Fanning the flames of sectarianism

15-12-2011 09:06 AM

Robeir al-Faris

WATANI International
3 October 2010

Our reading of the Cairo papers this month takes us to an update of a story printed in last month’s Copts in the Egyptian media. The story concerns the shipment imported by the trader Emad Bastouros, who happens to be the son of Father Bastouros of Port-Said, which was held by the authorities at Port Said port. Several papers claimed Mr Bastouros had imported arms and missiles from Israel, but it transpired, according to the State-owned al-Akhbar, that the shipment Mr Bastouros had imported included no ‘missiles’, but comprised children’s firework toys imported from China.

Damage done
Despite the facts, Islamic scholar Mohamed Selim al-Awa said in the talk show Bila Hoadood (Without Limits) broadcast by al-Jezira, that the shipment imported by the priest’s son included arms, and that churches in Egypt are places for stocking up on weapons and training Coptic youth on warfare.
Awa’s propagation of false information inflamed Coptic anger. Naguib Gabrail who heads the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, submitted an official claim to the prosecutor-general against Awa and the al-Jezira talk show host Ahmed Mansour, accusing them of fanning the flames of sectarian strife, as reported by al-Wafd daily.
The Cairo daily, independent al-Shorouq printed an interview with Awa in which he said that he did not mean all churches stockpiled arms but only some of them, and that he meant a ‘specific incident’. “I am ready to apologise if the story is untrue”, he said.
Awa’s allegations were widely criticised as false and irresponsible, but it appears the damage has already been done. Several mosque imams inside and outside Cairo have taken his lead and are spreading word that the Church is a ‘State inside a State’ and is preparing to wage war on Egypt’s Muslims by stockpiling arms and training militias of Coptic youth. No matter how ridiculous this sounds to reasonable persons, it falls on ready ears among the uneducated who are poorly informed on Christianity and Christians. The matter is too serious to brush off as ‘nonsense’. Persuading a sector of the community that another sector is preparing to wage war on them is no laughing matter.

Tattoo of the cross
the daily State-owned paper Rose al-Youssef reported that Anba Bishoi, secretary-general of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Church and archbishop of Dumyat, had remarked that the widely-spread tradition of tattooing a cross on the cross on the right hand of Copts was a mere custom that had nothing to do with the Christian faith.  The archbishop said the tattooing process carried serious health hazards, including infection with hepatitis C, and called upon Copts to give up the custom.
The archbishop caused a furor when, in an interview with the daily independent al-Masry al-Youm he said Copts were the original people of Egypt and Muslims were their “guests” for 14 centuries. This had the Cairo press up in arms, and it did not help that, a few days later, word leaked out that he was questioning the veracity of certain Qur’anic verses which brand Copts as apostates. Even though this was done in a closed conference on theological studies, Muslims saw the matter as unforgivable.
The Pope later said that matters of faith were a red line that should not be crossed, but agreed with Anba Bishoi that his words on Muslims could have been taken out of context. 

The Pope speaks
Commenting on the public uproar over the disappearance of Kamilia Shehata, the wife of Father Taddawus Samaan of Deir-Mawwas in Minya, Upper Egypt, Pope Shenouda III—in an interview with Gaber al-Qarmouti on ON-TV—confirmed Shehata was Christian and had never converted to Islam. The young woman had left her home last July following disputes with her husband, after which she was reported missing. A rumour circulated in Deir Mawwas that she had eloped with a Muslim friend, converted and married him. Copts, fearing she may be pressured into just that, demonstrated calling for the security apparatus to find her. She was found and handed to her family, and she is now, according to Pope Shenouda, in a ‘safe place’ where she would not be harassed. The Pope said that a domestic problem had been blown out of all proportion, and that no one had the right to interfere.
“How is it that one woman could cause a nationwide dispute?” he asked. “If a person believes in a certain religion, it neither adds nor subtracts anything from any religion. But the matter mushroomed out of all reasonable proportion. The Church took no issue with the recent conversion of a young woman from the town of Qantara Sharq, or another from the village of Kafr Saqr.”
In the same show, His Holiness affirmed that the Coptic Orthodox Church’s decision to withdraw from the Middle East Council of Churches was final and non-negotiable. The decision was taken because a leader of one of the member Churches had “insulted” the Coptic Church, the Pope said.



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