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Rantings of a Sandmonkey

Be forewarned: The writer of this blog is an extremely cynical, snarky, pro-US, secular, libertarian, disgruntled sandmonkey. If this is your cup of tea, please enjoy your stay here. If not, please sod off

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Religious Tolerance in Egypt part.2

Okay, As i promised you in the previous post, here are some of the facts regarding coptic christians and religious tolerenace in Egypt. I always thought things were bad that they warranted stuff like that, but i seem to not have known many things about my own country. There will be no snarkiness, cause it's just too depressing. Read at your own risk: The Coptic Orthodox church is the largest in Egypt and the entire Middle East. It is approximately 7-10 million strong (10-14 % of the population), but since the church in Egypt is not allowed to carry out an official census, accurate figures are difficult to ascertain. Ninety-two percent of the Christian population are members of the Coptic Church, which existed before the arrival of Islam. Cairo is currently considered to be the hub of Sunni Islamic publications and scholarship. Altough the constitution provides for the freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites, the distinction between civil law and Shar'ia (Islamic Law) in Egypt has been deliberately eroded over the years. Significantly, in 1980, the National Assembly accepted an amendment to the Constitution, designating Shar'ia as “the…principal source of legislation” instead of “a…principle source of legislation”. Despite making up 6-14% of the total population, Copts hold only 5 out of 440 seats (1.13%) in the People's Assembly (Maglis El Sha'b). These representatives were appointed by the President. There is currently 1 coptic Minister among the 34 ministers of the current government. An official decree of the Ottoman Empire still in force is a 1856 law requiring non-Muslims to obtain a presidential decree to repair, remodel, or build a place of worship. A 1934 Minister of Interior Decree added ten conditions to the issuing of this decree. They include not allowing a church to be built within 100 meters of a mosque, requiring the permission of any utility official when the construction is near that utility, and requiring that none of the Muslim neighbors object to the buildings construction. It is reported that obtaining permission often takes years. During this delay, it is not uncommon for a mosque to be built near the site, causing the requested construction to be in violation of the above listed condition. This law was recently changed so those governors could issue a decree for repairs. Many see this as a further hindrance as lower officials are more easily influenced by extremist elements. All Egyptian citizens are required to have listed on their identity card whether they are Christian or Muslim. This card must be presented whenever a person applies for employment. There are cases of people who are trying to change their listed religion from Muslim to Christian being arrested for falsifying documents. Persons arrested on these charges have been interrogated and physically abused in an attempt to obtain information on other converts and their activities. The government-owned television stations broadcast only 2 hours of Christian programming a year on Easter. Most of the tax-supported programming is pro-Islamic, if not anti-Christian. Individuals who convert from Islam to Christianity face discrimination and violence from their family, Muslim neighbors, or the state police. Furthermore, a Muslim wife is required to divorce an apostate husband; converts from Islam lose all inheritance rights; they also lose custody of their children and they are unable to change their religious affiliation on state identity cards. No similar legal consequences befall converts from Christianity to Islam. While proselytizing is not illegal, some Muslim converts to Christianity have been charged with a provision of the Penal code that prohibits the use of religion to "ignite heavenly strife, degrade any of the heavenly religions or harm national unity or social peace." Children with Muslim names are enrolled in Islamic classes regardless of their parent's wishes. This presents a problem because parents are hesitant to give their children traditionally Coptic names as it increases the risk they will be discriminated against. As a result, Coptic parents try to give their children a name that is used by both religious communities. The Coptic language is not taught at Universities and the Coptic era in Egyptian history has been omitted in school history lessons. The Koran is often used to teach the Arabic language to students, including Christians, and Arabic language teachers are Muslim. Every school has a mosque, but no similar places of prayer exist for Christians. Ohh, and don't forget, if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over, they will be treated according to Shhariah and will have to pay a Gizyaah for "their protection". Man, this is just messed up! I am just glad i got my 5 year Visa to the States, cause if the MB ever takes over, i will be on the first plane out of here. And you want to know what's even worse? I am doomed to get like a hundred e-mails asking me why i hate my country so much and try to defame it whenever i get the chance. They will of course ignore that everything i mentioned here is true and will instead get mad at me for putting it out there for everyone to see. Imagine how much of a waste of time reading those e-mails will be. I can't wait!


At 4/05/2005 12:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you wrote about this topic. I understand the Muslim view much better now. When I was in Egypt, one of my American contractors (Christian)became involved with an Egyptian lady (Muslim). He later converted to Islam so that they could (and did) get married. At the time I thought nothing of it, but boy did my Egyptian co-workers get excited about it! They were very happy about the conversion, and would bring it up to me often, exclaiming how wonderful it was. In my typical American cluelessness I'd just smile and say "yeah that's great, good for him", and proceed about my day (wondering to myself "who cares"). I guess religion for me is and individual thing, be whatever you want (Jew, Chritian, Muslim, Buddist etc.) it's a personal decision that affects only oneself. It seems from your post, religion is a "group" thing to Muslims, you're either in the group or you're wrong. 'Course there's probably some in the Chritian faith over here that have that attitude as well.

At 4/05/2005 12:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last post was me


At 4/05/2005 12:49:00 PM, Anonymous Highlander said...

I understand what you're trying to say Sandmonkey, the only thing I could perhaps reproach you is that when the going may get though you will be running away and not trying to get back your country from those MBs. If everyone just ran away because they can't stand the difficulties created by MB ( if it gets in power) and can't be bothered to stand in their face then no wonder these people keep pushing their agendas they just will assume we are spineless. Do you really want to let them take over our countries? I hope you have figured out that this is not a hate mail ;) but rather an exhortation to remain steadfast for the long run and get our country back no matter how much we would like to make a great and unhindered living in the US or other places.Do you think I'm daydreaming Sandmonkey?

At 4/05/2005 07:52:00 PM, Blogger Tina said...

I'm torn between agreeing with Highlander, and knowing that you wouldn't last 2 seconds in a world run by the MB. Look at what has happened in Iran.

As I wrote on your last post, you are a truely good human being Sam.

At 4/05/2005 08:16:00 PM, Blogger R said...

OK.. A lot to say here.

First of all, I think you already know that the above formula you wrote as your blog description is not my cup of tea. But, still, I like to read you. Those who see things only as black and white should sod off.. not those who don't drink the tea the same way...

Second... Thanks a lot for covering this topic. Sometimes I get irritated and surprised by the silence of Egyptian bloggers towards this issue. As if inequality is a Coptic hallucination.

Having said so, I have to add that copts.net is not the best reference for the Coptic issue. They're always pro-Coptic, sometimes fanatically, and sometimes they throw accusations without basis. I rather suggest some other sources like:
http://copticpope.org and the keraza magazine (official Coptic Pope's mouthpiece) [needs registration though].

I also call you to read R and M blog and tell us your comments and opinion..

I am also going to quote you and link to you if you don't mind...
(to be continued)

At 4/05/2005 08:21:00 PM, Blogger R said...


Third, let me ask you some important questions: (I sould post them as well to your previous post)
1) How many of educated Egyptians are like "Hady" and how many of them are like "Reem" and "Waleed"?
2) Why did educated people become like that? What happened?

By the way, I think the 10% figure is too ambitious.. I tend to think about the 5 to7% Christians in Egypt. However, why would numbers matter when it comes to citizens with equal rights?

At 4/05/2005 10:15:00 PM, Blogger THE FLYINGBOY said...

Again i am so happy fo this post and as highlander said we shouldn't give up our country for the Muslims brothers but what should we do , we should speak , we should ask the current goverment for religion freedom , we should support the librals , we should at least ask the whole Egyptians to change a simple law "the religion should be stated in the ID card" it is very simple and they said before they will do it in the new national number card but they didn't, we should get libral Muslims and christians together, they should work together for the best to Egypt our land not the Muslims Brothers land.I hope we will not be another Iran or Afghanistan

At 4/06/2005 02:48:00 AM, Anonymous Don Cox said...

I think the best test of whether a country is free is whether it has a flourishing and respected Jewish community. It took several centuries for the Jews to get equal rights in England.

How is the Jewish community in Egypt?

At 4/06/2005 03:33:00 AM, Blogger Orientalism said...

Don,Understandably almost non existant after the Lavon Affair.

I agree with sandmonkey though, there is massive buried intolerance against copts in Egypt, nontheless, there is also many good examples of co-existance. The richest egyptian is coptic, and indeed many of the biggest businessmen are, they wouldnt have thrived like that in a massivly intolerant. Indeed, the whole community wouldnt have survived and thrived for hundreds of years if there was such massive intolerance.

Now I am no apologist for intolerance, I admit it does exist on many diffrent levels. Nontheless, this is a matter for Egyptians for themselves, and should not be used against us to divide us. Confrences held abroad such as The First International Coptic Symposium in Zurich, was chaired by Daniel Pipes, a person who doesnt have egyptians intrests, regardless of religious background, at heart.

For every intolerant egyptian there are two who are tolerant and 200% accepting, my best friend in school was coptic, and I would trust him more than any other muslim friend of mine. Still, there is intolerance out there, and should be addressed, it should be addresed by egyptians, not by outsiders. I think coptic intelectuals in egypt understand this more than anyone, and distance themselves from dubious "support" that comes from abroad.

At 4/06/2005 04:23:00 AM, Blogger Highlander said...

AAG even though I am not Egyptian, I'm close by. I agree with you about this being an Egyptian issue and should be tackled by Egyptians only , not used as a Trojan horse to meddle in their affairs!

At 4/06/2005 07:03:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don’t understand why Egypt doesn’t seem to value its Coptic community. It should be a great source of pride. (Not to mention a tourist attraction…)

It is generally accepted that Jean-François Champollion’s interest in the Coptic language is what allowed him to decipher the Rosetta stone where many others had failed. The Coptic language of today is basically a remnant of the Pharos’ world. Why does Egypt seem to want to destroy its living link to its glorious past? Instead it seems to want to turn its back on its native culture and adopt that of the Arabian Peninsula. Of course a lot has come from the Arabian Peninsula. There is Islam and there is… hum, well there is… I’ll get back to you on that.

The position Egypt seems to be taking is like someone living in a beautiful garden full of delicious wonderful fruits - Mangoes, Cantaloupes, Pomegranates, Oranges… and yet the person chooses to only live on dates…

The fertile shores of the Nile have throughout history provided the soil from which the mingling of ideas and cultures have produced learning. Alexandria was the jewel of the early Christian Church. Why do you want to turn your back on your own past instead of making it an inspiration for your future?

At 4/06/2005 09:49:00 AM, Blogger praktike said...

Well, is it any coincidence that there are 1.5 million Copts living in the US? They left for a reason.

At 4/06/2005 10:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me be the pessimist. What's the point in staying? The mid-east is heading towards complete destruction. It will make the crusaders and the mongols look like schoolboys throwing sticks. Iraq and Lebanon appear to be the last hope. The people are trying to reject hatred, but the struggle has only just started.

Everywhere you look in the world where there is war and sufferring or anywhere that innocent people are the intended targets of bombs ... there is almost always a Muslim on one side. The day is coming when they cross the red line and unleash the full wrath of either east or west. Whomever nurtures the tree of hatred, ultimately ends up eating the fruits of his labor.

At 4/06/2005 03:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I left a post on the previous thread on this topic at the end about a Coptic employee I had.

At 4/07/2005 06:01:00 AM, Anonymous Mohamed said...

Wow, I've been missing on alot not checking on this blog. Interesting posts.

You are right about the many discriminations against Copts in Egypt. But we tend to mix things abit. There is official descrimination, like having to get a presidential decrees for churches and there is societal/cultural (people) discrimination. The political or official discrimination, we can mostly blame the current regime for, not the Muslims Brotherhood. We can't put a list of how Copts are being discriminated against by the current regime, and then say something like "you can imagine how worse it will be with the MBs in power". Something is flawed in that reasoning.

Regarding your co-workers (that you mention in your previous post), I think its a shame. Unfortunately, more people here are becoming like that (Hadi, Reem, ..). If this shows anything, I think it shows the lack of proper Islamic education these guys have had. I have a friend of mine who thinks the same way. He is a Muslim who drinks and does not pray, and screws around, yet suddenly sounds very religious when it comes to talking about Copts. And its all because he had a pretty bad experience in one of his jobs, and he's now an avid reader of that copts.net to prove to himself how much they're trying to control the country!

This unfrotunately is far from the teachings of Islam, and is more of how we (Egyptians) are.

At 4/07/2005 03:45:00 PM, Blogger ألِف said...

Part of the intolerance is peer-pressure and, like many aspects of behaviour in our unhealthy society, is superficial hypocrisy: An average person will find it much easier to go on with the current and express his low thoughts of Christians (for example) than to have a different opinion. Much like how the riders of a microbus take sides with the driver against other drivers, bus drivers, pedestrians, and traffic officers; and amazingly change sides when they get out of the vehicle!
It can, however, accumulate and turn into unjustified feelings and beliefs that need to be shaken.

At 4/09/2005 01:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much the same issue regarding "conversion" and convert harassment this time in Jordan was discussed here:


It seems in most any country where Shar'ia is "the" basis for laws you'll be jailed for pursuing a freedom of relgion. And worse you and all those around you will be smeared forever.


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