Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood attend a protest Sunday in support… (Khaled Elfiqi / European…)
CAIRO – The dangerous political divisions that have widened since last month’s overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi are now echoing through mosques in rich neighborhoods that have long been uneasy about mixing prayers and politics.
Since Egypt's 2011 revolution, imams in the provinces have taken advantage of broader religious freedoms to promote political Islam from their pulpits. Such rhetoric, however, rarely extended to the mosques in the well-off communities of Cairo, where the educated and the professional disdained political discourse in their sermons.
But the coup last month that toppled Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement has upset the tranquility in the moments after the call to prayer fades.
"The imam was praying against fellow Egyptians,” said Mohamed Abdel Aal, a 54-year-old businessman living in the capital’s Nasr City neighborhood. “He was preaching and praying against those he called 'supporters of the coup' and Morsi's enemies."
"I've always been against Morsi and the Brotherhood's policies and I am certainly happy to see the end of their reign,” he added, “but does that mean that I should be praying behind an Imam who considers me a foe and prays for sending me to hell?"
Apart from few occasions when imams offered glancing support of Morsi and the Brotherhood, there was little mention of politics during Friday prayers in Cairo's wealthiest neighborhoods. But weeks of protests and the deaths of more than 200 mostly Islamists at the hands of security forces have changed the tenor.
"O dear God give strength to Morsi's argument, enlighten his vision and show us your might in beating his enemies by making example of them. Be generous to Morsi and bring him back to us as our ruler," the imam told Mustapha Marwan and other worshipers at the Nasr City mosque.
"I am not obliged to be praying against myself or anyone else when I come here every Friday,” Marwan said. “I've never prayed against Morsi or his group. This is a place for worship, not for serving political interests and definitely not for avenging fellow Egyptians."
Marwan, Abdel Aal and others argued with the imam after prayers, a scene that has often occurred in mosque since the July 3 coup. The worshipers in Nasr City shouted that they didn’t want a ‘Brotherhood’ imam ruining their prayers.
"The atmosphere in Egypt is boiling as it is and the last thing we need is yet another preacher inciting animosity among Egyptians," Abdel Aal said.
A few miles away, a similar argument ensued after an imam called for funeral prayers for the "martyrs" who died recently at the sit-in by thousands of Morsi supporters at the nearby Rabaa al Adawiya mosque. Worshipers said that those who were killed should not be considered martyrs and don't deserve a funeral prayer.
The worshipers quickly left the mosque, no wanting to further antagonize Egypt’s seething divisions.
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Hassan is a special correspondent.