Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists vie for space and control over feast prayers

Sherif Tarek , Monday 29 Aug 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have been vying each other to control venues and spots designated for the feast prayers

Tahrir square
Tahrir square (Photo by Mai Shaheen)

In another endeavor to gain popularity that would help them win seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Salafists have been fiercely competing in several Egyptian cities to control venues and spots designated for feast prayers. The day of the feast of Al-Fitr, which follows the fasting month of Ramadan, is yet to be determined. It could be either Tuesday or Wednesday.

This year's Eid Al-Fitr is the first to come after the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak, whose regime for three decades kept a tight lid on Islamist groups. But thanks to the January 25 Revolution, the Islamists are now enjoying the freedom to go political and openly promote themselves on every possible occasion.

Most of the political forces did not show or announce tangible contributions in the organization of the Eid prayers – apart from a general invitation by the Coordination Committee for the Revolutionary Masses and the Free Front to pray in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the popular uprising.

On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists are seeking to make the most of the Islamic Eid Al-Fitr.

Over the past months, both groups have been working on offering the working classes a wide range of services – such as fast moving consumer goods at lower prices and free recreational activities. As the feast is approaching, they have embarked onto more nationwide preparations to please the public.

Not only have they organized for the prayers, but also arranged a host of prizes that will be randomly distributed on the same day, including free pilgrimage trips, electrical devices and other goods.

The competition between MB and Salafists is perceived to be another clear indication that both sides will not combine forces in the upcoming elections, rather will politically contest each other.

Fierce MB-Salafists competition in Alexandria

The competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists has been quite obvious in the coastal city of Alexandria ahead of Eid Al-Fitr.

As they have been freely announcing their varied charity work since the ouster of Mubarak, MB over a couple of weeks ago started to hand out leaflets on the streets and hung banners that bear the names of the places where they are organizing the Eid prayers.

Curiously, the MBs were keen to take over the vital areas where the now-dismantled National Democratic Party (NDP) and its former parliamentarians used to organize their feast prayers. Downtown, Montazah, El-Ameria and Moharam Beik are among many other areas the MBs have taken over.

On the other hand, the Salafists opted to hold prayers near the train station on the outskirts of Alexandria, which is an unusual place for the Eid prayers. They have also prepared for the prayers in other areas east of city, where MB will have no presence.

Prominent Salafi clerics Abdel Monem Al-Shahat, Hazem Shoman and Yasser El-Barhoumi – among others – will give the Eid sermons in the Salafists’ praying areas, which are understood to be over 40 in Alexandria.

With so many praying areas across Alexandria, MB and Salafists announced that quite a few members of their groups will help the police keep the traffic flowing without holdups during the time of the prayers.

Cairo’s Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque

In Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood has overtaken another area that was controlled by the former regime over the past eight years; the Mostafa Mahmoud Square in the upscale district of Mohandeseen.

During many previous feasts, the Mostafa Mahmoud Square used to be riddled with banners and placards that bear pictures of the NDP leaders and former regime parliamentarians.

But this year in the Mostafa Mahmoud Square, it was the Muslim Brotherhood who hung banners with the logo and name of their political party, Freedom and Justice, blazoned on them.

The MB’s banners in the square congratulated Egyptians on the feast, while others in surrounding streets called on Muslims to join the prayers at the famous Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque.

Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque has long been one of the largest and most famous venues for Eid prayers in Egypt. Eight years ago, it was one of the MB’s most prominent Mosques but in 2003 the then ruling NDP started to dominate it up till the revolt.

The Mostafa Mahmoud Square has also been the prime venue for the pro-Mubarak protesters since the revolution. Therefore, makeshift checkpoints will be set up soon in the area to prevent possible altercations during the prayers.

NDP used to distribute exceptionally expensive prizes during the previous Eid prayers, especially in the last Grand Eid that was closely followed by the parliamentary elections, which was flagrantly rigged by NDP members late last year.

During this Eid prayers, renowned MB Sheikh Mohamed Omara will give the sermon at Mostafa Mahmoud Square.

Other governorates

In Minya, the Ministry of Endowments announced 33 places for the Eid prayers, before MB and Salafists announce 32 more. The governorate of Beheira also saw many cars, sent by both sides, tour the streets to announce the praying places over microphones.

In Monofia, El-Jamaa El-Islamyaa was also competing with the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists for praying places. El-Jamaa announced they would hold prayers in Sharkia too.

MB in Suez capitalized on the significance of the Martyrs’ Square in El-Arbeen district and announced holding prayers there, which by far appealed to many people in the coastal city.

Numerous protesters martyred during the January 25 Revolution in Suez, which witnessed the most brutal clashes between civilians and police forces. The square in El-Arbeen was named ‘the Martyrs’ to commemorate them.

In Fayoum, the Muslim Brotherhood’s banners are everywhere as they have organized for prayers in El-Swaki Square, in coordination with El-Gameia El-Shareia.

El-Wasat Party, whose frame of reference is Islamic, is also trying to supervise praying areas in several cities, including Alexandria, Suez and Sharkia.

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