No children, no toilets: Egypt sets out mosque reopening rules

Muslim worshippers pray as they maintain social distancing at Al-Azhar Mosque in the Egyptian capital Cairo. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 June 2020

No children, no toilets: Egypt sets out mosque reopening rules

  • Virus has killed 1,052 and infected 27,536

CAIRO: Banning children, wearing face masks and closing toilets are some of the rules that Egypt’s mosques must follow during the coronavirus pandemic, as a parliamentary committee on Wednesday discussed plans to welcome back worshippers.
A number of members from the Committee of Religious Affairs and Endowments backed the Ministry of Awqaf’s plan to open mosques on the condition that the Ministry of Health confirmed that the virus no longer posed a threat.
“By opening up all mosques we are contributing to less crowding in mosques, because if we open only a percentage of the mosques in the country, it will increase the number of worshippers who visit them, instead of having them spread throughout the many mosques in the country,” committee secretary Omar Hamroush said. “It is better to have all mosques operating while taking the necessary precautions and preventive measures to prevent the spread of the virus.” He emphasized the need to clean and disinfect mosques after each of the five daily prayers.
Should the Ministry of Health give the green light then mosques, which were sealed off in March in the wake of the outbreak, will accept worshippers but they will be expected to follow regulations announced by the Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa.
They include wearing a protective face mask at all times, keeping a safe distance between rows of worshippers and for each person to have their own prayer mat. Toilets and ablution areas will be closed and there will be a limit to the amount of time spent in the mosque. Children will not be allowed in.
The Ministry of Awqaf’s plan also includes a system for arranging worshippers. There is to be a minimum of 1.5 meters between each person and the same distance between each row of people.
Committee undersecretary, Shoukry El-Gendy, supported the ministry’s plans for reopening mosques and smaller places of worship - zawiyas - and the proposed precautionary measures. But he added that much depended on the congregations themselves.  
“We are counting on the cooperation of worshippers and mosque goers,” he said.
He added that people’s concerns about crowding would be allayed as they could go to mosque in shifts rather than everyone heading there at the same time.
The decision to open mosques has not yet been broached by the Egyptian government as discussions have been limited to the ministry and parliament. Some fear that opening mosques too soon may contribute to the spread of the virus.
Dr. Abdel-Samie Ahmed, who has been working in a quarantine hospital, told Arab News that any decision to open up mosques must be studied carefully according to instructions issued by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, taking into account the increasing number of coronavirus cases in Egypt during the past few days.
As of Wednesday, the virus had killed 1,052 and infected 27,536.
Ahmed said that if mosques were open then zawiyas must be excluded from the decision, especially because of their limited space and a lack of proper ventilation.

Tensions between Turkey, France pose threat to NATO alliance, warn experts

Updated 07 July 2020

Tensions between Turkey, France pose threat to NATO alliance, warn experts

  • Turkey ‘challenging’ international norms by breaking arms embargo on Libya, invading northern Syria, claims analyst

JEDDAH: Increasing tensions between France and Turkey were posing a threat to the cohesion of the NATO alliance, experts have warned.

Paris’ recent decision to suspend its involvement in the NATO Sea Guardian maritime security operation in the eastern Mediterranean following an incident between a French frigate and Turkish vessels, has highlighted the organization’s difficulties in maintaining order and harmony among its members.

Months of escalating dispute between France and Turkey came to a head on June 10, when Paris claimed that its La Fayette-class Frigate Courbet was targeted three times by Turkish Navy fire control radars while it was trying to approach a Tanzanian-flagged civilian cargo ship suspected of trafficking arms to Libya.

The cargo ship was under the escort of three Turkish vessels, but Ankara denied harassing the Courbet and demanded an apology from France for disclosing “improper information,” saying the ship in question had been carrying humanitarian aid.

The incident resulted in France pulling out of the NATO operation, partly aimed at enforcing a UN embargo on arms supplies to Libya, and accusing Turkey of importing extremists to Syria.

French President Emmanuel Macron said: “I think that it’s a historic and criminal responsibility for a country that claims to be a member of NATO. We have the right to expect more from Turkey than from Russia, given that it is a member of NATO.”

The classified report on the Courbet incident is expected to be discussed soon by member states of the alliance.

Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system has also angered some NATO members over concerns it could undermine Western defense systems and led to Turkey’s expulsion from the alliance’s F-35 stealth fighter jet program.

Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, told Arab News: “NATO faces increasing challenges from its member state Turkey which behaves contrary to NATO’s mission and values.

“Turkey’s government has begun to violate international norms by breaking an arms embargo on the Libyan conflict and invading northern Syria, backing extremist groups, and bombing northern Iraq.

“Ankara has tried to strong-arm NATO into supporting it through threats to hold up a Baltic defense plan and also through threatening and insulting other NATO members.

“Turkey insinuated to the US that Turkey would brush US forces aside in Syria in 2019 if the US didn’t leave, it has escalated conflicts rather than reducing them, and threatened to send refugees to Greece while staking counter claims to the Mediterranean against Greek claims,” he added.

Frantzman pointed out that the controversy with France was a byproduct of this.

“NATO increasingly looks like it is being called upon to appease Ankara’s monthly crises that involve new military operations in several countries. Once a key and helpful ally of NATO, Turkey looks increasingly like it seeks to exploit its NATO membership, using it as a cover for military operations that undermine human rights, democracy, and international norms,” he said.

Turkey is seen as an important and strategic member of the military alliance. On its website, NATO says that all the organization’s decisions are made by consensus, following discussions and consultations among members. “When a ‘NATO decision’ is announced, it is therefore the expression of the collective will of all the sovereign states that are members of the alliance.”

However, recent disagreements within NATO led Macron to say that the alliance was “suffering brain death” over Turkey’s cross-border military offensive into northern Syria last year.

On Turkey’s unilateral behavior, Frantzman said: “This is part of a global rising authoritarian agenda but appears to be counter to the NATO mission that once ostensibly was about defending Western democracies from the Soviet totalitarian threat.

“This calls into question the overall NATO mission and whether NATO is now enabling Ankara’s authoritarian trend. NATO countries are generally afraid to challenge Turkey, thinking that without Turkey and with a US disinterested in global commitments, NATO would become a European club with an unclear future. For Russia that is good news as it supplies S-400 systems to Turkey, further eroding NATO,” he added.

Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, felt NATO would be able to manage the spat between France and Turkey.

“Libya isn’t really a NATO issue. It is out of the area for the alliance. I see this more as a bilateral dispute between two rival powers in the Mediterranean.

“What I worry more about is how NATO members, including both Turkey and France, are letting these bilateral squabbles seep into the North Atlantic Council. They should keep their fights to themselves.”