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Social Reconciliation

The end of February was a very hectic time for us. The peacemaking project I have written about here from time to time was coming to and end and all reports were to be submitted by the 28th. (If only it was a Leap Year!) While many reports were done, several still required editing, and everything had to be put online. In the end we made it, and you can see the results at www.enawu.com, if you click on the ZIVIC-Conflict Resolution tag on the left hand column.

In the meanwhile, I thought it would be interesting to share the lessons we learned with everyone. Not only will this give a good picture about what we have done in Egypt since arrival, it will also give a thorough introduction into conflict in Egypt, of which a fair proportion is religiously based. In this spirit we will try over the next few weeks to provide the most interesting reports, and where applicable, give you the link to the full paper which was written. For faithful followers of Julie’s posts, don’t worry, we will intersperse these as well.

Today will begin this effort, and the text which follows is the abstract of the comprehensive paper summarizing our experiences over the last six months. The full paper length is about forty pages, so take care to download it when you have a moment to spare, or else save it for future reading, say, your summer vacation at the beach. For those interested, it will be a one way mind meld between me and you, as I tried to include almost everything I have learned since arrival in Egypt. I hope you enjoy; your comments are welcome.

In all nations of the world, conflict is normal, and Egypt is no exception. Violent conflict in Egypt, however, is not. Though the Egyptian population has always been a peaceful people, many are noticing the increasing violence exhibited throughout society, much of which is along religious lines. There is a growing religiosity that imbues both Muslims and Christians with a powerful sense of identity to their community of faith. While only in the rarest of cases does this push either group towards violence, it does contribute to an unfortunate culture of sectarian analysis, which interprets these events along religious lines. This tends often to deepen the sense of religious division, cultivating further cyclical patterns of aggression, sometime passive, against the other, be it physical in outright attack, or psychological, in accusations of disloyalty or persecution. Reporting styles of the media, with all its variety, generally tends to fuel this established pattern by either labeling an incident a sectarian event or else denying the religious dimension completely. Balanced and objective journalism disappears in the process.

This paper recognizes that these are the witnessed features of conflict in Egypt, but many other factors lie beneath the surface. Underreported are the population pressures and economic difficulties which push normal disputes over resource allocation past the threshold of traditional resolution mechanisms into the pursuit of violence. One of these traditional mechanisms is the ‘reconciliation session’, which in principle restores community harmony but in practice often complicates the situation. Whether in land registration, church building policy, or an overwhelmed judiciary the law of government is applied weakly in many parts of Egypt. This tends to an overreliance upon ‘reconciliation sessions’, which are often conducted with a lack of transparency mirroring other aspects of the state. Security practices, though naturally present following an outbreak of violence, are but another example. Any mistakes made or weaknesses perceived are denied, and these therefore un-admitted factors combine with underreported demographic changes to produce the painfully visible instances of violence which torment the Egyptian consciousness.

This paper explores these issues in more depth, but also seeks a way out. Using Johan Galtung’s methodology of conflict resolution following medical practice of diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy, this peacemaking project suggests better practices. The diagnosis is explained above. Prognosis involves proscribing corrective changes to the major sections of Egyptian society: Government, Church, Local Leadership, the Media, and Non-Governmental Organizations. Therapy then posits a procedure to lead into social reconciliation following conflict. First, root causes and contextual studies must be determined and addressed. Second, community leaders from all sectors must be identified and supplied with information. Third, these are then encouraged into dialogue through a mediator who both knows the area and is accepted therein. Fourth, pending these discussions to be focused on just negotiation and relational unity, supportive projects can be considered to assist in community reintegration. It is hoped that this will be a predominantly Egyptian initiative, for local problems demand local solutions. Yet the eyes of outsiders, Cairene or otherwise, may be helpful.

This paper is submitted for review by all, but a selected number of advisors have written their critique and added their observations. These are also presented for further evaluation, and the reader is welcomed to offer both constructive criticism and proposals. For such an endeavor a network is necessary; to the degree you are willing we invite you to join.

Click here for the full paper.

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