27 April 2008
Our reading of the Cairo press this month takes us to a magazine of no wide circulation but of undoubtedly considerable impact since its main distribution is free of charge to university students. This is the non-periodical al-Nour (The Light), published by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
Under the title “Loyalty and disloyalty…The rules of dealing with non-Muslims” an article in al-Nour advises that loyalty, which embodies love, approval, support, obedience, and fellowship, should be only accorded to Allah, the Prophet, and the believers. It is a sin, the article declares, to be loyal to non-believers or “apostates who do not believe in Allah and his Prophet”. This means Muslims should not love non-Muslims, approve of them or their ways, obey them, or do as they do; otherwise a Muslim’s behaviour would be tantamount to denying that Allah is the only god.
The article goes on to declare that Muslims should never befriend non-Muslims, since the Prophet Mohamed said: “Only befriend a believer”. Allowing or helping non-Muslims to build places of worship, taking part in celebrations or ‘orgies’ of non-Muslims, or wishing them well on their feast days, which are usually related to religious occasions, are among the most sinful practices of disloyalty.
If anything, the MB did not try to delude readers into thinking they believed in social peace or co-existence. The article presented a sample of vintage MB thought without the frequent embellishment applied so skilfully by the MB supreme guidance office to make their message appear tolerant. Then why do we in Egypt appear surprised at the rapidly-increasing hate and religious discrimination?
That great truimph
On a quite different note, Ibrahim Eissa wrote in the independent, Islamic-leaning daily al-Dostour (The Constitution) condemning what he called the “obsession” of Muslims with converting teenage Coptic women. Under the title “A confounded nation” Mr Eissa wrote: “It is indeed disastrous when the greatest victory Muslims in this country can achieve is to make a Christian girl become Muslim. The rejoicing which then follows makes one wonder: ‘Have we achieved a huge scientific or trade triumph over the Western world? Have we found a cure for Hepatitis C which threatens the health of a large sector of Egyptians?’
“So, what is really going on?” Eissa asks. He does not wait for a reply, but himself offers an explanation: “It is all about sectarian sedition, he writes, which rears its ugly head at any moment, in any bloody incident or calamity. In all cases it reeks of hatred and violence; it may be latent but is never absent.”
Mr Eissa’s courage in condemning sectarian strife is definitely commendable; but he stopped short of delving deeper into the irregularities and injustices which mire the issue of the girl converts. He did not tackle the girls’ illegal conversion or marriage—since no underage person is eligible to convert or marry without a guardian’s approval. Neither does he write about the illegal new ID papers handed to the girls so swiftly, nor how the truth about their situation and whereabouts are kept secret from the parents who are usually heartbroken at the daughters’ predicament. And worse, he made no hint whatsoever to whether such conversions may in some cases be forced.
Nowadays a footballer’s religious inclinations appear to claim especially high importance; Al-Ahly’s Abu-Treika was named ‘The Saint’ because of his strong religious faith. He once said it was Allah who directed the ball towards the net to score a goal. The State-owned daily Rose al-Youssef reported that, in a seminar attended by Abu-Treika, he said that the beloved Portuguese coach of al-Ahly team, Manuel José who is a devout Catholic, was a Muslim at heart because of his high morals and ethics. It only remained to invite him to embrace Islam, Abu-Treika said.
Predictably, Abu-Treika’s remarks drew fire from Christians. Only then did he retract his remarks, saying that he had been misquoted in the media. The question which begs an answer is why did Abu-Treika have to wait until the Christians criticised him to discover he had been misquoted?
The daily, leftist, independent al-Badeel (The Alternative) sounded an alarm when it printed a story by Sameh Henein and Mohamed Mandour warning of the consequences of the allocation of 1800 feddans around St Makarious Monastery—known as Abu-Maqar’s—in Wadi Natrun in the Western Desert, to an investment company. The land, which was allocated by the Public Authority for Urban and Agricultural Development, is part of a 7,250-feddan area which houses fourth-century monk cells as well as a variety of Coptic, Roman, and Pharaonic antiquities. Two Cabinet decrees were issued in 1984 and 1996 declaring the land a site of ancient monuments, meaning no development activity is allowed there. The Society of the Lovers of Egyptian Heritage has taken up the cause of and is calling for the land to be kept free of development. Haggagi Ibrahim, professor of Islamic and Coptic Antiquities at Tanta University and vice chairman of the society board, warns that agricultural activity in the region threatens to raise the underground water level and ruin the monuments. Several other papers including the weekly al-Tareeq (The Way) have picked up the thread and demand that the area be protected. St Makarious Monastery expressed its grave concern over the matter, especially that it was hoping the area may be declared a heritage site by UNESCO.