An Israeli mayor banned Christmas trees in Nazareth Illit, while a Sunni Muslim prime minister lit a tree in downtown Beirut, and Egyptians purchased a half-million Christmas trees, according press reports.
The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that the mayor of Nazareth Illit, a suburb of Nazareth, denied the request of Arab Christians to place Christmas trees in town squares.
“The request of the Arabs to put Christmas trees in the squares in the Arab quarter of Nazareth Illit is provocative,” said Shimon Gapso, mayor of a predominantly Jewish suburb with an Arab and Christian minority.
“Nazareth Illit is a Jewish city and it will not happen – not this year and not next year, so long as I am a mayor,” said Gapso.
In neighboring Lebanon, Sunni Prime Minster Saad al-Hariri lit in early December “Beirut’s giant Christmas tree.” A reported 120 other Christmas trees dotted the nation’s capital.
In Abu Dhabi, the Emirates Palace Hotel put up a much publicized $11 million Christmas tree. The 43-foot-high tree was decorated with diamonds, pearls, emeralds and other precious stones.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, an Islamic country.
“Putting the Christmas tree is not a novelty, rather it is a tradition meant to share in celebrating occasions guests hold while they are away from their home countries and families, which is within the framework of the UAE’s policy which is based on the values of openness and tolerance,” said the hotel, according to Gulf News.
Gulf News also reported that more than 400 Nordman fir trees from Canada had been sold in Dubai, as well as artificial trees made in China.
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According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, an independent Egyptian media organization, some 500,000 Christmas trees were to be sold in Egypt.
“Christmas in Egypt has departed from its roots as a celebration of the birth of Christ and taken on a more social role, with many Muslims and Christians – especially in the more affluent communities – celebrating it without really observing it,” reported Al-Masry Al-Youm.
“People in Egypt have traditionally celebrated religious diversity and joined each other in their celebrations. It has been a mainstay of Egyptian culture in the past,” Reem Saad, professor of social anthropology at the American University of Cairo, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Egypt has more than 8 million Coptic Christians, who observe Christmas on Jan. 7.
In addition to Coptic Christians and Western expatriates with nongovernmental organizations, blogger and University of Michigan professor Juan Cole contended that middle- and upper-income Egyptian Muslims were celebrating Christmas.
The nation with the world’s largest population of Muslims, Indonesia, had Christmas trees, nativity scenes and Santa Clauses in shopping malls, according to Reuters.
Indonesia’s leading Islamic authority called Christmas decorations in public places “excessive and provocative.”
“We received complaints from a number of malls’ employees who are forced to wear Santa Claus costumes which are against their faith. Such things should not have happened,” said Muhyidin Junaedi, a leader of the Indonesia Ulema Council. “We need to restrain Muslims from joining the festivities.”
Associated Press reported that Iraqi Christians did not put up Christmas decorations and had canceled church celebrations.
“Nobody can ignore the threats of al-Qaida against Iraqi Christians,” said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako, according to AP.
Speaking in Kirkuk, he said, “We cannot find a single source of joy that makes us celebrate. The situation of the Christians is bleak.”