4 October 2009
Our media round up this month takes us to the talk show Nahnu huna (We’re here) aired by OTV satellite channel owned by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris and hosted by Ibrahim Eissa who is editor-in-chief of the Cairo daily, independent al-Dostour.
Nahnu huna makes it its business to dabble into controversial social issues. It recently tackled the disturbance and noise pollution caused by the rampant practice of strapping external microphones to all mosques to air the call to prayer five times a day, beginning before dawn, as well as countless prayers or sermons. These microphones usually blare the prayers to the entire neighbourhood in a noise level that is at best uncomfortable and at worst positively jarring. Many complain about the practice, but Islamists have been adamant in rejecting any reduction in the volume of the microphones. In his talk show Eissa satirised that the microphone appeared to be the Western, apostate product most endorsed by Muslim extremists since it literally raises the voice of Islam high. He overtly pointed out that some mosque imams intentionally use the microphone to spite the Copts.
On the other hand Eissa was the guest of a special OTV talk show Sawiris yuhawir (Sawiris interviews) presented by no less than Naguib Sawiris himself. Eissa denounced what he saw as the passivity of the Copts, citing as an example the 2006 incident in Alexandria when a Muslim young man entered a church and stabbed one of the congregation to death. Eissa expressed surprise that the congregation had not been able to overpower the attacker. It must be noted, however, that the attack had taken place before the service had started, meaning that there were very few individuals in the church and, by the time they realised what was going on the stabber had run away.
Freedom of belief, for or against
Conversion in Egypt is the title of a feature recently printed in the weekly, State owned Rose al-Youssef. The feature began with the question of what would happen if we open the door to freedom of belief? Several intellectuals and clerics were asked to give their opinion on the issue. While philosophy professor Murad Wahba said the Constitution ought to be impartial where religion is concerned and that the believer should be under pressure from neither the religious nor the political authority, member of the Islamic Research Centre Abdel-Moeti Bayoumi warned of the ‘chaos’ that could result through freedom of belief. Bayoumi assured that Islam calls for freedom and peace, but that any freedom which threatens social peace is “no freedom”.
On his part Rev Ekram Lamie posed the question: Is Egypt the right place to proclaim freedom of belief? To which he answered: “Yes, we were never ruled by religion. Communist dogma, Church sovereignty, the Ottoman Empire, and all suchlike went down centuries ago. When there is real freedom of belief, persons can embrace whichever religion they choose without being threatened with hell or promised paradise. Religious institutions, which are ordered around by the State, will cease to have predominant authority. The State’s role will be to persuade the public to endorse its policies without resorting to the religious backing which usually compels the public to comply without discussion.”
Mustafa al-Fiqi, head of the foreign relations committee of the Egyptian Parliament opined that he was with absolute freedom of belief but thought it was too early for Egypt to adopt the concept. Misconceptions, Dr Fiqi said, may very well lead to sectarian problems. Professor of planning and management Rasmy Abdel-Malek shared the same view as Fiqi, adding that social and cultural factors in Egypt might impede the freedom of choosing one’s faith.
The Islamic hadith “Whoever wishes may believe and whoever wishes may disbelieve”, was quoted by writer Ismail Hosny to confirm freedom of belief. “Only primitive nations,” Mr Hosny said, “used to impose a certain faith on its people better to control them”.
Copt for President
Lawyer Mamdouh Ramzy, deputy head of al-Dostouri al-Hurr political party surprised everyone by proclaiming his intention to run for president in the next presidential elections. Most Egyptians dealt with the announcement as a joke and with Ramzy as a fame seeker. Nevertheless the daily, independent al-Dostour printed an interview on a full page with Ramzy where he confirmed his intention to run for president, citing Senegal as an example of a country mainly inhabited by Muslims but ruled by a Christian leader. He added that some prominent members of the National Democratic Party even blessed his decision to run for presidency.