By Mohammed Aly Ibrahim
The fear of Friday 13th in western superstition as an unlucky day touched upon me as I was heading to perform my weekly prayer. Many Egyptians, myself included, think that the mosques of Prophet Muhammad’s ancestors here bestow endless blessings upon those who regularly visit such places of worship. The most inspiring is that of Sayeda Zeinab, the grandchild of the prophet, who is known as the head of Muhammad’s ancestors. Some historians claim she escaped to Egypt with the rest of her relatives where she died and was buried. Others deny that, claiming she died in Almadina Almounaoura, the blessed city where the shrine of the prophet exists.
Anyhow I decided to go to Sayeda Zeinab mosque last Friday. Coincidently, President Morsy had the same idea. I think that the president’s purpose for praying in the mosque was to give a clear message that he is against those radicals (salafis) who said all mosques with tombs inside should be demolished as they are against Islam. They excluded only the prophet’s shrine in Saudi Arabia.
Though salafis are political allies of the Muslim Brotherhood, the president was smart enough to realise that the call to destroy mosques with graves inside is a big threat to his popularity. He cannot venture to tolerate the anger of Egyptians whom many of them, particularly the illiterate and peasants, believe that they receive the prophet’s blessings upon visiting his ancestors’ mosques. They go further to believe in the ability of those “holy” dead to cure diseases and remove calamities.
On my way to the mosque I noticed the heavy security presence. It was only then I realised the president would be praying with me, a thing that never happened during Mubarak’s time, as the ousted ruler preferred to pray in the army mosques and never mixed with worshippers. Maybe this is one of the reasons why Morsy performs Friday prayers in a different mosque every week?
At the mosque’s ten entrances, there were electronic metal detectors that were set off by mobiles, pens, credit cards in wallets and even shoes and leather belts. Those who inspected me were armed from teeth to toes and experienced in politely telling those whom they disliked that the mosque was full and they could pray outside. Worshippers, both outside and inside the mosque, actually performed Friday prayers at gunpoint. The mosque square was turned into a semi-barracks with armoured vehicles, hundreds of plain clothes security forces and other secret service personnel.
When the motorcade of the president arrived, we felt that Mubarak was present. Stores were shut by order of the police and houses, alleys and streets were thoroughly searched with electronic devices and dogs trained to detect explosives. Meanwhile snipers occupied the roofs of houses encircling the square. On the other hand the traffic in Qasr Al-Eini Street and other main roads came to a standstill for two hours.
We had to bite the bullet and bow to the orders; otherwise we would be taken as suspects. People spontaneously remembered the famous scene where Morsy unbuttoned his jacket in Tahrir square shortly after his election, assuring thousands of his followers and supporters in the Brotherhood that he feared nothing except Allah and would never wear a bulletproof vest. But now Morsy’s security arrangements amount to EGP ten million a month.
With 30 cars to protect him and hundreds of security men to pave the way for his convoy, he is about to step into dictatorship faster than his predecessor. When security becomes more important than availing the people of a good livelihood, then any ruler has to fear for his life. What the president said in Tahrir will never be repeated.
Mohammed Aly Ibrahim is the former editor in chief of the Egyptian Gazette and Al-Goumhoria newspapers