8 August 2010
Copts in the Egyptian media 42
Our reading of the Cairo papers this week takes us to the weekly, State-owned al-Mussawar and the file it recently published on “Do Copts hate the July Revolution?” In his article “Copts under Gamal Abdel-Nasser”, Medhat Bishay attempted to cite both the positive and negative repercussions of the 1952 Revolution where Copts are concerned.
Copts and the Revolution
Bishay claimed the benefits reaped by the Copts off the Revolution far outweighed the hardships they incurred. These hardships included sidelining the Copts from leading positions, and establishing a fully-fledged State-sponsored Qur’an radio station while broadcasting Christian material for only 30 minutes every Sunday on a weak-frequency station. The Revolution developed the 10th century Islamic seminary al-Azhar into a modern-day university that offered studies in the modern sciences but restricted the admission to Muslim students, even though it was financed by Egyptian—Muslim as well as Coptic—taxpayer money. The Education Ministry at the time obliterated all trace of Coptic civilisation from the history curriculum. Despite all these—and many other—negative moves, Bishay wrote, peace reigned between Muslims and Copts during the Nasser era; there was no sectarian strife. He puts to the Revolution’s credit the establishment of free education for all, up to the university level; as well as setting up the admissions bureau to determine the placement of secondary school certificate holders in university colleges according to their scores alone, regardless of any other factor.
The absence of sectarian strife cited in Bishay’s story, however, was refuted in the book published by Watani last October Sadat in the Memory of Copts. The book documented the fact that the strict censorship imposed on the press during the Nasser era made it impossible for any paper to report on incidents of sectarian strife when they occurred; thus the false impression of there being no sectarian violence.
Following the disappearance of Kamilia Shehata, the wife of Father Taddawus Samaan of the Mar-Girgis church in Deir Mawwas, Upper Egypt, who was later found to be in Cairo with some family friends, the weekly State-owned Rose al-Youssef published a file on the wives of the Coptic Orthodox priests. In interviews conducted with five priest spouses, they talked of the great sacrifices they had to make for the sake of the Church service and how their homes are always open for the needy or those in trouble. When they were asked about their domestic trouble or problems with their husbands, they said that theirs were ordinary homes where problems and clashes would most likely occur.
Anba Abra’am, Bishop of Fayoum told Rose al-Youssef that no priest’s wife ever came to him asking for divorce. In case this ever happened, he explained, it would necessitate the call for a special Clerical Council. Rose al-Youssef concluded that a priest had better be ordained only if he has been married for a minimum five years, and not right after finding a wife as is frequently done.
Awaiting a solution
The recent conflict between Anba Aghathon, Bishop of Maghagha in Minya, Upper Egypt, and Minya governor Ahmed Diaa’ Eddin arose over what Copts saw as the unjust refusal of the governor to grant them a permit to build a new church they direly need. In response, they took to the bishopric grounds where they held demonstrations to protest the governor’s decision. The matter preoccupied a major part of the Egyptian media last month, with opinions ranging from wide condemnation of the so-called Coptic unjustified protest to a few who recognised the Copts’ grievances and rights.
Everyone is now awaiting the return of Pope Shenouda III from the United States, where he is currently on a pastoral tour, for a resolution of the Maghagha problem.