Every week at Arab West Report we survey the Egyptian press for articles which concern either Muslim-Christian or Arab-West issues. These are translated into English and published with independent reports we or the interns who work with us write. Each week his headed by an editorial, which organizes a theme around key articles from that week, and expresses an opinion to speak into the news.
The editorial is usually written, appropriately, by our editor, but a little while ago he was traveling outside of Egypt and requested me to fill in for him. Several months ago I made reference to the first report I wrote for AWR; here below I can share my first editorial. Each article mentioned is linked to our full text publication, so feel free to click for more information. I hope you enjoy…
A few notable selections from Arab West Report this week have to do with the nature of sectarian tension in Egypt. While most would agree that Muslims and Christians live and have lived in peace and cooperation, these are also painfully aware of recent incidents of violence which threaten the validity of this status quo pronouncement. Needing to explain why this sectarian spirit exists itself is a source of division in the country.
One of the oft-repeated but infrequently demonstrated causes is that of foreign manipulation. Zionist or American/Western interests in destabilizing Egypt and the Arab world are cited as being behind the disturbance of traditional religious harmony. Bishop Marcos of the Shubra al-Khyma diocese disagrees in article 14. Instead, he blames poverty, illiteracy, and extremist television programs, harming all Egyptians, as contributing to the sectarian problem.
Another source of disturbance is often posited to exist among Egyptian Copts living abroad. These, it is said, have been influenced by the freedoms experienced in the West, hear only the negative examples of religious troubles, and then look to marshal their adopted governments to support the Coptic cause. In the process, they are accused, and sometimes guilty, of exaggerating the real circumstances of Christians. When the reports of activists recycle and return to Egypt, it deepens the sense of alienation experienced by Copts, thus continuing to degradation of relations.
In article 38 one such activist Copt is brought to attention, and then criticized for his opinions. Magdi Khalil is the director of the Middle East Freedom Forum, as well as an editor for the Coptic daily newspaper Watani. He has issued a call to American Jewry to intervene on behalf of the Egyptian Copts, stating such initiative is necessary to prevent Egypt from becoming a haven for terrorist activity which would rebound ultimately against Israel. The views of Khalil, however, are put in context in article 39. Here, the author states that activists who push their foreign communities toward public pressure on Egypt are in the minority. While 90% of expatriate Copts feel like their residence abroad is simply an extension of their Egyptian identity, their main complaint, he states, is that the Egyptian media exaggerates the Coptic problem.
A final culprit often blamed for sectarian tension is the controversial Muslim Brotherhood. The accusation against them is that they favor the implementation of a Muslim state to be ruled by sharia law, in which non-Muslims, it is claimed, become second class citizens. Article 9, however, highlights an invitation by Muhammad Badie, the newly appointed Spiritual Guide of the Brotherhood, issued to Egyptian Christians for an alliance between the two to challenge the lack of freedom experienced by both groups. The articles mentions, however, that church leadership rejected this offer out of hand, for the reasons given above. They see it as a clear political tactic in advance of the upcoming elections.
Finally, article 30 puts forward a positive vision about sectarian tension, finding the antidote in acceptance of all three strands of Egyptian identity: Pharaohnic, Christian, and Muslim. The article highlights the contributions of a number of leading thinkers who put forward the values of diversity, tolerance, and dialogue as necessary for instillation into the educational curriculum and national consciousness. While this goal is admirable, culminating this editorial only with this thought in summary of such wide divergence of opinion seems lacking.
Missing from the list of virtues given in article 30 is love. Through the lens of love each of the above explanations for sectarian tension can be exposed. There are issues in Egypt concerning the sectarian spirit; placing blame only on ‘foreign elements’ may shield Egypt from criticism, but love demands purification, and must be willing, however kindly, to confront. Where Magdi Khalil seeks to confront, however, love would find him in judgment as well. He seeks intervention from outside parties for the sake of one domestic interest, opening him to the charge that he does not care for the rights of all. Love seeks to unite, not divide, and puts the interests of the other above one’s own. Finally, in their outright rejection of a Brotherhood overture, church leadership fails to fulfill the mandate to love even those in opposition to you, as it appears the church views the Brotherhood in this way. Political cooperation may or may not be useful, but when asking for bread, should one be given a stone?
There are many good and necessary resolutions to help address sectarian difficulties; unless love be the motivation that holds them all together, the risk of ultimate failure is significant.