Egypt arrests crowd in fake Umrah celebration

Authorities have arrested several Egyptians after they took part in a street procession carrying a model of the Kaaba.

The celebration was to mark the start of Ramadan, which began on Friday; the group circulated the streets of Alexandria with the replica chanting “God is Great”.

The crowd of people drew widespread criticism for not adhering to social distancing rules in place which stipulate that people should be six feet apart.

A number of photos have circulated in recent weeks showing people crowded onto metros, trains and in press conferences. Observers complain the government has done little to intervene and break up the crowds.

Restrictions designed to stem the spread of COVID-19 have affected this year’s Ramadan celebrations.

Saudi Arabia has suspended the Umrah pilgrimage and placed Makkah – where the Kaaba is – and Medina under 24-hour curfews. It’s likely that pilgrims will be unable to complete the Hajj this year.

Despite the fact that the Egyptian government has shortened the curfew during Ramadan to begin at 9pm rather than 8pm, the nightly Taraweeh prayer, which traditionally takes place in mosques, has been banned.

At the beginning of April the government announced a ban on public religious gatherings during Ramadan including public iftars and charity meals, which will affect poorer members of society. One third of Egyptians live below the poverty line.

Cancelling public events has in turn affected tradesmen in the country, for example market stalls that sell lanterns traditionally used to decorate restaurants and group feasts and café and restaurant owners.

The ban extends to the seclusion of Itikaf in the last ten days of the holy month.

All mosques and churches have had to shut their doors to worshippers as part of measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

One sector which has not shut down is TV, and production companies have been criticised for continuing to film Ramadan series whilst everything else has been shut.

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