Our reading of the Cairo press this month begins on a hopeful note. The independent weekly al-Tareeq (The Way) printed an article under the title “Together before God”, which was also the name of a new website established by a group of Egyptian bloggers who described themselves as Christians and Muslims who decided to consecrate a day of fasting so that God would help Egypt put an end to sectarian struggle. The website began operation with a 73-question poll for Muslims and a 53-question one for Christians, intended to reveal how Muslims and Copts see one another. Muslims were asked about their relationship with Christians, their source of information about Christianity, and to what extent they believe rumours about Copts such as: ‘priests wear black to mourn the entry of Islam into Egypt’ and ‘priests practice magic to induce an end to Islam’. Christians were asked if they believed violence was inherent to Islam, and if Saudi Arabia financed extremist Islamic groups. We wish the new site all the best.
In the last issue of Al-Manar al-Gadeed (The New Beacon), a quasi-academic quarterly published by Dar al-Manar for Islamic Studies, Zienab Abdel-Aziz who is a professor of civilisation and currently resides in France, wrote an article under the title “Dialogue of religions…the road to Christianisation”. The article is rife with errors and contradictions, and warns against the Vatican’s call for a dialogue between religions provided matters of faith are excluded, lest the dialogue reaches a dead end. Dr Abdel-Aziz harshly attacked Christianity, claiming that the Vatican’s call was an attempt to convert Muslims. Yet she alleges the Christian faith is unreasonable and fragile, and the Pope’s wish to exclude it from any discussion is to protect it from defeat. Christian clergy, she claimed, can never provide convincing answers to questions on the Holy Trinity, Jesus as God, or His crucifixion. If so, why the warning against dialogue as an attempt to convert Muslims? Surely Dr Abdel-Aziz must have argued to the contrary; it would be the Christians who would convert!
In a caustic article published by the independent daily newspaper al-Masry al-Youm (The Egyptian Today), Muhammad Salamawy wrote criticising the recent court ruling that Christians who had once converted to Islam then reverted to their original Christianity should be labelled as “Christian, formerly Muslim” in their ID documents. Mr Salamawy wrote that, following this line of logic which supposes that a person’s religious history should be cited, all Muslims in Egypt should have “Muslims, formerly Christian” cited in their IDs. This should obviously apply to al-Azhar Grand Imam, the Mufti of Egypt, Islamists, and fully veiled ‘women’, he wrote, “for who can tell what is underneath that black tent, a man or a woman”. After all, Mr Salamawy pointed out, all Egyptians were Christian before Islam was introduced to Egypt.
Against the Constitution
The recent court ruling ordering Pope Shenouda III to grant remarriage permits to persons who had obtained divorce from the court but not from the Church, and which the Pope rejected saying nothing on earth can make the Church go against the teachings of the Bible, brought on wide media criticism against the Pope for “going against the law and the Constitution”. Some particularly scathing criticism came from Max Michel, a former deacon who was in 1973 dismissed from service in the Coptic Orthodox Church, and was two years ago ordained archbishop of the St Athanasius Orthodox Eparchy of Egypt and the Middle East by the American Diaspora in America of True Orthodox Christians, calling himself Maximos I. Last December a Cairo court rejected the Interior Ministry’s approval of his St Athanasius Church and ruled that he had no right to hold religious services or wear clerical vestments. Khaled Salah of al-Masry al-Youm wrote commenting that, instead of submitting any serious objections to Pope Shenouda’s argument that the Bible says that divorce can only be for the sake of adultery, Michel was critical because his raison d’être was to go against the Pope. “He merely seeks fame and gives immaterial statements,” Salah wrote of Michel.
Laugh till you cry
In an attempt to prove that Copts in Egypt are subjected to no persecution, al-Tareeq printed a story under the title “Al-Ahram Obituaries prove that Copts are not persecuted. The obituary page of Al-Ahram, the State-owned Cairo topmost daily, is the Egyptian social forum where news of recent deaths are circulated but, because of the exorbitant price the paper charges, only the well-to-do can afford to print an obituary there. Al-Tareeq claimed to have scrutinised the obituary page during the month of March, and reached the conclusion that Copts are doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen, and “the examples successful Copts are unending,” the paper wrote. What more is needed to prove they are not persecuted, it asked. If it were not so unreasonable, it would be actually laughable. The writer, whose name was not printed, appears to have forgotten that many Copts have gone into private business because they were deprived of their legitimate opportunities in State institutions. The fact that they have succeeded is no proof against persecution since Copts are still widely kept out of State posts, especially top ones. That many Copts succeed against all odds does not preclude that many others never make it because they are hindered in their careers by blind fanaticism. As to persecution, what does the writer have to say about the repeated bloody attacks against Copts and their churches and property, the discrimination against them in building and repairing churches, the caustic criticism and insults constantly addressed at them and their religion in the media and on the streets, or the curricula which ignore or underestimate their history and contribution to Egyptian society? I never thought the obituary page of al-Ahram could make me laugh, that is until I cry.