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.


Lebanese farmers sow seeds for new cannabis growers’ syndicate

Updated 31 min 11 sec ago

Lebanese farmers sow seeds for new cannabis growers’ syndicate

  • Ministers, MPs rumored to be buying agricultural land after law legalizes production for medical, industrial uses

BEIRUT: A group of Lebanese farmers have sown the seeds for the setting up of a growers’ syndicate for the production of cannabis plants.

The move to establish a founding committee of agricultural sector representatives followed a decision by the Lebanese Parliament in April to legalize the use of cannabis for medical and industrial purposes.

In doing so, Lebanon become the first Arab country to pass a law allowing the cultivation of the plant for specific non-recreational uses.  

Farmers from the Baalbek-Hermel Governorate in eastern Lebanon announced plans for the formation of the new committee during a press conference held at a tourist complex in the region.

Former president of the Tobacco Growers’ Association in Baalbek-Hermel, Ahmed Zaiter, told Arab News: “Through the founding committee that we intend to form from representatives of families in the region who work in agriculture in general, we wanted to move the law enforcement mechanism in preparation for obtaining licenses to start planting cannabis, knowing that there are those who grow hashish in the region and we do not yet know whether this plant is the same one that was legislated.”

The new Lebanese law will provide for the formation of a government-monitored regulatory body to manage the cultivation, production, and export of cannabis. The cultivation process produces the drug tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and industrially fibers from the plant can be used for making products such as clothes and cars.

A 2018 study by US consulting firm McKinsey and Co. estimated that Lebanon could generate $1 billion annually from legalizing cannabis cultivation.

Zaiter pointed out “the importance of the birth of a syndicate of cannabis growers to organize this cultivation, the need to grant licenses to farmers, start preparing for seed insurance, and receive this plant from the state.”

He added that farmers would be demanding that priority was given to the agricultural sector in the Bekaa Valley and the Baalbek-Hermel region and for the syndicate, when established, to join the Union of Agricultural Syndicates in Lebanon.

A body is to be set up to monitor and regulate all activities related to cannabis and its derivatives, including planting, cultivation, harvesting, production, possession, export, storage, marketing, and distribution.

Cannabis is known in the northern Bekaa as “green gold” and its cultivation was active during the civil war in the 1970s in remote areas of the region where armed mafias were formed to guard and smuggle it abroad.

During the early 1950s, about 300 tons of cannabis was produced every year in border regions between Lebanon and Syria.

Under international pressure, state agencies began the process of destroying cannabis crops in the 1990s.

During the press conference, farmers discussed claims circulated on social media that ministers and MPs had been buying agricultural land in the Baalbek-Hermel region.

Zaiter said: “These farmers have expressed their fear that the new owners aim to engage in this agriculture in the future and monopolize its production and sale.”

Baalbek official, Haider Shams, told Arab News that land purchases, especially in remote parts of the region, were on the rise. “The price of 1 meter ranges from $5 to $10. Many people are buying in Majdaloun and Taybeh, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the cultivation of cannabis.”

Zaiter said: “So far, none of the MPs who legislated the law know what kind of Indian hemp (cannabis) they allowed.

“One of the specialists showed us a plant with few green leaves, which is not the one grown by cannabis growers in Lebanon, which means that there are many types of this plant, and if the legalized plant is the one with few leaves, I do not think that anyone will accept its cultivation because it is a losing cultivation.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army Command announced on Monday that gunmen had killed one soldier during a dawn attack on an army patrol and military centers in Talia, Pretal, Al-Khader, and Douris.

The military has linked the raids to an incident the day before when fugitive Abbas Al-Masri fired shots into the air at an army checkpoint in Douris while trying to drive through. Checkpoint personnel shot and injured Al-Masri and a passenger in his vehicle and both casualties were transferred to a hospital in Baalbek for treatment.