Videos that emerged on social media on Friday showed dozens of Egyptians circling the streets of Alexandria with a model of the holy Kaaba, prompting backlash and jokes online.
Egypt police on Friday arrested a number of people for organising a street procession involving a makeshift Kaaba, reports confirmed.
The event drew dozens of people despite measures put in place to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, including social distancing.
The crowd circled the streets of Egypt’s Alexandria while carrying a replica of the Holy Kaaba in Mecca, the centre point of the Islamic faith.
Videos that emerged online showed the crowd, including dozens of children, chanting “God is Great” on Friday night, marking the start of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
While the clips triggered criticism online for the apparent violations of coronavirus precautionary measures, others joked about the “makeshift” pilgrimage in the city.
“Like you, I went to sleep and woke up to see them doing the Umrah pilgrimage in Sidi Bishr,” one social media user joked on Twitter.
“Why would you go to Saudi Arabia when we [Egyptians] carry out the pilgrimage here in Alexandria?” another user said.
Amid the jokes, Egyptians expressed concern for vioolations of government instructions.
“Two weeks ago, the people of Alexandria gathered for a protest against coronavirus and today they are gathering for this procession saying there is no coronavirus. Aside from violating the sanctitiy of the holy Kaaba, do these people not understand that these public gatherings puts the country at risk?” another user said.
The coronavirus pandemic is cutting off the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims from cherished Ramadan traditions such as the nightly taraweeh prayer – which sees mosques fill with worshippers.
Last month, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage over fears of the novel coronavirus spreading to Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, which were placed under 24-hour curfews.
Riyadh has also urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual Hajj pilgrimage amid uncertainty over the pandemic.
“The partial curfew will remain in place starting tomorrow (Friday) from 9:00 pm to 6:00 am (1900-0400GMT),” and run until the end of Ramadan, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli told a news conference in Cairo.
The curfew, in place since March 25, initially began at 7:00 pm and was eased to an 8:00 pm start in April.
Ramadan begins this week and is marked by fasting from dawn to dusk, traditionally followed by a gathering of friends and family around an evening meal.
As part of the easing of measures in place to stem the spread of the virus, malls and shops will be allowed to open daily until 5:00 pm during the holy month.
Restaurants that have been closed since late March will also be permitted to open, but only for delivery and take-away.
Egypt’s health ministry has so far reported 4,319 cases of the Covid-19 disease, including 307 deaths.
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