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Tuesday, 07 July 2020

Referendum avoided in mosques but not on streets

Imams largely follow government instructions to avoid constitutional referendum during Friday sermons but worshippers express their views outside mosques in Cairo and Alexandria

Randa Ali, Eslam Omar and Sherif Tarek, Friday 14 Dec 2012
Constitutional referendum ignored inside mosques
Friday prayers at Al-Qaed Ibrahim mosque in Alexandria, 14 December 2012 (Photo: Randa Ali)
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Views: 1751

Imams largely avoided mentioning Egypt's constitutional referendum during their sermons on Friday in accordance with government instructions.

However, the atmosphere around many mosques was tense and politically charged.

The Ministry of Religious Endowments had ordered imams not to encourage either a 'Yes or a 'No' vote in the constitutional referendum that will take place across half the country on 15 December and the second half a week later on 22 December.

At Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo's Nasr City, Imam Abdel Aziz Basyoni delivered a purely religious sermon, saying only that a devout Muslim would opt for the right choice. “I made sure not to direct anyone,” he told Ahram Online after the prayers. “I didn’t use words that might be misinterpreted one way or another.”

After prayers, thousands of people from all over the country gathered outside the mosque to voice their support for the constitution in what looked like a repetition of last Tuesday's pro-constitution rally.

The Muslim Brotherhood, of which President Morsi was a prominent member before he took power, had called for the post-prayer protest as a counterweight to anti-constitution demonstrations scheduled for Friday outside the presidential palace.

The Islamist group had also arranged Tuesday’s rally.

Alexandria's most famous preacher, Ahmed El-Mahalawy, did not openly raise the referendum during his sermon at the city's Qaed Ibrahim Mosque, but mentioned the stance taken by many people intending to vote for the constitution.

“We call for the implementation of Sharia [law] which was brought by the prophet, the Sharia of mercy,” he said.

The speech did not go down well with worshippers opposed to the constitution and scuffles later broke out near the mosque.

“This sermon was not for us, it was for his people, the Muslim Brotherhood,” said a man holding a sign reading “no to the constitution.”

Meanwhile, a bearded man in his forties said the sermon was excellent. “The sheikh is calling on people to return to Islam, and this is what we need,” he said.

“Sharia is not being implemented at the moment. If it was you would not be allowed to dress like this or leave your hair uncovered,” he told the unveiled female journalist.

After the sermon, protesters from both sides of the argument began throwing stones at each other and a number of vehicles on the nearby corniche were torched. Central Security Forces (CSF) stepped in to end the fighting.

A member of the CSF told Ahram Online that four bearded men had been arrested carrying knives.

Ali, a man with his head wrapped in bandages, said he had started chanting "down with the rule of the [Brotherhood's] Supreme Guide" from inside the mosque after the imam mentioned the constitution. Five “sheikhs” then beat him up and two of his friends were detained inside the mosque by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, he claimed.

Clashes erupted on 5 December after Morsi supporters attacked a peaceful opposition sit-in at the presidential palace.

Both sides later blamed each other for the violence around the palace which killed ten people. The last victim was El-Hosseiny Abou-Deif, 33, a journalist at the independent weekly Al-Fajr, who died on Wednesday of head injuries after spending a week in a coma.

The death of Abou-Deif was mentioned on Friday in Tahrir Square by Abdul-Ghani Hendi, a member of the Al-Azhar Independence Movement.

“Militias of the Brotherhood killed Abou-Deif … Down with rule of the Brotherhood Supreme Guide,” he chanted from the podium with a couple of hundred protesters shortly after the end of Friday prayers.

The sermon at the Omar Makram mosque in Tahrir Square was politics-free.

Revolutionary imam Mazhar Shaheen, who often led prayers in Tahrir Square during sit-ins over the past two years, has not delivered his usual sermon at the mosque for several weeks.

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