What he said and what was said about him
Saturday 2 May marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Antoun Sidhom, the founder and godfather of Watani. The date 3 March 2015 was his 100th birthday. Even though Sidhom’s birth and death anniversaries have been commemorated every year, 2015 is a milestone year that holds a special place in our hearts.
It is not my intention to write about Sidhom or elaborate on his mission, virtues and patriotism. I will instead dedicate this editorial space, which for years hosted his own editorials, to reminisce on some of Sidhom’s remarkable quotes and some moving words that were written about him after his death.
Quotes from Antoun Sidhom:
• A good citizen’s heart is in his nation. He senses all that takes place there, weighs it well and forms an opinion about it. If needs be, he explores how to change it. He actively expresseses this through various means of expression and change.
• Taxes never ruined anyone’s fortune. You must pay your due taxes in order for your wealth, family and children to be blessed.
• [About his life mission in defending Copts, frequently confused with defending Christianity:] I defend Christ? Christ is strong enough to defend Himself and to defend me. I only testify to Christ with love.
• [To me:] Any wealth I leave behind after I die is to be equally divided between you and your sisters. We make no difference between men and women.
• Muslims in Egypt are, for us, family. No matter how vicious the attacks on Copts by extremists, fanatics and terrorists, we must not confuse Muslims with those who merely claim to be Muslim.
• We Egyptians have offered humanity a civilization of light. We gave mankind richness, beauty, truth and virtues that were crowned by our national unity. We must today continue giving, preserve our values and endeavour to eradicate the reckless, extremist movements that attempt to undermine our national ideals and unity. National unity is our greatest pride, a symbol of our struggles throughout history, and the nucleus around which our future and renaissance grow.
• Egypt’s Copts must exercise calm, wisdom and peace. The love that Muslims feel towards their fellow Copts is unquestionable. They are our flesh and blood, and the bonds which tie us are genuine, strong, and unwavering. As for the stray religious movements that foster sedition, may God guide them to the right way. Let us pray to the God of peace to protect us all against evil and bestow upon us His peace and love.
• What can we expect of youth worked up against Christians and Christianity since their early years through school textbooks and teachers, mosque imams, the media and fanatic literature, all of which deride Christianity? These young people have consistently been spurred to hate and disdain Christianity and to carry animosity towards Christians. The natural outcome is the outbursts of hate that erupt against Copts every so often.
• The aberrant treatment currently meted to Copts makes sure they are excluded from public life and from key positions in government posts, public sector and banks. May the Lord forgive those in authority who adopt such detrimental policies.
• I have repeatedly written about the 1856 Hamayouni Edict and the notorious Ten Conditions enacted by the 1934 Deputy Interior Minister Ezaby Pasha, which lie at the basis of the current harsh legislation for church building in Egypt. Does it make sense that such legislation should govern church building in the 20th century? And under a constitution that stipulates freedom of belief? Isn’t it time to cancel the outdated legislation and issue a fair, equitable, confusion-free law for building places of worship in Egypt?
Antoun Sidhom left our world before his dream for this nation could come true. He was not there when the intellectual Sayed al-Qimany said, back in 2006, in a Watani forum session: “My fear is that it may have to be Egypt’s destiny to fall under the hand of political Islam in order to know it for what it really is,” and rise to prise herself out of its clutches. Egypt did fall into the hands of the Muslim Brothers in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, and freed herself of them in July 2013.
When Antoun Sidhom died, Mother Irene, former Mother Superior of Abu-Sefein Convent who died in 2006, said of him: “Like a blossoming olive tree, full of good fruits. This is how our dear departed shone.” Another prominent Church figure, Father Matta al-Miskeen of St Macarius monastery, who also died in 2006, said: “A Church pillar has fallen; a star has risen and shines in the sky.”
“My heart goes out to you [meaning the Copts in general and the Sidhoms in specific],” writer and politician Rifaat al-Said said, “and to all Egypt who has lost one of her most courageous sons, one who dearly loved her.”
Basma William, Watani’s correspondent in Assiut, wrote: “His words will always glow, their truth penetrating all times and on to eternity.”
Antoun Wissa Bibawy from Gerga in Upper Egypt: “His heart embraced everyone, and he always sought the best for all. His soul was a lush tree rooted in rich land, with branches that reached up to the sky. It bore abundant fruit and spread its soothing shade over everyone near and far.”
3 May 2015