A true taste of Egypt at Ramadan in Cairo’s Midan Al-Hussein

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The Al-Hussein Mosque towers over the area. (Photo/Supplied)
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The Al-Hussein Mosque towers over the area. (Photo/Supplied)
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The Al-Hussein Mosque towers over the area. (Photo/Supplied)
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The Al-Hussein Mosque towers over the area. (Photo/Supplied)
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The Al-Hussein Mosque towers over the area. (Photo/Supplied)
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The Al-Hussein Mosque towers over the area. (Photo/Supplied)
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The Al-Hussein Mosque towers over the area. (Photo/Supplied)
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The Al-Hussein Mosque towers over the area. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 28 May 2019

A true taste of Egypt at Ramadan in Cairo’s Midan Al-Hussein

  • The neighborhood remains popular as thousands of people flock here for its marvelous atmosphere

CAIRO: For many in Egypt, and beyond, Ramadan would not be complete without a short visit to the historical area of Midan Al-Hussein in the heart of Cairo.

It’s a district that has come to symbolize the spirit of the country, particularly during the holy month. It’s even earned itself an alternative name — Hayy Al-Bahga Al-Ramadenya (The “Ramadan Joy Neighborhood”). Throughout Ramadan, Midan Al-Hussein is full of life, its bustling streets echo with greetings, and there is a multitude of entertainment on offer.

This year, as it is every year, Midan Al-Hussein is lit with traditional Ramadan lanterns and decorations. The Al-Hussein Mosque, which towers over the area, is full of Muslims praying, reading the Qur’an, or reciting Zikr.

“Ramadan in Al-Hussein is completely different from any other place,” Ahmed Shawky, a frequent visitor to the area, told Arab News. “There is an amazing here,
which is why I like to spend a lot of time here.”

Al-Fishawy — one of Cairo’s more-popular traditional coffee shops — is one of the spots that Shawky cites as a good place to spend time with his friends. “I also walk around the narrow alleys of Khan Al-Khalili, and I sometimes go to the mosque for taraweeh prayers. Then I end my day with sahoor.”

Sayyed Al-Noursi, one of the caretakers of Al-Hussein Mosque, echoes Al-Fishawy’s sentiments about the neighborhood’s unique Ramadan spirit.

“Blessings and prayers increase during Ramadan,” Al-Noursi told Arab News. “In Al-Hussein, I feel like I’m in the pulsing heart of Egypt. The area radiates with all shades of greatness, love and joy.

“Tourists also love to visit Midan Al-Hussein in Ramadan,” he continues. “They like to take part in the festivities. They don’t even eat or drink during daytime, which
is why we love them and enjoy telling them about the characteristics of this neighborhood
and the mosque.”

The coffee shops are another sign of the festivities of the month. Abdel Qader Biso, manager of an establishment near the mosque, told Arab News that he eagerly awaits the special atmosphere of the holy month every year.

“There are times in the year where business is slow, but in Ramadan the coffee shop is always a full house,” Biso said.

During Ramadan, customers crowd the coffee shops to drink traditional Ramadan drinks including karkadeh — which Bisho says is the best-selling drink in his shop — and Egyptian tea with mint.

“We also serve sweets,” Biso said. “The top sellers are rice pudding and Om Ali. Both Egyptians and foreigners order these items.”

Perhaps the busiest spot of all in Al-Hussein during iftar is Farahat — a restaurant renowned for its stuffed pigeon dish. The restaurant was already crowded as we approached, and there were twice as many people again queuing up outside.

For Al Hajj Samir, one of the waiters, Farahat’s popularity has its drawbacks. “As waiters, we can’t eat until the last customer leaves,” he explained.

It’s clear the Ramadan Joy Neighborhood is living up to its name, and remains as popular as ever. Thousands of people flock here for its marvelous atmosphere, and it is in the rich culture and history of Midan Al-Hussein —  more than any other place — that one finds the embodiment of Egyptian Ramadan.


New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

Updated 55 min 59 sec ago

New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

  • CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed

NEW YORK: The man widely believed to be the new leader of Daesh was once an informant for the US, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), a research body at the US military academy of West Point in New York.

“Stepping Out from the Shadows: The Interrogation of the Islamic State’s Future Caliph” is based on Tactical Interrogation Reports (TIRs) — the paper trail the US military creates when enemy fighters are detained and interrogated — from Al-Mawla’s time in captivity in the late 2000s.

Before his release in 2009, Al-Mawla named 88 extremists involved in terrorist activities, and the information he divulged during his interrogations led US forces in the region to successfully capture or kill dozens of Al-Qaeda fighters, the report claims.

The CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US air raid in Syria in October 2019.

Although Daesh announced that a man called Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi was Baghdadi’s successor, US officials have also stated that Al-Qurashi’s true identity is actually Al-Mawla — also known as Hajj Abdullah.

Before joining Daesh, Al-Mawla is believed to have been the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda.

While details about the operation resulting in his capture are scarce, the TRIs reveal that he was captured on January 6, 2008.

The following day, US Central Command announced the capture of a wanted individual who “previously served as a judge of an illegal court system involved in ordering and approving abductions and executions.”

In his interrogations, Al-Mawla offered up details of terrorist plots to his interrogators, while minimizing his own involvement. He identified many jihadists by name and offered descriptions of their roles in the terrorist organization and details of their involvement in attacks on US-led coalition forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Al-Mawla — a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army and once Baghdadi’s speechwriter — emerges from the TIRs as a mysterious personality with a vague past, whose ethnicity could not be determined with certainty. The statements in the reports are rife with contradictory elements and open to a wide range of interpretations. As the authors point out in their introduction: “It is incredibly difficult to ascertain whether what Al-Mawla divulges regarding himself or ISI (the forerunner of Daesh) as an organization is true.”

Details of the specific demographics of Al Mawla’s birthplace of Al-Muhalabiyyah in Iraq’s Tal Afar district are sketchy, but it is generally accepted to have a predominantly Turkmen population. The authors of the report point out that some sources have suggested “this could pose legitimacy problems for him because (Daesh) mostly has Arabs in its senior leadership echelons,” but add that at least two other senior members of the group were reported to have been Turkmen.

Al-Mawla also claimed to have avoided pledging allegiance to ISI because he was a Sufi. The report’s authors cast doubt on that claim, given his quick rise to prominence in the terrorist group and the fact that ISI and Daesh branded Sufism as heresy.

But the authors do believe the TRIs give some valuable insights into Al-Mawla’s personality.

“The fact that he detailed activities and gave testimony against (fellow jihadists) suggests a willingness to offer up fellow members of the group to suit his own ends,” they wrote. “The amount of detail and seeming willingness to share information about fellow organization members suggests either a degree of nonchalance, strategic calculation, or resignation on the part of Al-Mawla regarding operational security.

“He appears to have named individuals in some capacity across all levels of the organization, while describing some individuals in some detail,” they continued.

The US Department of Justice has offered a $10million reward for information about Al-Mawla’s identification or location.