DURING Friday prayers the congregation of Muhammad Yousef, a young puritanical preacher in the Egyptian town of Mansoura, once spilled out into the alleys surrounding his mosque. Now Sheikh Muhammad counts it a good week if he fills half the place.
In Cairo, 110km (68 miles) to the south, unveiled women sit in street cafés, traditionally a male preserve, smoking water-pipes. Some of the establishments serve alcohol, which Islam prohibits. “We’re in religious decline,” moans Sheikh Muhammad, whose despair is shared by clerics in many parts of the Arab world.
According to Arab Barometer, a pollster, much of the region is growing less religious. Voters who backed Islamists after the upheaval of the Arab spring in 2011 have grown disillusioned with their performance and changed their minds
Striking a harmonious note
ONCE a year the little seaside town of Essaouira, in Morocco, reclaims its lost Jewish community. Sephardic trills echo from its whitewashed synagogues. The medieval souks fill with Jewish skullcaps. Rabbis and cantors wish Muslims “Shabbat Shalom” and regale them with Hebrew incantations. “It’s our culture,” says a merchant from Marrakech, who travelled 200km (124 miles) to hear them this year.
The revival is the initiative of André Azoulay, a 76-year-old Jew from Essaouira (one of just three) and a former counsellor to Morocco’s kings. Each autumn he stages a colourful festival of Andalusian music aimed at bringing hundreds of Jews and Muslims together for a weekend of concerts and dialogue. Locals pack the small stadium to watch Hebrew cantors and Koran-rec
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