Cairo: Al-Sisi supports building mosques, but forgets schools and hospitals
Since coming to power in 2013, 9,600 Muslim places of worship have been built from scratch or renovated, at an investment of more than 400 million euros. However, many remain empty, with the exception of Friday prayers during Ramadan. Young people and critics are calling for more resources for education, health and infrastructure.
Cairo (AsiaNews) - In the decade in power of President and former army general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, 9,600 mosques have been built from scratch or renovated in Egypt for a total sum of 10.2 billion lira (about 410 million euro).
The figure emerged in the latest report published by the Ministry of Religious Assets, testifying to the support - also in money - guaranteed in recent years by Cairo to Islam in the face of the harsh economic crisis the country is going through.
And in spite of the proclamations of its leader who, at the helm in the country since 2013, has repeatedly promoted greater secularism in the institutions and openness to other faiths; Christianity in particular, through the "legalisation" of hundreds of churches built without permission and opening up to Muslims' contributions for their construction.
Analysts and critics emphasise the enormous amount of money invested in building or arranging Muslim places of worship, even though the country needs considerable resources and investment in education, healthcare, infrastructure and services.
As early as September 2020, Minister Mohammad Mokhtar Gomaa spoke of more than 140,000 mosques scattered across the territory, 100,000 of which can be classified as 'large mosques'.
The paradox, some critical voices in Cairo point out, is that there are many mosques, but a shortage of worshippers, so much so that the call to the five daily prayers is often ignored and many places of worship remain empty. And useless.
'The mosques in my area,' 60-year-old Mohammed Ali, from the Maadi district, tells al-Monitor, 'only fill up during the Friday prayers of the month of Ramadan [holy Islamic fasting and prayer]. Otherwise, there are only small groups who attend them more assiduously'.
The push to build new places of prayer worries mainly young people and intellectuals, according to whom one can pray anywhere, while spaces (and appropriate investments) are needed to strengthen the education and health system through schools and hospitals.
Moreover, Egypt ranks last in the Arab world according to the US magazine Ceoworld for average salary in the Arab world, with a per capita monthly income of around 220 euro. This is compounded by the devaluation of the local currency and rising inflation, which jumped from 6.2 per cent in November 2021 to 19.2 per cent a year later.
In spite of the criticism, the government stands up straight and through the mouth of Minister Gomaa extols the mosque building programme that has led to the construction of an "unprecedented number" of mosques in the history of Egypt and of any other nation in the world.
Satisfied are the religious leaders of the Land of the Pharaohs, as emerges from the statements of Sheikh Khaled al-Jundi, a member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (a body affiliated to the Ministry of Religious Heritage), according to whom these policies are proof of a praiseworthy attempt to "preserve religion" (Muslim).