Fadi Philip is a 26 year old veterinary physician, but his priority of love and labor is as an activist with the Maspero Youth Union (MYU), for which he serves as English language media spokesman. I became acquainted with Fadi and the MYU through several visits in May during their sit-in protest at the Maspero Radio and Television Building in Cairo, protesting the Imbaba attacks. On this occasion I introduced Fadi to a visiting researcher from George Washington University, and took the notes necessary to record his views here. To note: this interview was conducted in early June.
What is the philosophy of the Maspero Youth Union?
We aim to be a political face for Egyptian Christians, doing so away from the church. We are not trying to be leaders in place of the church, but rather to show people they do not need to run to the church when they meet with difficulties.
What is the role of liberation theology in your movement?
After the Egyptian revolution many Christians have adopted liberation theology, but in Egypt today, right and wrong are determined in the street. The problem is that the church will not go into the street. Christians aim to have a secular state, but how can we say this when we run to the church to solve all our problems?
Do you want to change the church?
The problem is that the Christians do not have leaders in any significant way. We must have these leaders, but we must have them outside of the church.
Is this then a rejection of the church?
No, what is necessary is that Christians get involved in politics, but when the church gets involved in politics things become very complicated. Some priests of the church are with us, but others are worried our actions could increase fundamentalism among Muslims, who might get upset when Christians do not simply sit quietly. Unfortunately, many Christians have become negative, thinking that they can move God and change things simply by praying and singing. I believe praying and singing is important, but we must do more.
What about the opinion of Pope Shenouda? Didn’t he speak against your sit-in?
Well, the pope is not the leader of the MYU. In any case, we don’t believe he really spoke against our efforts, but that he was pushed to say what he did.
What convinces you of this?
Our representatives went to the cathedral and asked him his opinion. He did not ask us to end the sit-in, but that he was afraid his sons and daughters there would be in danger. Furthermore, when Bishop Yu’annis related his message, he quoted the pope as saying ‘And God is the one who makes prosper.’ This is a very well known army phrase, used after all their public statements. It is not an expression the pope would use.
In any case, the church is trying to avoid problems, and many people believe that problems can happen when Christians are in the street. But we believe there is no freedom without cost, and we are willing to pay the cost.
By identifying yourselves as Copts do you identify yourselves as a minority, or against your Egyptian identity?
The word ‘Copt’ means ‘Egypt’ etymologically, but yes, it is true we are working for Coptic rights. We are a Christian movement in what we work for, though, not in our composition. We have Muslim members, though they are a small percentage. Yet we do receive much spiritual support and encouragement from Muslims, as well as media support from personalities like Nabil Sharaf al-Din and Fatima Naout. It must also be mentioned that several Muslims came to defend our group when we were attacked.
Currently, though, we do not have open membership, and there is no particular profile about the Muslims who have joined us. At this stage we are less interested in enrolling those who ‘love’ us in favor of those who know our issues well. Currently, we are pursuing legal registration as a human rights organization, and not as a political party.
What is the composition of your group?
We are between 200-300 people who bear some sort of responsibility within the MYU, each of which oversees between 10-15 people. We are not looking to expand too quickly, but we have opened branches in Alexandria, Ismailia, and Asyut. We will look into expanding our membership once we have completed the registration process.
What is the role of Fr. Philopater and Fr. Mattias?
These two priests have been with us from the beginning, when the MYU was created by merging several groups, including the one around the magazine they founded, al-Katiba al-Tibiyya. Though they are with us, we do not constitute that they represent the church in being with us. They have joined us as Egyptians. Yet at the same time, in being a priest they do confer legitimacy upon us in the eyes of many Egyptian Christians.
It is not true to say they work as ‘double agents’, but they are trying to work on both sides – the people and the church. They can certainly help us with inner church workings.
Fr. Philopater is a very outspoken person. During the Mubarak regime he spoke harshly against it and was suspended for one year. Yet he would not accept to be sent abroad, such as to America, in the manner which Fr. Marcus Aziz was sent to serve the church in Australia. To be clear, though, both Fr. Philopater and Fr. Mattias are still practicing priests.
al-Katiba al-Tibiyya is very popular in the Coptic Diaspora. Is the Maspero Youth Union connected to the Diaspora as well?
al-Katiba al-Tibiyya is concerned about what is happening, speaking the truth as it is; I believe it is also popular here in Egypt. People living abroad do not know what is happening here, but they trust the magazine since those here do.
We do have connections to Copts living abroad, and we have met with Michael Munir and Michel Qilada, for example. We will not push anyone away from us, and all are welcome to cooperate with us. Yet there is a problem in that many of these call for international protection for the Copts, wishing for UN involvement and calling for sanctions. This, however, does not meet with our needs. Perhaps they can help with human rights issues.
I reject the call for international protection because I will not risk the security of Egypt for my own security. Some Muslims hear ‘international protection’ and understand it to mean what is happening in Libya. These might then interpret that Copts are looking to make trouble, attack us, and this will harm the stability of Egypt.
What can the Diaspora do to support the MYU?
The most important thing is media coverage. 60-70% of the revolution’s success was based on the media’s attention. It prevented Tahrir Square from becoming Tienamen Square. Good media overage can help overcome the general illiteracy about Christian rights in Egypt.
Young Egyptians abroad were helpful with the revolution. Are you connected to them?
The image of the revolution being made by the young was just a play. The revolution was not made through the internet but from the hatred directed toward the Mubarak regime and its inept handling of the protests.
Yes, many Egyptians abroad ‘felt proud’ to be Egyptian, but did they feel any pressure or help in any real way? Not really.
What is the final summary of what you would like to say?
We have discussed the most important matters. I would like to emphasize that we are looking to take pressure off the church. The greater our success in representing Coptic issues, the less pressure the government will put on the pope concerning us.
Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you, it was my pleasure.
- A Window into Character: The Conflict at Maspero (asenseofbelonging.wordpress.com)