Today we have a long but engrossing article about reactions to the authorities’ cancellation of the Moulid of Sayyida Zeinab. The authorities claim the moulid, along with others like it, is a threat to public health due to the possibility of a swine flu outbreak.
The story appears on page 3 of al-Shourouk’s July 14, 2009 edition:
The Police Begin Removing Sayyida Zeinab Moulid Tents
Families: “No One Can Cancel the Moulid”
In cooperation with local councils, the police began removing tents and pavilions belonging to visitors to the Moulid of Sayyida Zeinab. Eyewitnesses said that the police arrested some of the tents’ owners, and confiscated their furnishings and the ‘butagaz’ stoves that they use during the time they live in the streets and alleys surrounding the tomb of Sayyida Zeinab.
Cairo Governor Abd al-‘Azeem Wazir announced the cancellation of the Moulid of Sayyida Zeinab two days ago, in light of the High Committee for Combating Swine Flu’s recommendation that all moulids be cancelled. However many families in Sayyida Zeinab and some visitors flocking to the area voiced their opposition to the decision, with some of them saying they will not obey it.
Eyewitnesses said that they saw the police removing the tents and hitting and verbally abusing their owners, as well as arresting one person who was slow in taking down his tent.
Masaoud Zahri had just arrived with his family, which includes five men and two women, from his home in Markaz Deirout in Assiut governorate. He told us that while setting up his tent he learned of the removal order but that it does not forbid him from setting up his “service center,” a tradition handed down from their ancestors, who were members of the Rafa’aiya Sufi order. He said that they could set up their large tent regardless, because it is on land owned by one of their relatives, and not in the street. He added, “No one can cancel the moulid. The truth is no one can stand in their way.”
He gave examples of the government’s inability to cancel moulids, such as what happened during the Moulid of Hussein, where the police tried to destroy the tents after the incident at al-Azhar, but people returned anyway. He added that they will stay at the moulid until its last night, when they will sacrifice an animal they left at a family member’s home in Bulaq Abu ‘Ela.
Another member of the family who refused to give his name said, “If they don’t allow us at the Moulid of Sayyida Zeinab we will go to [the shrine of] Sayyid Farghali in Abu al-Tig which follows the moulid in Sayyida.”
“Service areas” are a tradition of some participants, who reside in tents at the moulid site for time periods varying between a few days and a month before the moulid, offering food and drinks to moulid visitors.
Zeinhom Muhammad Hassan’s family, consisting of his wife and four children, travels between the moulids in Cairo, including the Moulids of Sayyida Fatima, Sayyida Nafisa and Sayyid Zein al-‘Abdeen before he settles down for almost a month in one of the narrow alleys close to the Shrine of Sayyida Zeinab. He said that he inherited his “service center” from his father who inherited it from his grandfather and that he traveled between the moulids without recompense.
During our talks with the moulid service providers, a number of local youths gathered who shared in their opposition to the cancellation of the moulid. One of the youths that resides in the area, Muhammad al-Husseini Muhammad, said, “As residents of the area, the moulid is more important than any holiday to us, because we gather with friends and listen to the Sufi Dhikr during it.”
Another youth, Zeinhom Abd al-Fattah, said, “The decision doesn’t concern us. We will have the moulid and people will come.” He added, “Whatever… There are people that won’t know about the decision [to cancel the moulid] and will come and even if they know about it they will come so it’s difficult to cancel.”
Before the decision to cancel, the youths had cleaned a vacant piece of land, where al-Sheikh Yassin al-Hattami, the famous Shaabi singer, will have his Sufi circle.
Fathi Shakr, the owner of a local bakery and a resident of the area, said local families are used to both the positive and negative aspects of the moulid. He added that some local youths profited from the moulid by setting up areas in the streets surrounding the shrine and renting them to travelers for prices that vary between LE 20 and 200 …
Local resident Sameh Gharab refused the idea of cancelling the moulid, in spite of his affirming that in the period surrounding the moulid witnesses many negative occurrences, to the point of savagery, since at the same time it is a popular tradition and is thus hard to cancel.
He said, “There is no logical reason for the cancellation. If they are cancelling the moulid because of the crowds why don’t they stop the metro and the crowded trains and buses? As long as there are crowds every day and everywhere what is the justification for stopping traffic for one day?”
Rida Abd al-Ma’ati, the owner of a corner grocery store, said that the decision was an effort to impose order on the moulid and not to cancel it altogether. In his store he had a picture of Dr. Fathi Sorour, the Speaker of the People’s Assembly who represents the Sayyida Zeinab neighborhood, hanging on his wall.