31 May 2009
Four years ago, the daily, State-owned Rose al-Youssef was the first national newspaper to dedicate a page to Coptic culture and social life—it steers clear off anything that has to do with faith or creed. It chose as the page title the phrase Qassawsa wa Ruhban (Priests and monks) , a phrase used by the Qur’an to describe Christian clerics and paint Christians as a whole in a positive light. Last month, al-Wafd , the mouth piece of the liberal Wafd party, followed suit with a page to which it gave the title of Sunday Mass , and the daily state-owned al-Gomhouriya with the page Sunday’s bells . The step in itself warrants praise, especially considering the current climate of sectarian tension prevailing in Egypt. It remains to be seen, though, whether these initiatives will help change the community’s perspective of the sectarian issue, and whether the visual media would follow in the same footsteps and accord the Copts overdue mindfulness.
Revenge upon oneself
When two bombs blew off in front of the church of the Holy Virgin in Zeitoun, Cairo, earlier this month, the daily state-owned al-Ahram came up reporting that it was due to faulty wiring in the battery of a car parked outside the church. The following day it was officially confirmed that the blast was a bombing; al-Ahram printed an update, explaining that the first news item had followed the initial police report. A few days later the daily independent al-Masry al-Youm printed a headline carrying the implication that the bombing was the doing of some extremist Christian group. A blunt accusation, with neither source nor evidence cited, as if the Copts, after being subjected to decades of persecution, decided to additionally punish themselves. Some papers tried to place this bizarre allegation at the doorstep of the Coptic fury which followed the State decision to cull the pigs on the pretext of protecting the country from swine flu, depriving thousands of Coptic breeders of their livelihood. As to the allegation, does it make any sense that Copts revenge the injustice that befell them by taking it out against themselves?
It appears that the easy [official] way out in case of crimes against Christians would be to attribute the crime to some mentally disturbed individual, to some faulty wiring, or to extremist Christians. As for catching the real culprits, help us God!
Is Egypt an Islamic state? The answer is yes, according to many papers, after Obama chose to deliver his speech to the Muslim world from Egypt. The daily state-owned Rose al-Youssef , printed a piece by the great theatrical writer Lenin al-Ramly under the title ‘Pope Obama Hussein’ where he criticised the claim that Egypt is an Islamic State, pointing out that this asserted the concept of the religious state. He described the public demand that Obama should deliver his speech from the pulpit of al-Azhar mosque, the official religious institution in Egypt, as very serious since, according to Ramly, it indicates that the State dons the cloak of secularism when necessary and that of religion when convenient. He suggested sarcastically that the American President might as well deliver his speech from the headquarters of the Muslim brotherhood (MB) in Egypt, considering that they claim to be the only group that can speak or act on behalf of all Muslims. Ramly’s was the lone voice that spoke against the vociferous applause that celebrated Egypt as an Islamic country, as though it included no non-Muslims.
Pope on TV
Al-Beit-Beitak , the widely viewed daily talk show on Egyptian TV’s Channel II, hosted Pope Shenouda III earlier this month, where he talked openly with the anchor, Mahmoud Saad. Saad asked the Pope about a possible reason for the sectarian tension that has marred Muslim-Coptic relations in the three last decades. Pope Shenouda expressed a belief that the change in the Egyptians’ usually gentle manner in dealing with members of other religions goes back to ever-increasing religious extremism. This in turn goes back to the 1970s when the late President Sadat made a deal with the then detained members of the MB to help his regime counter the influence of the Nasserists and leftists on the political scene.
Pope Shenouda said that discrimination against Copts prevails in many venues of public life; he cited the notorious discrimination against Christian university students in oral exams and against Christian job seekers. A person is today defined through his or her religion with all the implications this carries, he said, recalling with nostalgia a time when a Copt would win the elections in a constituency of Muslim majority and vice versa.
Saad asked Pope Shenouda about his ‘no comment’ stance on some issues, to which the Pope replied, “Sometimes silence is the best option. God is able, He listens to our silence”.
Pope Shenouda commented on the State’s recent decision to cull the pigs, as being an unnecessary move that destroyed the livelihood of many people, especially that no cases of H1N1 have been detected in Egypt and that even the countries in which the virus appeared did not resort to such a measure.
Pope Shenouda refused to comment on those satellite channels that attack Islam, asking Saad to leave the comment on such issues to specialists. But when Saad insisted on a comment from the Pope the latter swiftly replied, “Aren’t there satellite channels that attack Christianity? Leave me out of this.”