Algeria to inaugurate Bouteflika-era mega mosque

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The great mosque of Algiers, the third largest in the world and the most monumental in Africa, will be inaugurated on Wednesday during a first collective prayer. (AFP)
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This picture shows the Great Mosque of Algiers, also known as Djamaa el Djazair, in Algiers on October 27, 2020. (AFP)
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The Great Mosque of Algiers, also known as Djamaa el-Djazair, on the eve of its inauguration in the Algerian capital. (AFP)
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This picture shows the Great Mosque of Algiers, also known as Djamaa el Djazair, in Algiers on October 27, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 28 October 2020

Algeria to inaugurate Bouteflika-era mega mosque

  • Known locally as the Djamaa El-Djazair, it is smaller only than the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah
  • To its critics, the mosque is a vanity project and a symbol of the megalomania of former autocrat Bouteflika

ALGIERS: Algeria’s Grand Mosque, the world’s third-biggest and Africa’s largest, will host its first public prayers on Wednesday, a year and a half after construction was completed.
Known locally as the Djamaa El-Djazair, the modernist structure extends across 27.75 hectares (almost 70 acres), and is smaller only than the two mosques in Makkah and Madinah, Islam’s holiest sites, in Saudi Arabia.
To its critics, the mosque is a vanity project and a symbol of the megalomania of former autocrat Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced out in April last year after mass street protests against his two-decade-long rule.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had been expected to inaugurate the mosque’s prayer hall — whose maximum capacity is 120,000 — at the event on Wednesday, the eve of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
But his presence was in doubt after his office announced the day before that he had been hospitalized.

Tebboune had gone into self-isolation last week following suspected coronavirus cases among his aides, but the presidency said Tuesday that Tebboune’s “state of health does not raise any concern.”
It was unclear how many people would be allowed to attend the prayers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The mosque’s interior, in Andalusian style, is decorated in wood, marble and alabaster.
It features six kilometers (3.7 miles) of Qur'anic text in Arabic calligraphy, along with turquoise prayer mats.
The mosque aims to be an important theological, cultural and research center, and the complex includes a library that can host a million books.
Featuring geometric architecture, it also boasts the world’s tallest minaret — 267 meters (875 feet) — fitted with elevators and a viewing platform that looks out over the capital and the Bay of Algiers.
The tallest such structure had previously been a 210-meter minaret in the Moroccan city of Casablanca.

But it has all come at a cost of over $1 billion in public money, according to finance ministry figures.
The seven-year construction work was completed in April 2019, three years behind schedule, and the company in charge, China State Construction Engineering (CSCEC), brought in laborers from China.
“There is a mosque in almost every neighborhood,” said Said Benmehdi, an Algiers resident in his seventies, whose two children are both unemployed.
He told AFP bitterly that he would have preferred for the “state to build factories and let young people work.”
Five imams preside over the mosques and five muezzins are responsible for conducting the call to prayer, said Kamel Chekkat, a member of Algeria’s ulema association of Muslim scholars.
He told AFP that the mosque would be tasked with “regulating and harmonizing fatwas with Algerian life.”
A multidisciplinary study and research group will examine the Qur'anic text and “its keeping with the times and above all, with science,” he added.
“The idea is that the Grand Mosque will be a place for combatting all types of radicalism, religious and secular,” Chekkat said.
But sociologist Belakhdar Mezouar said the mosque “was not built for the people.”
It is the “work of a man (Bouteflika) who wanted to compete with neighboring Morocco, make his name eternal and put this construction on his CV, so he could get into paradise on judgment day,” he said, adding that his opinion was widely shared.
Nadir Djermoune, who teaches town planning, criticized the “ostentatious choice” of such mega projects at a time when he said Algeria needed new health, education, sporting and recreational facilities.
The mosque is “isolated from the real needs of the city in terms of infrastructure,” he said.
The most positive point, he said, was its modernist concept, which “will serve as a model for future architectural projects.”

Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

Updated 25 November 2020

Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

  • The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz

CAIRO: The second Egyptian Aragouz Festival has opened on Nov. 24, at the ancient Bayt Al-Sinnari, in Cairo. The aragouz is a traditional puppet figure dressed in red invented by Egyptians to ridicule situations comically.

Khaled Bahgat, a professor of theater at Helwan University and the founder of the festival and the Wamda Troupe for Aragouz and Shadow Puppets, said the festival is part of the initiative to preserve the Egyptian aragouz, after it was recognized by UNESCO in 2018 as one of the most important Egyptian artistic elements. He said that he wants the Egyptian art of aragouz to reach the world because it is an ancient Egyptian art.

The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz.

The festival opened with a tribute to the great Egyptian creator Abu Al-Saud Al-Abyari in a reading of his story “Aragouz, Author and Idea,” which he published in 1953. Al-Aragouz was an important source of creativity for Al-Abyari.

The reading was followed by entries exploring how the art of aragouz shaped Egyptian comedy in the twentieth century.

The day closed with puppet performances of “The social media aragouz,” which reflected the impact of social media, directed by Ali Abu Zeid, and “The aragouz in the city,” directed by Nabil Bahgat.

On the second day, Reem Heggab will honor her father the late Egyptian poet Said Heggab, reciting one of his poems on the aragouz. This will be followed by two aragouz shows, “The Take Away,” directed by Mahmoud Sayed Hanafi, and “Aragouz, the Land of Myths.”

On Thursday, the theater department of the University of Alexandria will celebrate the aragouz with a lecture by Hany Abou El-Hassan, the head of the department, a workshop and a performance titled “Lorca and the aragouz,” directed by Nabil Bahgat and presented by the Wamda Troupe.

The performance honors the creativity of the Spanish poet and innovator Federico García Lorca, and will be held in the presence of the Spanish cultural attache.

The fourth day of the festival will honor the poet Fouad Haddad, whose son Amin Haddad will recite several poems from his father’s book of poetry entitiled Al-Aragouz. The poetry reading will be followed by a discussion.

Then there will be performances of “Aragouz Al Sima,” directed by Mustafa Al-Sabbagh, and “Al-Aragouz in Danger,” which deals with the greatest challenges facing the art of aragouz.

On the last day, the Faculty of Arts at Helwan University and the Department of Theater Sciences’ troupe will hold an open seminar with the department’s students to discuss ways to preserve the Egyptian aragouz.