Our reading of the Cairo press this month begins with the daily State-owned Rose al-Youssef in which the reporter Nadia Hussein reported a bitter experience a personal friend of hers underwent. The friend’s old father was taken ill on Friday and had to be rushed to hospital in a critical condition. Once at the hospital, which is incidentally one of the most reputable private hospitals in Cairo, the patient was denied access to the building and elevators because the porch and entrance were entirely blocked, serving as a prayer court. The patient and his family had to wait until prayers were over, for them to check in.
The attitude of Friday prayers, or any prayers at all, taking precedence over anything in the world no matter how urgent, has become all-too-common and, sadly, criticising it has become taboo. Hussein echoes her friend’s bitterness when she remarks: “If we as Muslims find such behaviour unacceptable, how can we expect non-Muslims to feel?”
The Coptic expatriate Nagy Youssef is editor-in-chief of the unofficial monthly Evangelical paper al-Tareeq wal-Haqq (The Way and the Truth). In his usual sceptical style he wrote an editorial under the title “The Christian Brotherhood” in which he ridiculed the Copts’ isolationism and apathy. He called for an interpretation of the Bible to allow them to form a group along the same line as the Muslim Brotherhood—provided the Christians honour the teachings of Christ. The scepticism is flagrant, since the concept is definitely against such teachings. Yet several Cairo papers—al-Midan, Nahdet Misr, al-Naba’ and others—rose up in arms against Youssef alleging he was threatening national security. Is this a symptom of the sectarian inflammation enveloping our community, or gross misunderstanding?
The Islamist thinker Zaghloul al-Naggar’s articles which were two months ago printed in the independent weekly Sawt al-Umma, in which Naggar accused two Coptic priests—Father Morqos Aziz and Father Makari Yunan—of baptising converts at a secret villa on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road, are obviously gaining popularity. They have been reprinted in two papers. One was the paper of the Sufi community in Egypt al-Tassawuf al-Islami which, in addition, warned Muslims against schools and hospitals run by Christian associations—many of which have been operating in Egypt for little less than a century and have served countless numbers of non-Christian Egyptians. The other paper was al-Naba’ which is notorious for its anti-Coptic attitude, and which printed a story on an alleged Coptic priest who converted to Islam and set up a website to warn would-be Christian converts of the misquotation of the Bible. So much for absurd religious rivalry.
The young lawyer Khaled Qutb was unsuccessful in securing a job with the State Courts Authority, so he went to the Supreme Administrative Court claiming he was deprived of the opportunity of a job because Copts were being appointed to judicial authorities which, he alleged, is unconstitutional. The daily Rose al-Youssef, which printed the incident, wrote that a number of Coptic lawyers filed a report against Qutb to the prosecutor-general alleging he was perpetrating sectarian tension.
Beauty centre for nuns
Last December Watani International printed the story of the glamorous-film-star-turned-veiled-Islamist Hanan Turk who opened a beauty centre which doubles as an all-female coffee shop in Heliopolis, Cairo, and from which Christians and unveiled women are banned. Following the printing of the story in Watani Turk wrote to the State-owned weekly Akhbar al-Hawadeth claiming she welcomed nuns—whose heads are normally covered—into her shop, adding that a number of them did visit the place. This brought a quick denial from Anba Morqos, Coptic Orthodox bishop of Shubral-Kheima, and Father Rafiq Greiche of the Catholic Church, who had to explain to the majority of Egyptians who know very little about nuns that nuns had no business whatsoever with beauty centres.