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Copts and Muslims, Shared History
By: Jamal Kanj*
October 14, 2011
The events in Egypt last October 9 were saddening. While it is difficult to understand the loss of 26 human lives, mostly protesting Copts, the immediate response taken by political and religious leaders was a hopeful sign.

Muslims and Copts were united in their euphoria last February in ending the Egyptian dictatorship. The Crescent and the Cross joined hand in hand at the Tahrir Square to bring about an end to Mubarak’s 30 years reign.

With that in mind, the army’s latest forceful response to the Coptic demonstrators has left a serious blemish on the fledging revolution. The Egyptian army has blamed violence on a deliberate plan by some Coptic demonstrators to engage the army. Even so, the disproportionate response to the Coptic protesters can hardly be justified.

There is credible uneasiness among Egyptian’s intelligentsia of internal and or external forces that may attempt to derail their revolution. For one, dogmatic religious forces thrive on sectarian divide and shatter the fabric of national unity. Hence, developing a notion of “group” insecurity whereby sectarian allegiance transcends national loyalty. Consequently, making it easier for external enemies to exploit the sectarian division weakening Egypt’s leading role in the Arab world.

The army, with valid reasons, was implying that fringe Coptic radicals might be knowingly or unknowingly serving Egypt’s external enemies; especially, in light of a self-professed Coptic spokesperson in the US, Magdi Khalil calling on Israel to join the fight against Egypt’s Muslims.

Mind you that historically, and unlike Al Azhar, Coptic leadership refused to sanction late president Sadat’s unctuous peace overtures with Israel. For which Sadat ultimately deposed and exiled the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III to the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in the Nitrian Desert.

Realizing the consistent nationalist position of the Coptic Church, it is therefore critical for the new Egypt to work with the Coptic leadership to stop outside opportunists from breeding hate in the swamp of perceived inequity among members of the Egyptian society.

In addition, remnants of the old regime also have vested interest in undermining or derailing the revolution. With apparent influence inside the current government and army, they have much to lose in a new transparent democratic Egypt.

Thus, propagating a sense of collective insecurity will undoubtedly make the army and old forces indispensible during Egypt’s slow transition to democracy. This has been self-evident by the Governing Military Council’s sluggish progress towards transfer of power to Civilian rule.

To start with, the Copts should not be treated as an ethnic minority. They are part of Egypt’s cultural majority and are an intrinsic part of its rich mosaic.

The religious diversity of Egypt must be celebrated by empowering all parts of the community. This begins with changing the inherited antiquated laws hindering Copts from building churches.

Egyptians must follow on the steps and foresight of the second Muslim Caliph Omar Bin Al Khatab who in the year 637 turned down an invitation by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The prescience Muslim leader, wanted to avoid creating the false perception of making the Church equally venerated Muslim site.

The building of a new church and mosque (other than in New York!) or preserving old religious edifices should be viewed as a symbol of unitary shared belief in submitting to the one deity revered by all Egyptians.

Places of worship are not negatory, but rather complementary medium for all Egyptians to reach out to the one common creator. Let’s pray that the blood of the 26 Egyptians will cement the foundation to preserve a united and strong democratic Egypt.
*Jamal Kanj writes frequently on Arab World issues and the author of “Children of Catastrophe, Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America”, Garnet Publishing, UK. Jamal’s articles can be read at www.jamalkanj.com, his email address is jkanj@yahoo.com