In Egypt 85% of the population are Muslim, yet Christmas is widely celebrated. Ever since the seventies of the previous century Egypt has been the target of a concerted effort to spread the fanatic Wahabi Saudi teachings. Just lately one of the prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood frankly admitted that they were behind a very strong campaign, funded by Saudi Arabia, to spread Islamic fanaticism in Egypt, primarily through brainwashing the rather naive and religiously ignorant into believing that women taking the veil was the ultimate in piety. This leader of the MB said that this was their political plan for the takeover of Egypt. This culminated in their Morsi becoming President in 2012. But all this work, all those millions of dollars and all those years of work ended within one year.
The reason is very simple. Egyptians have a very basic love of life. We love to laugh, eat, sing, dance and joke. We are very emotional people. We love children, we love animals, we love beauty and we love music. The Wahabi doctrine is the antithesis of all that. It is a very dry, arid, extremist view of a very narrow, dark and ugly kind of life, where everything that is loved by Egyptians is either forbidden or is a sin.
How can you turn everything that is beautiful into a sin and expect to prosper? This was the MB’s major mistake. Then when people started revolting against those impossible strictures, what did the MB do? They became violent! It was then that they truly lost the hearts and minds of most Egyptians. After they were considered as good men of God, they became those terrorist fanatics.
But what has this to do with Christmas? A lot. Egyptians love to celebrate good times. We love any and everything that would bring cheer and happiness to our lives. The Egyptian imagination has long been captured by the spirit of Christmas, not only its commercial aspects, but the beauty of its symbols. The beautifully decorated and lit Christmas tree, the laurels, stars and tinsel, the sleigh driven by Santa and pulled by deer, have all become addictions to Egyptians to be displayed and appreciated every year towards the end of every December.
Throughout the shopping malls, in large stores and supermarkets, starting the second week of December, Christmas carols are heard all over. Special stands are roped off for the display of Christmas decorations. Christmas trees are lit up and displayed for sale. The number of people who go to these shopping malls to have their pictures taken with the tree as a background is huge. The general atmosphere is one of celebration and joy.
It was after the Egyptian people, with the help of their army, were rid of the one-year rule of the MB that a new tradition started at the end of 2013. In Tahrir Square which had became world famous as epitomising the Egyptian revolt of 2011, a huge Christmas tree was set up and was decorated with little plaques, each carrying the name of one of the youth who fell during that revolution.
The following year 2014, the tree again appeared but this time decorated with shiny coloured balls and lights, and a midnight celebration of music and song was held by the church choir, singing not only carols, but carol-like songs about our love for Egypt. This year Christmas and the Prophet’s birthday come a day apart, so the tree set up in Tahrir had added to it the symbol of a confectionary doll – a purely Egyptian tradition – depicting the celebration of the birth of the Prophet, thus the celebration of the two births was symbolically united.
Though we do not have snow in Egypt this year, though the sun is bright and the weather is gorgeous, yet the spirit of Christmas, with all its symbols is prevailing. There are huge, decorated Christmas trees on some of the streets.
All the big hotels have light decorations prominently displayed, and even some of the small shops as well have decorated their windows with the traditional colours of green, red and white.