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Cairo mosque becomes protest rallying point

Nineteenth Century building now contributes to fostering the cause of a modern-day revolution

Image Credit: Ramadan Al Sherbini/Gulf News
Standing in one corner of Tahrir Square, the Omar Makram Mosque is often turned intoa hospital to treat protesters injured in clashes with security forces.
Gulf News

Cairo: One year after massive protests forced Egypt's long-standing president Hosni Mubarak to step down, the Omar Makram Mosque in central Cairo has become famous as a rallying point for demonstrations against the military rulers.

Standing in one corner of Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the anti-Mubarak revolt last year, the mosque is often turned into a hospital to treat protesters injured in clashes with security forces.

The latest instance was few days ago when more than 2,000 people were injured in fighting with the police near the headquarters of the Interior Ministry. Eleven people were killed in the violence, according to government forces.

"Before the January 25 revolution [against Mubarak], the mosque was a place for other activities, in addition to the prayers," said Mohammad Abdul Mulla, an official at the Ministry of Religious Endowments or Waqfs responsible for the mosque.

Abdul Mulla said the mosque was used for educational purposes, such as computer training for a small fee. "Moreover, the mosque has two halls — one for men and another for women - to host [funeral] ceremonies. One such ceremony used to generate around 4,000 Egyptian pounds [DhDh2,800] that was spent on charitable schemes across the country," he added.

Funeral processions

In recent years, funeral processions for Egypt's prominent figures, including politicians and artists, started from the mosque. The mosque is named after a prominent Egyptian nationalist who led the resistance against the French occupation of the country in the early 19th century.

The mosque, built in the late 1950s, lies in the vicinity of the Tahrir Mogamma, a massive Soviet-style building, which is a symbol of Egyptian bureaucracy.

"Since the eruption of the [anti-Mubarak] revolution, all these activities in the mosque have come to a halt," said Abdul Mulla, the Waqf official. "Who is interested in holding a ceremony to receive condolences for the death of a relative amid all this turbulence in the [Tahrir] square?" he added. The two halls are now field hospitals manned by volunteers during clashes between the anti-military protesters and security forces. "This mosque stands as a witness to the violence used by security forces against the revolutionaries," said Hassan Mufeed, a volunteer.

"Several times the police or their agents [hooligans] attacked our makeshift clinics set up in the mosque halls or next to its outside wall," he added. "These raids were mounted in the final days of Mubarak and under his military successors."

Worshippers say that the mosque looks rundown because protesters and unlicensed vendors, hawking their wares in the square, use it as a shelter.

"I will not prevent the revolutionaries or even street children from entering the mosque, which has become a byword for the Egyptian revolution since its beginning," said Mazhar Sheen, a preacher at the mosque.

According to him, around 3,000 people come to the mosque per day.

"The figure rises to 10,000 on Friday" when noon prayers and mass protests are held.