Egypt in Crisis.

 Amazing protest picture, 2 Feb 2011, Heliopolis

As Egypt broils with turmoil, we in Australia watch and wait and pray. Here are a couple of interesting items that have come my way:

This picture warms my heart! It was apparently taken on February 2 in Heliopolis, Cairo. Two Coptic priests are seen marching with the protestors for change in Egypt, and one of them (I think he may be Fr Dawoud Lamei?) is arm in arm with what looks like a Muslim sheikh. Isn’t that the true spirit of Christianity – to stand up for truth and to love all people? If only this spirit would spread through the whole country! It is early days yet, but one cannot help wondering whether there will be a voice for the Copts in the new Egypt.

A gentleman in Cairo is sharing his journal of events he is experiencing in the comments section of this interesting article. It provides a snapshot of how the Egyptian on the street sees these historic events. Very interesting indeed.

We pray for a quick and safe resolution that results in a better, freer and more equitable Egypt.

Fr Ant

PS Another ray of light amidst the darkness – Christians showing real love towards Muslims. An article in the Daily Mail.

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7 Replies to “Egypt in Crisis.”

  1. Firstly, this picture disturbs me. What are clerymen doing in the thick of the protests? As the face of the Church, they should not be mingling in politics. Whether Coptic lay people participate or not is different, because they are doing so as Egyptians.

    And secondly, I think we as Copts need to consider others outside our own niche, in the imminent ‘new Egypt’, because I don’t think we are doing so. Yes, I hope for equality and peaceful living for our Coptic brothers in the country, but what the last few days has shown me is that Egypt is not just us. We tend to focus on ourselves and make demands of equality for ourselves, particularly because the recent events of Alexandria and Naj Hammadi have caused us as Copts to shelter into our own community and we’ve developed an ‘us and them’ attitude.
    But the last few days have opened my mind, Egypt is not just Copts, there are others, also Egyptian who have clearly suffered under and had enough of the Mubarak regime.

    But we should be careful what we wish for in the Egypt that will emerge post this uprising. Democracy will never work anywhere in the Middle East. We as a people crave and need a structured heirarchy. We live it in our religions, our social structures and even our family lives, so we need it in our governments (I’m trying to look at this as one who lives in the country, without an Australian, or Western bias). We need a monarchal structure, a king, a ‘rayess’, a real leader. If in Egypt, or anywhere else in the Middle East for that matter, the president changed every three years, the people would somewhat lose their identity, they’d have no ‘real’ leader, they’d feel lost and stale.

    Secularism also will not work because Middle Easterners identify with their religions, whether that be Muslim, Christian or Jew. They live it, it runs their everyday lives, and so will no doubt infiltrate into their politics.
    I personally don’t want to see a secular Egypt, because a secular Egypt will be a stale Egypt, a culturally dead Egypt, a ‘western’ Egypt. All I hope for in the new Egypt is that it be tolerant, and fair. That it return to its glory days, before the Nasser revolution.

    But hey, that’s just my opinion…

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  2. @Fr., this is indeed Fr. Dawoud Lamei, but these are the pro-Mubarak demos (the sign Fr. Dawoud is carrying says: who loves Egypt, does not corrupt Egypt). I am anti-Mubarak, and I respect and love Fr. Dawoud so much, and this picture does not touch that love nor respect.

    @Nathan: 3 points:
    1) the issues you are concerned about are very valid, I agree with you that we should take heed to them, but I disagree that to not do anything is the solution.
    2) Priests and clergy are also Egyptians, and they have the right to have their personal stand. Especially priests, who live in the world. However, they should be clear that this is their personal stand. So, I disagree, and offended, when H.H. Anba Shenouda states a stand for the church. A church is a spiritual enterprise, has nothing to do with politics, as you said.
    2) Regarding secular Egypt: “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21)
    Let religion identify us, that is good, but not through law, or regime, but through our personal actions. In fact, this will help to evangelize the word of God through our deeds. When no regime promotes one religion over the other, then if a religion of someone is reflected in his work, political activities, etc, that would be a true reflection, as opposed to the many superficial “reflections”. Secularism has its disadvantages of course, but in my humble opinion as Egyptian who grow up in Egypt and is studying in US, I believe that secularism is the BEST bet for Egypt.

    God bless Egypt.

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  3. Shenoda, it is true that the clergymen are also Egyptian, and they are entitled to their own political views, but they are first and foremost representatives of their Church and as such should not have any part in these political rallies and protests, unless they do so plain clothed. Because by seeing a priest in the crowd one will automatically assume that they are there on behalf of their Church. They can, and I’d have no problem with them advising their people on a stand that will both benefit the country and the Church, but to participate themselves is wrong because the Church does not mingle in politics, and they ‘are’ the Church.

    I disagree that secularism is the best way forward for Egypt. A secular Egypt will have no soul, and I think the Copts in Egypt themselves will be disheartened by that.

    Democracy and secularism is not the answer. Democracy is the rule of the majority, which we are not. So it will be of little benefit unless the mindset of the majority towards us changes, and that is unlikely to happen. Secularism is more than freedom of religion, it’s loss of identity, and that will have a detrimental effect in the Egyptian masses, which will no doubt have a flow on effect on the Coptic population. As Arabs (which we practically are), our identity; be it religious identity, ethnic identity, or even family and regional identity is of utmost importance. It is tantamount to the way we act, the customs we uphold and even the accent by which we speak, so to take that away from the people will be devastating. You only have to look at Turkey to see how hard a secular Middle Eastern state is to create, I don’t want to see an Egypt where it is illegal for women to wear the Islamic headscarf in public, because that is not freedom of religious expression, it’s intolerance shrouded under the words ‘secular state’.

    At the risk of my being unpopular, we cannot escape the fact that the majority of Egyptians identify with a faith that is different to ours, so Egypt as a country can only survive if the needs and voices of the majority are met. Religious identity is what makes us who we are, whether we are Christian, Muslim or otherwise. It’s what makes us different from those who observes religion in the west where religion is more observed as a side practice. I’d have no problem in a Muslim Egypt, if that Egypt was an equitable one. That is the best bet for Egypt, that it listen to the majority and be fair in it’s dealings with the minority. But as the minority, we cannot or should not expect our voices to be heard to fruition more than 10-15% of the time because we are only 10-15% of the population. All we should expect is equal opportunity in our everyday lives, equal opportunity to run for public office or to win jobs, but we have to remember without grumbling that for every one of us there are 10-15 of them.

    So the best bet for the new Egypt is that it be a fair one, but to do that you need to change the peoples’ attitudes before you change their government. In a time like this we need to do what’s best for Egypt, I am neither pro nor anti-Mubarak in that regard. If he is able to form a government of no corruption that listens to all it’s people, then I’d see no reason for him to have to go.

    “Democracy; while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide”
    – John Adams, American President 1797 to 1801

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  4. Nathan, with all love and respect, I disagree with you. Indeed in every aspect but for one: we both hope the best for Egypt.

    I will try to be brief and focus on the most important 3 points in your argument.

    1st, we Egyptians, regardless of religion, are NOT, never was and shall never be, Arabs. Egyptians are Hamites (like all Africans), while Arabs are Semites. Our spoken dialect is mostly Coptic, in grammar and vocabulary (tarabeza, lamba, dah, fota, saya2, sarra7, metwa3’wesh, etfarhadt, etc). Our mind-set is different (more static and peaceful). Our cultural heritage is different. Our history is separate. Remember, Egypt was called Egypt until 1959, when we had union with Syria, after which on 1961 the word Arabic got stuck to the name of Egypt. So, our identity is Egyptian, descendants of Pharaohs (regardless of religious beliefs).

    2nd, democracy is NOT the rule of majority, it is the rule of people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy). The majority does not mean a sect, Muslims, in specific, rather the view of the majority. As you see, we both are Copts and we disagree. Muslims disagree too.

    3rd, secularism is NOT a loss of identity, however it is exactly what you asked for. That is equity between people based on their qualifications, regardless of their religious, sexual, or racial orientation. So, if Nathan is the best person to lead the country, the people should be able to chose/elect him, even though he is Coptic. There is no loss of identity in that.

    have a blessed weak.

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  5. Hmmm…

    Yes, technically we are not Arabs, but it is naive to think that we do not identify with and live the culture, and are as such are alien to what an Arab is. Yes, we do have our own Coptic culture, Coptic habits and customs, but that doesn’t make us any less Arab than our non-Coptic brothers in Egypt. It is that attitude, on both sides, that has fueled the segregation. It’s the same as saying that I am not Australian just because I eat molokhia, even though I was born in the country, I speak it’s language and follow it’s customs. Eating molokhia doesn’t make me any less Australian than being a Copt makes me any less Arab. Thats what I think anyway, and that’s the attitude we need going forward, if Egypt is to become a great country that stands out in the Middle East above the rest. But this is a whole other argument on it’s own, I think we’re slightly going off on a tangent here.

    In theory, democracy is the rule of the people, by the people, for the people…or however that quote goes. But in reality democracy is the rule of those who make their voice heard; so technically, the majority. Let’s imagine for a minute that we are living in a democratic Egypt and they are holding elections. On one side there is a Coptic man and on the other a non-Coptic man running for the same office. In their election campaigns they both make no reference and completely disregard this fact. But who do you think is going to get the majority of the votes regardless of policies and election promises? The non-Copt of course. That is why secularism will never work because no matter what, a Copt will always vote for a Copt and a non-Copt will always vote or a non-Copt, because they each want someone in office they can identify with, regardless of their political stand. So the voice which we wish to have, we will never get. That is where the change in attitude comes in. We need to work on changing peoples attitudes before we ever consider overturning the government.

    And that is what I meant by saying that secularism is a loss of identity. Middle Eastern culture is such that our identity is tied to everything we do, that is particularly true of Egyptians and even truer of the Copts. So it will be a culture-shock to impose a system of government by which that identity is not recognised.

    My apologies if the way I write is a bit blunt, that is not my intent. I may be a little naive or even clueless because I’ve never lived in the country…you be the judge of that…

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  6. but Nathan, that is what I just argued about: ALL Egyptians, regardless of their religion, are NOT arabs. If you read the history carefully, Arabs did NOT immigrate massively into Egypt. They were few, and lived separately in certain cities. And majority remained Christians until 10 century.

    The reason I bring this up again, is because I believe it is vital and pivotal to the future of Egypt. If only people restore their identity as Egyptians, not Arabs, their concerns and efforts will be toward improving Egypt, and this is the only way out. If I have my identity in my country, I won’t seek it outside, and won’t give ear to the corrupt and evil outside voice, the Arab’s voice in specific, which causes a lot of problems in Egypt recently.

    As for secularism, democracy and identity, (1) I find that here in the states, under secularism, each ethnic group identity is not only preserved, but strongly pronounced. In Egypt we saw a generation named common (across religions) names to hide it (heir identity!) and a young man would think twice before wearing a cross. We don’t see that in US! I met kids named: Parthenia, Theodoxia… (2) when Egyptians identity is restored, I will vote for the Muslim who is better. (3) democracy gives value to the human being; I matter, I am important. Thus, people won’t run blindly after religious cause (eventually) which diminishes their importance. (4) the current revolution is not led by army, nor party, nor religious group; it is led by educated youth who were exposed to western culture, and that is why they reject any religious slogans, or discrimination. Remember that human rights was the main thing that moved them (we are all Khalid Said group). So, if they managed to fix the constitution to have fair elections, and managed to set some human rights laws, Copts situation will be much more secured under secularism.

    Thanks for you input Nathan. I am enjoying this discussion.

    remember my weakness in your prayers

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  7. It is true, and yes I am aware that the majority of Egyptians are not Arabs. But the fact of the matter is the non-Copts identify themselves as such because it is at the root of their faith, just like the Copts identify strongly with Egypt because it too is at the root of their faith, and they fought for centuries to keep that identity free of both Byzantine and Arab influence.

    However, you will never separate the Arab from the Muslim, as much as you will never separate the Egypt from the Copt, so I totally agree that unless we all call ourselves Egyptian, and nothing else, then the current situation will never change. But then that begs the question, ‘What is an Egyptian?’ To give an answer like, ‘we are descendents of the ancient Egyptian civilization’ will not satisfy most who are not Copts. They will automatically say, ‘but I am also Muslim, does that count for nothing? Do I then assimilate into Coptic culture because the Copts have always maintained this ancient heritage? Will that then not make me a Christian?’
    So I guess we need to redefine what it means to be Egyptian. Because we cannot escape the fact that identity is so massively important here, and that includes religious identity. You can’t separate religion out of the Middle Eastern man because his whole culture is centred on that religion (whatever it may be) and it plays heavily on his mind in everything he does.

    So that being said, we cannot totally disregard the Arab culture and the Arab identity that features so heavily in all Egyptians’ lives. Neither can we totally separate ourselves from the Arab world, to do so will be detrimental to Egypt as a country which is one of the big players in the Arab World.

    You mentioned that in a secular Egypt you would be comfortable voting for a non-Copt if you felt he be the right candidate. I don’t see this ever being a wide-spread opinion. The reason the people in the current uprising are sticking together is because there is safety in numbers. The second the crowd clears, the ‘us and them’ mentality will set right back in. After all, both Muslims and Copts stuck together in the Nasser Revolution that ousted the British and Ottoman Empires, once the revolution was over each side went back to their own and the segregation has been growing worse ever since.
    And just to give you an example, a number of years back here in Sydney, we were informed at our parish that a Coptic man was running for a seat in the next local government election. We were all encouraged to vote for him for the simple reason that our Coptic interests be heard in government. Nothing was mentioned of this stand on local community issues, nobody knew whether he had aspirations to plant more trees by the freeway or fix the local hospital if he be elected. All that was said is that there’s a Coptic man running for office in our electorate and that we should all vote for him. Which comes back to what I said before, a Copt will always vote for a Copt no matter what his stand. If it’s happening in the free, democratic and secular country of Australia, will it not all the more happen in Egypt?
    All that being said, I wish this man every success, don’t get me wrong, he was elected and congratulations to him, I was just trying to make the point. I think you need to really think about what you would do if you were in Egypt and you had the choice to advance a Coptic brother into public office as opposed to a non-Coptic brother. You may think you would do the right thing, voting for the person who may have presented a better campaign or has better policies, but in the end your Coptic loyalties would most definitely override.

    You also mentioned the western influence behind the current uprising. Personally I don’t want to see a ‘western Egypt’ emerge out of the ruins. While I understand that information is now readily available, and people everywhere are exposed to all kinds of influences, for this to eventuate would be the biggest tragedy of all. At least I think so.

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