Copts in the Egyptian media

15-12-2011 09:07 AM

Robeir al-Faris

WATANI International

2 October 2011

It seems that when it comes to talking about the Copts, the Salafis do not know when to stay mum. In a discussion between Sheikh Yasser Burhami, deputy head of the Salafi movement in Alexandria, and presenter Wael al-Ebrashi on the talk show Al-Haqiqa (The Truth) recently aired on Dream TV, Burhami claimed Christians were apostates and called on the government to collect jizya, as mentioned in the Qur’an. Jizya is a tax paid by non-Muslims living in Islamic countries in exchange for not serving in the army; non-Muslims are not allowed to serve in Islamic armies since their allegiance is held in doubt. Indeed, “Christians are apostates; they must pay jizya,” is becoming a common call.

The episode, rightly, stirred huge controversy. Judge and Islamic writer Ahmed Abu-Maher, wrote in the weekly State-owned Rose al-Youssef magazine under the title “Yasser Burhami did not only offend Copts, but Muslims as well”. The article, which was spread on four pages, mentioned that the law of Allah called for fighting those who did not believe in Allah and the Day of Judgement, or who threatened Muslim people, or broke their promises. It also included a strong attack on the Salafi fiqh (scholarly principles) that portrays good Muslims as tyrants and executioners. Maher’s reply was studied and serious, but the big question remains unanswered: why was a reply not aired in another episode of the programme?

Bitter discrimination

Alaa’ Uraibi of the daily al-Wafd, the mouthpiece of the liberal Wafd party, deserves thanks and appreciation for his truthful interpretation of the root causes of discrimination against Copts in Egyptian universities. Uraibi offered an objective presentation of the case of Professor Essam Abdallah of the Philosophy Department at Ain Shams University, who was not promoted and was falsely accused of plagiarism in an incident that led him to demand an investigation into the matter to prove his innocence.  

Uraibi was also the first person to write about the case of Bishoi Zarei, in which the deputy head of the Ganoub al-Wadi (South of the Valley) University refused to appoint Zarei as a graduate assistant because he was Christian although he had graduated with honours and ranked among the top of his class. 

Uraibi showed courage by not giving way to pressure in order to stand up for the cause he believed in. Despite the fact that extremists called him to attack his writings in defence of Copts—as reported to Watani by a fundamentalist Muslim who asked for his name to be withheld—Uraibi was patient and insisted that Copts are the sons of the same country and deserve full equality.

Illusions of a priest?

Amid the plethora of ‘documents’ inundating the Egyptian arena and proposing sets of supra-constitutional principles for Egypt by various political movements, the daily al-Youm Al-Sabei published a recent article by Father Rafiq Greiche, spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Egypt, calling for the creation of a “faith document” or “list of spiritual principles” for the Egyptian State. If Egyptians will not accept a State without God as in the western model, and at the same time does not want a religious State like Iran or Saudi Arabia, there could be a faith document that, according to Fr Greiche, includes the following principles:

The holders of power are not the interpreters of religion, but the people.

The role of religion is to strengthen the conscience and link it into the mind. 

The rule of law is above everyone.

Egyptian public awareness of the necessity of stopping all types of discrimination should be enhanced.

Religious discourse should be reasonable and should respect the mind of the receiver.

The pulpits of mosques, churches and satellite channels should not be used to inflame sectarian conflict.

There should be a focus on the common principles in the essence of each religion.

The money from the oshour (tithes) and the zakaa should be directed to common projects that serve the poor and the marginalised. 

The al-Youm Al-Sabei article drew some strong reactions, among them from a reader named Hasnaa’ Abdel-Aziz who described it on the al-Jazeera website as ‘the illusions of an Egyptian priest’. She asked the writer to keep the document to himself and his partners in religion, since the only ‘principles’, she said, were those of the Qur’an and Sunna.

The Salafi paper

The Salafis were the first movement to form a party after the 25 January uprising, although their literature rejects democracy and the formation of parties. Just as they formed the first party after the uprising, they issued the first newspaper, al-Nour (The Light). The editor-in-chief of the 24-page daily is Gamal Abdel-Nasser. I read the first issue more than once, and found several contradictions between what the Salafis say and what they do. 

The headline was “The head of al-Nour party promises the Egyptian people it will abide by shura (consultation) and will walk along the path of democracy”, even though Sheikh Yasser Burhami declared, as previously mentioned, that democracy was apostasy and that judgement was reserved for God. This means that they are using democracy as a ‘tool to rule’. In the same issue a red headline appeared over an article by Burhami: “Egypt is rich with its human resources, and Copts are partners in the homeland”—a contradiction of Burhami’s statement on Dream TV that Copts are apostates and must pay the jizya. 

The question now is, whom do we believe? If you turn the page you see two full pages on the party conference and a further two pages on an interview with the head of the party, Emad Abdel-Ghaffour, in which he affirms that the party did not ally itself with the Military Council; that they were ready to face the Muslim Brotherhood; and that they did not receive a single pound from abroad. He added that the party welcomed Copts and women, and that the application of sharia would be a gradual process.

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