Thousands of mainly Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Eid Al-Adha prayer in Cairo (Photo: Hatem Maher)
In an apparent attempt to sidestep controversy, a huge Muslim Brotherhood Eid Al-Adha prayer in Cairo stopped short of discussing some headline-grabbing political issues in a largely religious sermon.
Preaching to crowds of thousands of mostly bearded men dressed in the traditional white galabeya robe and women wearing full-face veils in a huge courtyard in Cairo’s Nasr City district, a mosque Imam opted not to play politics.
He made one reference to Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood and enjoys the constant backing of the influential Islamist group, in a 25-minute sermon that follows the prayer of Eid Al-Adha, a four-day-long holy Muslim holiday.
"May God help our President, Mohamed Morsi in the daunting tasks he is facing," he said in stark contrast to last year’s sermon in the same place, which was focused on calling on people to "take the side of Islamists and turn a blind eye to what liberals are seeking."
Many had anticipated an exchange of words between the Muslim Brotherhood and hardline Islamist Salafists as both jostle to turn their beliefs into written articles in a much-anticipated constitution that is currently being drafted.
The Salafists accuse the Brotherhood, which has the largest chunk of members in a controversial Constituent Assembly, of ignoring their requests to implement sharia (Islamic law).
The main argument lies in article 2 of the constitution, which is expected to stay as is despite the pressure Salafists are mounting for certain modifications. The article stipulates that the principles of Islam are the main source of legislation.
Salafists argue that the word "principles" would see sharia only play a peripheral role in the authorities’ decision-making process, but their pleas for an amendment fell on deaf ears.
The Brotherhood, however, is embroiled in another battle against liberals and many of the youth who ignited last year’s popular revolt that unseated autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak from his 30-year reign.
Liberals accuse Morsi of failing to fulfill promises he said would deliver within his first 100 days in power, but the Brotherhood has staunchly stood by him, insisting he needs more time to tackle the country’s mundane issues.
The preacher did not make a single reference to the saga but a leaflet distributed by the Brotherhood to worshippers appears to defend the so-called Renaissance Project, which formed the backbone of Morsi’s election campaign against Mubarak-era prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.
"The project endorsed by the Brotherhood and is President Morsi is implementing is not about wishes and dreams; it’s a goal that we can achieve to follow in the footsteps of our brothers in Turkey and Malaysia, who now boast two of the world’s developed economies," a page in the leaflet read.
The Brotherhood shied away from politics on Friday but still carried out its routine promotions, setting up makeshift tents to give gifts to kids before and after the Eid prayer.
"People want to be happy during Eid in a festive atmosphere - they do not want to be distracted by politics. That’s why I was satisfied that the preacher did not talk about politics today," Mohamed Mahmoud, a Salafist who owns a barber shop, told Ahram Online.
"However, normally Islam should be involved in all fields of life, including politics. Political discussions would be more suitable in the weekly Friday prayer for instance," he added a caveat.
It remains to be seen whether the Brotherhood will up the rhetoric in the near future as the final draft of the constitution looms.
They might need to make the most of Friday prayers to confront a wave of criticism from the lurking Salafists and liberals.