On a cold evening, on a quiet street in Alexandria, a man sitting outside his shop was attacked from behind by a heavily bearded assailant who screamed “Allah Akbar” while slitting the shopkeeper’s throat.
The few stunned pedestrians could do nothing while the assailant fled.
This is by definition a “hate crime”.
The assailant did not personally know the victim. To him he represented several issues that he, the assailant, hated. The shopkeeper was a Christian who carried, among his stock, alcoholic drinks. So to the murderer he represented all that was unholy and which, according to his “beliefs”, needed to be eradicated.
Alexandria and the western part of the North Coast of Egypt is a stronghold of Salafi fanatics. There were certain areas in Alexandria, namely Ameria and Matrouh, where Islamic fundamentalism practiced by Salafi fanatics had caused many an incident where Christian homes, businesses and churches were attacked, ransacked then burned to the ground. There were others where whole Christian neighbourhoods were forcibly evicted and run out of their villages. The situation was quite untenable for a long time, maybe just as bad as in some of the poorest areas in Upper Egypt.
Despite the fact that President Al Sisi had repeatedly asked the Azhar to modify the tone taken by the Imams during the Friday sermon, to tone down incitement against “others”, yet nothing was done. The fiery Imams continued with their incendiary sermons and every Friday, after prayers, violence against Christians erupted somewhere.
When the rest of the country started getting restless about the repeated scenario with no resolution to the situation in sight, President Al Sisi took matters into his own hands and took action.
The first volley in the first skirmish was when he asked the Head of the Committee assigned to reclaim government land that was illegally taken by some “investors”, the Ex Prime Minister Mr. Ibrahim Mehleb, to take on yet another task. He asked him to look into all the lands and properties belonging to the Ministry of Awkaf that are squatted upon. Historically the Ministry of Awkaf is notoriously rich as the property of anyone who dies without heirs goes to the Ministry of Awkaf. Their holdings are so widespread and diverse they could not keep their record straight and much of their holdings are now in others’ hands.
The immediate effect of this request was the prompt dispatch of the Ministry of Awkaf of a huge delegation to Ameria in Alexandria to inspect all the mosques and all the little Zawya (a tiny prayer room), to ensure that all the Imams leading prayers there, and giving sermons on Fridays, are the Awkaf certified Imams. Their tour of inspection revealed that the majority of these mosques and Zawyas were manned by the fundamentalist Salafis.
The Awkaf delegation then promptly closed all those that had no Imam certified by the Awkaf until such time as one sanctioned by the Ministry is despatched to take up his duties there. Ever since this happened there were practically no incidents of sectarian violence after each Friday prayer. The problem was resolved through an out-of-the-box solution which bypassed a confrontation with the Azhar and which eradicated the raison d’etre for such “hate crimes”.
There are still the odd fanatic who would erupt in zealous violence, but these have now become more individual incidents rather than the systematic, group violence previously practiced.
Al Sisi’s background in military intelligence has served the country well indeed.