7 March 2010
Our reading of the Cairo papers this week takes us to issue 331 of the Islamic monthly al-Mukhtar al-Islami (Islamic Selections) which was out on the first of Rabie al-Awwal (15 February). A tirade of scorn, disdain and unfounded allegations expressed in language which easily qualifies for libel against Copts, greets the reader. The lion’s share of the derision came in a lengthy 20-page article by Mohamed Abbas under the misleading title of ‘Yes, we are unjust to Copts’.
Unjust to Copts
To begin with, let us remind the reader that Dr Abbas’s campaign against the Syrian writer Haidar Haidar’s novel A Banquet for Seaweeds in 2000 led to violent demonstrations by the students of al-Azhar Islamic University in Cairo, which in turn led to banning the novel. Dr Abbas had branded the novel as an affront to Islam.
In his article in al-Mukhtar al-Islami Dr Abbas writes: “We were unjust to Copts when we did not rebut them from their injustice and when we did not protect them from the detrimental peer pressure of the devils [the Copts living outside Egypt]. Dr Abbas describes Egyptian American Copts as ‘filthy rot’ and ‘CIA agents. “Their role,” he writes, “is to execute a CIA plan to foment sedition by insinuating to the Copts at home that they are persecuted.” As though Copts at home have no problems whatsoever on that head and need the insinuation.
Dr Abbas accuses Pope Shenouda III of turning against Egypt by claiming that Copts have grievances, and executing foreign plans against Egypt by heading the World Council of Churches which, according to Dr Abbas is in close collaboration with the CIA.
Dr Abbas then goes on to claim that the ratio of churches in Egypt to the number of Christians is higher than that of mosques to the number of Muslims. He describes churches as “fortresses of deceit” from which expatriate Copts can fulfil their aim of changing the face of Egypt and kicking Muslims out. “At least one billion Egyptian Pounds are pumped into Egypt annually for the express purpose of building churches and converting Muslims to Christianity,” he writes. In order for Christians to attack Muslims and maintain a state of perpetual hostility against them, he writes, there is a plan to plant a church inside every village and to build a church in front of every mosque. If this scheme is broken off, he claims, the Copts would rush to seek the help of the United Nations and the international community.
“Today’s churches are tomorrow’s fortresses and arms stores”, he writes. He insists it is not the Muslim jamaat who form militias, it is the Copts. Dr Abbas explicitly claims it is the Muslims who are persecuted in Egypt, not the Copts.
The hostile note is unmistakable. A narrow-minded reader who has not the sense to realise that all these unsubstantiated allegations are utterly false—and such readers are not scarce—will surely hate the Copts. Then we ask where the hatred comes from?
The same issue of al-Mukhtar al-Islami printed an article by Hilmy al-Qaoud on “Management failure and crisis creation”. The writer describes Pope Shenouda as the “leader of sectarian rebellion” and as “a partner to the criminal traitor” [the televangelist Fr Zakariya Boutros who constantly attacks Islam, and who the pope repeatedly said no longer belongs to the Coptic Church]. Qaoud never mentioned the countless Muslim writers and tele-preachers who have been making it their business to bitterly attack Christianity over some three decades now.
Al-Mukhtar al-Islami carries the slogan “The magazine for all Muslims” and is published by al-Mukhtar al-Islami Society, which is registered with the Ministry of Social Solidarity. According to Naguib Gabrail who heads the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, the policy of the magazine emanates from the objectives of the society, which are usually clearly stated in its licence. But this, he adds, does not justify any violations or libel on behalf of the magazine. The rhetoric employed in the two articles in question, he says, reflects vintage contempt and therefore the Ministry of Social Solidarity is entitled to revoke the magazine’s licence.
Following the Nag Hammadi Christmas Eve crime against Copts, the daily al-Wafd, the mouthpiece of the liberal Wafd Party, printed a series of interviews, digging into the roots of sectarian strife in Egypt. In an interview with Alieddin Hilal, former minister of youth and current culture officer at the National Democratic Party (NDP), Dr Hilal confirms that the main reason behind the strife is the school curriculum. Entire pages are taught to students on the thoughts of ultraconservative Islamist thinker Sayed Qutb, who considers the community, the ruler, and many Muslims—let alone Christians—non believers. We congratulate Dr Hilal on his honesty and courage. But if the ruling party, the NDP, can diagnose the ailment then why does it not attempt to eradicate it? Or are Islamic extremists more powerful than the State?
Copts in public life
The weekly State-owned Rose al-Youssef recently published a feature on “Copts: are they left out or do they leave themselves out?” The feature reported on the presence of Copts in public life—in art, culture and sports. The answers to the question in the heading varied. Fr Abdel-Messih Basseet claimed the 1952 Revolution marginalised Copts in public life, and this marginalisation augmented during the years of President Sadat with the rise of political Islam, and spilled over into the present time. Fr Nasrallah Zakariya of the media bureau of the Evangelical Church said that the escalating fundamentalist control on Egyptian public life has driven Copts to search for activities outside that sphere. But according to Fr Martirus Fouquet, who is responsible for theatre in Shubral-Kheima bishopric, the Church does a great effort to persuade members of the congregation to actively participate in public life. The theatre groups of churches in Shubral-Kheima participate in shows in cultural clubs and at the Hanager national theatre.
In general, the Coptic writers, actors and actresses, musicians, and painters interviewed said they face no discrimination on account of their religion. The file reached the conclusion that there is no extremism within the artistic and cultural fields which are normally dominated by liberals, but exists in more mainstream public fields such as sports, which explains the absence of Copts from popular games such as football.