We might as well begin our reading of the Cairo press this month—which practically sums up Egyptian attitude this past year regarding religions and Copts—with a warning to readers. It is obvious the fanatic Islamic tide is spreading to cover extensively larger ground on the Egyptian scene, invading the body, thought and soul of more and more Egyptians. In this particular regard matters appear to go from worse to worst. To anyone who has no qualms about ending up sorely disheartened, we offer this reading.
The Cairo independent daily al-Masri al-Youm earlier this month printed the text of the Jihadists ‘intellectual revisions’ summed up in Sayed Imam’s “The document on rationalising jihad”. Dr Imam is one of the pillars of the jihadi movement, and is notorious for his fatwas condoning terrorist operations. The document, which was printed in full in 15 episodes, claimed to renounce violence. Its 10th chapter tackled the “Treatment of the people of the Book [Christians and Jews] who reside in Muslim countries”. A book may be easily judged by its cover—in this case its title; so the countries belong to the Muslims?! Dr Imam explicitly upholds the principle of ahl al-dimma, whereby non-Muslims who live in ‘Muslim’ countries are dimmis, that is subjects of the Islamic establishment, not citizens of the motherland. He describes the dimma concept as unchanging, irrevocable, and obliging to all Muslims whenever possible, since it was established by the Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab who was the second to rule the Muslim people after the Prophet Mohamed died. As to citizenship concepts and the rights and duties they entitle, Dr Imam declares, they were only introduced through modern Constitutions which can in no way compete with Islamic principles. “Islam rises and nothing else rises above it”, the prophet of Islam once said.
The document, wrote journalist and rights activist Sameh Fawzy in the weekly Rose el-Youssef, contradicts that of contemporary Egyptian Islamic intellectuals, including Selim al-Awa, Tareq al-Bishri, and Fahmy Huweidi, who all considered the dimma concept to be related to the eras of the Islamic empire. Once the Muslim countries fell to the colonialists and were consequently liberated at the hands of their Muslim and non-Muslim sons, the latter ceased to be dimmis. So the ‘revisions’ are but a revision in nationalist, not jihadi, thought, Mr Fawzy wrote.
As to intellectual Mohamed al-Badri, he wrote in the weekly al-Qahira wondering that, if the renunciation of violence now declared by Dr Imam was backed by Qur’an and Sunna, did this imply that their previous acts of terrorism had not been backed by Qur’an and Sunna? This is no peaceful initiative, Mr Badri warned; it is a mere convenient ploy to counter adverse circumstances.
Second class citizen
“Are you a second class citizen?” was the title of the file opened by journalist Amira Abdel-Salam in the weekly al-Ahali, the mouthpiece of the leftist Tagammu political party. The question was randomly posed to Copts, and the replies were down-to-earth. “I feel sad when I have to leave class because my colleagues are being instructed in Islamic religion,” 10-year-old Mina Habib said, alluding to the common practice of sending Christian pupils out of class for the Muslims to have religion classes. The Christians are usually given religion classes somewhere in the playground or not at all. Nessim Zaher, a doctor in Qasr al-Eini teaching hospital, said it was the government’s discriminatory practices that augmented the Copts’ sense of being persecuted. Copts normally co-existed with Muslims, he said, but when they are excluded from top posts and their Muslim colleagues are unjustly favoured with all the better jobs, Copts are bound to feel discriminated against.
The harsh duelling on satellite channels between the believers of Islam and Christianity concerning their respective faiths was the subject of an editorial by Mohamed Rifaat in the independent weekly al-Youm. The unwarranted rivalry began in the 1980s on national TV, with religious programmes hosting the popular Sheikh Mohamed al-Shaarawi who made it a business of his to attack and mock the Christian faith. Christians could do nothing except feel galled, that is until the late 1990s brought in satellite channels to Egypt. So-called Christian channels popped up, with programmes designed to counter the Islamic raids against the Christian faith. The rivalry continued and escalated until it now reached an intolerably high note which serves to further inflame the already sore fanaticism and sectarian tension. In his article, Mr Rifaat asks why does not Media Minister Anas al-Fiqi put an end to this rivalry by implementing the code of media honour and rescinding the licences of those channels which broadcast their programmes through the State-owned NileSat? Indeed, why not?
The weekly independent al-Khamees printed two interviews on two opposite pages with two Islamist intellectuals, the writer Zaghloul al-Naggar and Mustafa al-Shakaa, head of the Islamic Research Academy. Mr Naggar reiterated his customary attack on Christianity, claiming he was merely offering Christians advice since, he insisted, the present Bible was a misquotation of an original one which quoted the very words of God, contained no “old or new testaments” and prophesied the coming of Mohamed. In another interview granted to the weekly Sawt al-Umma, Mr Nagger further claimed that the Church abducted Muslim men and women and forced—he never said how or why—them into Christianity; he even cited addresses of villas in the Cairo suburb of Maadi where he claimed the Church detained those converts.
As for Mr Shakaa, he accused the Copts of being behind 90 per cent of the sectarian violence in Egypt because, he said, they “made mountains out of molehills”, unduly blowing their problems out of all proportion. “If we compare the number of churches in Egypt to the number of mosques bearing in mind, he said, the numbers of Christians and Muslims, we will find out that churches far outnumber mosques”. The Copts, he said, backed by the World Council of Churches, desire to bestow a Christian hue over Egypt.
So much for conspiracy theory; and people ask how come hate culture is spreading.
The Egyptian proverb goes: “The worst calamities are the laughable ones”. One was strongly reminded of that saying upon reading al-Masry al-Youm’s report about the rumour circulated among Helwan University students to the effect that whoever reads ‘Barnaba’s Gospel’ can be sure of scoring well in exams. Barnaba’s Gospel is a so-called gospel which was written in the 19th century and contains accounts of largely questionable material, including a prophecy of the coming of Mohamed. Credit must be given to the publisher who bet on the triviality of college students, and sold a huge number of copies of the book.
No Christians allowed
Egyptian cinema goers will always remember the young, stunning beauty Hanan Turk who was, and probably still is, a gifted actress. Turk took the film scene by storm in the 1990s, turning in one role after another of truly brilliant acting. Early in 2006 however, she publicly announced, to unprecedented aplomb from the Islamist-infiltrated media, that she was donning the veil and giving up acting. Now, according to the weekly Rose el-Youssef, Turk has opened in Heliopolis a hairdresser shop which she named “Sabaya” (young girls) and which doubles as a coffeeshop. Nothing unusual about this so far but, what is unusual—and we hope remains unusual—is that she hung a sign stating: “No Christians or unveiled women allowed”. It brought to mind the fast-food chain of Mo’men which, in the 1990s, hung a sign that “Christians need not apply for jobs” there. The workers in Sabaya attacked the reporter Asmaa’ Nassar believing her to belong to some Christian organisation. Turk’s brother Hussam said that Christian women were not allowed in since, once they had their hair done they would leave it uncovered, the men would lust after them, and Hanan would bear their sin.
Is Egypt going backwards at full speed?