During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the faithful abstain from food and drink from dawn until dusk. In Egypt, it is usually a time of unity and festivity, with little tension beyond family squabbles over food and the dozens of soap operas on TV to entertain people who are fasting.
This year has been different.
The official religious authority responsible for issuing religious edicts posted a fatwa on its Facebook page calling eating in public during fasting hours “a sin as it is in violation of etiquette in Muslim countries.”
Edicts issued by the authority, Dar al-Iftaa, are not legally binding but are given great weight when it comes to public conduct.
But this particular fatwa has provoked a massive outcry on Egyptian social media, with many criticizing it as an attack on personal freedoms. Some also noted that there are many non-Muslims in Egypt who are not required to observe the fast.
Famous broadcaster Youssef al-Hosiny was among the most vocal. He tweeted that the edict was “Daesh-like,” using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, and said “that in a society like ours there is no need for such rules because Christians already respect Ramadan.”
دواعش الافتاء في #مصر غاب عنهم ان فتواهم لا محل لها في مجتمع يراعي مسيحيوه قواعد صيام المسلمين انسانيا دون حاجة لمشايخ الوهابية الجديدة
— يوسف الحسيني (@Youssefalhosiny) June 6, 2016
Popular cartoonist Mohamed Andeel posted on Facebook: “Once upon a time a conservative society’s feelings got hurt when someone ate in front of them, and when an elderly lady from a religious minority is dragged out and stripped of her clothing they tell her not to make a big deal of it.”
The latter part of his post was in reference to sectarian violence that occurred in late May in a village in southern Egypt: Coptic Christian homes were burned, and a Coptic Christian woman was stripped naked and paraded down the street by a mob of Muslim men as punishment for her son’s rumored affair with a Muslim woman.
Since wresting power from Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has tried to address the grievances of Egypt’s Christian minority, which forms 10 percent of the population. But he has been criticized for his religious rhetoric and championing of traditional religious authorities. In a recent article in daily independent newspaper Al Maqal, prominent columnist and usually pro-regime pundit Ibrahim Eissa criticized Sissi’s rule.
“Your state is a theocracy, although you constantly talk of a modern civil state,” Eissa wrote.
Earlier this month during fasting hours, security forces shut down several cafes in the middle-class district of Dokki for serving people food publicly — another incident that also incited outrage.
After the outpouring of rage, Dar al-Iftaa removed the edict from its Facebook timeline, but it still remains accessible.