Police in Egypt have arrested at least 20 organizers of a march celebrating the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan for violating the coronavirus curfew, Egyptian media reported.
The arrests were made after a video of the celebratory march showing dozens of Egyptians walking on the streets of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, carrying a model of the holy Ka'abah in Mecca on Friday April 24, went viral on social media.
God is Great. There is no Corona
The marchers chanted "Allah Hu Akbar, wa'la corona" ("God is great, there is no corona") all along and roamed the city center at night, breaking the 9 pm curfew in place to curb the coronavirus spread in the city.
Some of participants of the march carried cardboard dummies of the holy Ka'abah, the holiest site in Islam.
According to the local Al-Masy al-Youm newspaper, officers from the Moharam Bek police station in Alexandria arrested the event's organizers and detained some of the marchers.
The incident took place in the neighborhood of Ghobrial, and has been registered in an official report with the prosecution carrying out a detailed investigation.
Video went viral on social media for all the wrong reasons
The video of the marchers carrying the cardboard model of the Ka'abah attracted a lot of attention of social media cynics who were quick to troll the incident.
One media user posted the video with the caption: "People in Alexandria make a quick pilgrimage," while another said "Just like you, I slept for a couple of hours and woke up to find them making a pilgrimage in Sidi Beshr (a popular beach in Alexandria)."
How did the march begin?
According to Ahmed El-Sayed, a resident of Alexandria's Mohram Bek, at the beginning of the celebration about a dozen or so of the neighborhood's residents got together and put up a small model of the Ka'abah on the main street during the curfew hours.
But as soon as the number of revelers swelled, he said the crowd picked up the cardboard model of the Ka'abah and started chanting "God is great."
El-Sayed added that many of the people in the neighborhood and its vicinity joined the march as it made its way through several streets in Ghobrial.
The rally began at around 11pm on the last day of the Islamic month of Sha'aban which was on Thursday, April 23, and continued until dawn on the first day of Ramadan on Friday, April 24.
Annual celebration gone wrong
El-Sayed said the celebration was normal and that the residents were celebrating the beginning of the holy month by making the biggest model of the Ka'abah in the whole of Alexandria.
"We were surprised to see security forces detain the marchers for violating the curfew. The march takes place at the same time every year," El-Sayed said.
However, the residents were happy that the young people in the neighborhood got together to hang the Ka'abah model in the heart of the city with great fanfare, "to spread joy among the residents after the coronavirus crisis caused sadness and killed the joy of Ramadan celebrations," as quoted by another resident.
The Governor of Alexandria, Mohammed El-Sherif, said in a press statement that the march was an annual tradition in the region to mark the beginning of Ramadan.
"What happened in a small street is an annual tradition carried out by simple people in the area. The model has been there for years. The people march out from a side street and hang the model in the square. It is an annual tradition. It was an ordinary event in ordinary circumstances."
"However, with the coronavirus, it was a huge mistake that went against all precautionary measures." he said.
The governor said the police had detained around 20 of the marchers who are now facing charges of violating the curfew that has been imposed in the North African country to stem the spread of the coronavirus. He added that a 4,000 Egyptian pound (approximately $254) fine was imposed on each one of them.
Egyptian authorities imposed a nightly curfew from 9 pm to 6 am since last month in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The government led by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced this week that it will be shortening the daily curfews by two hours during the month of Ramadan, which is traditionally a time of intense worshipping and family get-togethers for Muslims.
However, mosques in Egypt will remain shut and no member of the public will be allowed to worship inside the mosques in keeping with the precautionary instructions issued by the country's health ministry warning against large gatherings which could lead to an increased risk of infection.
Coronavirus numbers in Egypt
The Egyptian health ministry has said it has recorded more than 4,534 cases of COVID-19 infection and 317 fatalities as of Monday, April 26, with 215 fresh cases and 10 deaths.