Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Qaddafi extends patronage to Egyptians from the Qaddafi tribe while Ismaïli Shi'ites dig up the remains of Fatimid heritage in Cairo's Citadel

  • Wednesday, 30 June 2010
  • Fouad GM
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  • Just a few random yet interesting bits and bobs from Cairo over the past few days. These two pieces of news, carried by independent newspapers are perhaps telling of Egyptians' paranoia at their country's vulnerability as the Egyptian state's legitimacy and the country's prestige quickly erode regionally and internationally.

    The first article appeared on June 30, carried by the independent Al-Jarida daily. The report by Imad Fawwaz claimed that “prominent security sides in Egypt presented an urgent and confidential report about the activities of what has come to be known of “Al-Gaddafi’s Union” which is exercising its work in the Fayoum and Marsa Matrouh provinces next to the border with Libya. The report featured Egyptian security fears over the rise of the Union’s role, which according to estimations includes around one million Egyptians belonging to the Al-Gaddafi tribe in Egypt, as well as its in-laws from the tribes and families spread throughout the rural and desert regions in the two aforementioned provinces.

    Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's tribe expanded into Egypt in 1860

    Al-Gaddafi Union was founded in Fayoum in 1996 and included at the time the members of the Egyptian Al-Gaddafi family which was affiliated with the greater family in Libya. The latter had come to Egypt in 1860 and now includes around 5,000 Egyptian citizens, in addition to around 10,000 Egyptian citizens belonging to families enjoying familial ties with Al-Gaddafi. The security sources indicated to Al-Jarida that the security apparatuses started paying attention to the Union’s activities in 1998, when the founder of the Union Sheikh Mujahid al-Gaddafi started introducing the families of Marsa Matrouh and Saloum following a meeting they held with President Muammar al-Gaddafi in the city. The Sheikh was thus able to secure the accession of the leaders of ten Bedouin tribes, whereas the leader of the Libyan revolution Muammar al-Gaddafi visited the Union’s headquarters in 2000…”

    On the same day, the independent Al-Mesryoon daily carried a report by Hamad al-Hajar: “Al-Mesryoon registered digging and excavation works conducted by groups of Shi’is inside the Salahuddin al-Ayoubi Fort, under claims of searching for what is believed to be the remains of Isma’ili religious references under the Fatimid state. The Shi’is say among them are people who were killed and buried under the walls of the fort by the Islamic leader after he annihilated the Shi’i state which governed Egypt from 969 until 1171. These works are being conducted with the collaboration of the Ministry of Culture based on alleged information promoted by an official at the Ministry adopting Shi’i beliefs.

    It strikes me as rather weird the author found it necessary to accuse the Ministry of Culture official as "adopting Shi'i belief" and placing the incident within the region-wide conflict with Iran which has often undertaken a Sunni-Shi'i sectarian undertone. What's most interesting is the divergence between Iran's brand of Shi'ism as well as the entire sect (Ithna `Ashri / Twelver Shi'ites) on the one hand, and the Ismaïli (Sevener) Shi'ism of both the Bohra and Aga Khani descendants of the Fatimids under whose patronage this archaeological dig is taking place.

    Ismaïli Shi'ites flock to Al-Hakim Mosque in Cairo through Bab-ul-Futuh
    one of the three remaining Fatimid gates to the Old City (by Sally Zohney)

    It's worth mentioning that unlike Ithna `Ashri (Twelver) Shi'ites often accused of loyalty to Iran and receiving patronage from the Islamic Republic, Ismaïli Shi'ites have been welcome by the Egyptian state under King Fouad I, King Farouk I and the three republican presidents. Ismaïli Shi'ites of both the Aga Khani and Bohra branches have often patronised artwork, restoration of the Old City, refurbishment of the sacred shrines of saints and Ahlul Bayt in Cairo as well as the royal monuments and cemeteries of the Fatimid and post-Fatimid Ismaïli Imams. This was brought to the forefront with the restoration of Ismaïli worship in the Al-Hakim Bi-'Amrillah Mosque in Fatimid Cairo under the patronage and Imamate of the Bohra Sultan in India as well as the massive restoration and gentrification projects of Al-Azhar Park, El-Bard El-Ahmar and elsewhere under the patronage of His Highness Aga Khan IV Prince Karim Al-Husseini. The Ministry of Culture and its director, Mr. Farouk Hosni, have often co-sponsored and oversaw the projects funded and orchestrated by the Aga Khan Foundation.

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