by independent accounts, the most rigged elections that took place during Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship; and anger that resulted from widespread fraud that favoured his NDP played a key role in pushing public hatred of the regime to boiling point, hastening its demise in January.
Meanwhile, the 2011 contest stand to be the first in modern Egyptian history to pass without systematic and widespread fraud, vote-rigging and state sponsored violence against opposition candidates.
Last year, as Eid approached, Mubarak’s State Security Intelligence (SSI) was busy rounding up political opponents in a campaign of public intimidation. During those holy days, the SSI focused its wrath and repression, as it did time and again for most of Mubarak’s tenure, on the mass-based Muslim Brotherhood organisation who were the largest political opposition force to his rule in the country.
Egyptians who are sympathetic to the group’s politics had to walk through government checkpoints if they wanted to pray at Eid in a mosque or a venue that was led by Brotherhood activists and preachers.
This year, the tables have turned.
While Mubarak lays confined on a hospital bed awaiting the completion of his trial for murder and corruption, and while the police force still tries to recover from the powerful beating it received at the hands of Egyptians during last January’s uprising, it is the Muslim Brotherhood, and to a lesser degree their cousins the Salafists, who have set the tempo both for the Eid celebrations, as well as the vote.
The Brotherhood have spent the last few months mobilising their half-million plus members for intense electoral campaigns up and down the Nile river, which the group hopes will deliver it 40 per cent of the seats in the next Parliament.
They have been wooing voters not only with their trademark slogan of "Islam is the solution", but also with the tangibles of meat and vegetables that they sell to poor Egyptians at half the market prices.
Brotherhood community stands and mobile vendor units offer impoverished and underfed shoppers a kilogram of meat -- that sells for LE70 at a regular butcher -- for prices as low as LE30.
In the run up to Eid poor Egyptians typically expect the rich to donate alms in the form of slaughtered sheep and cows, allowing them to eat meat at least in one of the four days of the holiday. Whereas last year Mubarak’s rich NDP candidates took the responsibility of feeding the poor on the first day of Eid, the Brotherhood and Islamists have taken this task upon themselves in this year's festivities, flooding some neighbourhoods with the rare source of protein in order to demonstrate a commitment to alleviating poverty.
In the months since the fall of Mubarak, Brotherhood-friendly preachers have made their way back into some strategic mosques that the SSI kept them out for years, such as Mostafa Mahmoud mosque in Mohandessin in Cairo, using the podiums to recruit new converts and give confidence to hard-core supporters.
Ahram Online reporters wanted to take a first hand look at how the Islamists, especially the Brotherhood, might operate on the ground on the morning of Eid, so we went to a mass prayer sponsored by the group in one of Cairo’s lower middle class neighbourhoods, Abbassiya.
As the sun rose Sunday morning, thousands of men, women and children made their way on foot and by car to attend prayer service held outdoors along an avenue running adjacent to the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University, one of several events the Brotherhood organised in this part of central Cairo.
The group had partnered with the missionary organisation Al Jamiyya Al-Shariya in hosting the prayers and advertised the event through large banners that carried the names of the Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party, its political wing in the elections. These hung at key hard-to-miss intersections in the neighbourhood days ahead of Eid.
Despite the considerable presence of the Brotherhood in the area over the years, Abbassiya has never been one of its strongest branches in the capital city.
Brotherhood volunteers, however, seemed to be well prepared for the challenge.
Dozens of organisers welcomed the worshippers by distributing hundreds of flags bearing the colours of the Egyptian flag on one side and the logo of the Brotherhood and their party on the other. For children coming with their parents, they gave out bags of toys.
Worshippers found the street’s pavement where the prayers were to take place covered with massive rugs that the local Brotherhood organisation rented from companies that provide services for weddings and funerals.
Female organisers directed women and young girls, who clearly outnumbered males attending the prayers, into a big school yard off the main prayer venue, where a tall concrete fence separated them from the men.
The Imam who delivered the Eid prayers’ sermon meticulously and eloquently pushed the Brotherhood’s worldview and campaign slogans over the course of his twenty-minute speech, while refraining from using the word "elections" in order to shield the Brotherhood from any criticism of using a universal religious holiday for electioneering.
The Imam chose the prophet Mohamed’s farewell speech to Muslims months before he died as a topic of his sermon.
The farewell speech was a clever choice by the preacher, who might have wanted to give a pitch for the Brotherhood’s campaign platform; many theologians and historians consider this particular sermon to comprise the essential guidelines for politically managing a state according to the principles of Islam.
The Imam reminded worshippers that the prophet laid out concrete barometers on how to conduct business in the social, political and economic realms in his final speech.
“The prophet taught us that respecting the sanctity of human life and private property must be the foundation of any society that abides by the Islamic faith.
“In the world of economics, the prophet made it clear that interest rates that lenders charge are the source of all evil in society and that any government that respects the Islamic religion must therefore abolish them.
“Society cannot function properly," he continued, "without a strong nuclear family which guarantees that individuals are raised properly on a sound Islamic basis.”
The Imam reminded worshippers that they must strive to build a strong Islamic "system" in Egypt and around the world in order for Muslims to be able to combat what he described at the West’s concerted war against the prophet’s creed.
He also accused Egyptians who hold on to secular ideas of government of being agents of Jews, Christian crusaders and western colonialism.
“The colonial powers might have packed and gone home but they left us with a fifth column made up of dictators who speak our tongue and eat the same type of food we eat but serve the wicked interests of foreign disbelievers.”
The massive banner behind the speaker seemed to fit appropriately with his anti-western rhetoric: Next Eid, we will pray in Jerusalem.
Worshippers remained solemn for the most part during the sermon.
As people headed home to eat meat at the end of the prayers they were met by replenished stocks of flags and toys. In less than five minutes, the crowd had finished off the volunteers’ supply of treats.
A lone supporter of the liberal Wafd Party stood giving out stickers for the party’s candidate in the area. The crowd walked off with Brotherhood flags and Wafd paraphernalia.
Meanwhile, an elderly NDP supporter left the event in frustration at the change in his party's fortunes, and the rise of the MB.
“The Brotherhood distributed meat to some people in the area," the NDP man said. "But they did not cover all the poor people in the hood. We in the NDP might not have been able to feed people regularly or properly, but at least we made sure that everyone had meat on the first day of Eid.”
Nationally, the Brotherhood and the other Salafists seemed to have used the Eid prayers to push, whether directly or indirectly, their campaign goals.
In Tanta City, in the governorate of El-Gharbiya in the western Nile Delta, the Brotherhood’s candidates attended prayers in the city’s football stadium with thousands of worshippers and managed to steal the show.
In the same governorate, Salafist volunteers hit not only the big cities such as Tanta and Mahallah, but walked through small villages distributing campaign propaganda.
In fact, Salafists, in their rush to find voters, broke one of the rules that constitute a defining part of their moral code of ethics – discouraging common people from spending too much time weeping over the graves of the dead - by campaigning at entrances to cemeteries which are usually loaded with visitors on the first day of this Muslim holiday.
Like the Brotherhood, Salafists volunteers from parties such as Nour also distributed flags with the names of their parties to potential voters, as well as toys and baloons to children.