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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

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Religious Tolerance in Egypt : Responses

As I expected, my posts on religious tolerance in Egypt has garnered a lot of responses, and questions, although most of them were positive to my surprise. I decided that instead of posting comments and responding to private e-mails I should just put the answers to all of the questions presented to me thus far in a post. This is partly because they ask certain questions that I think need answering, and partly because I am too lazy to come up with an original idea for a post at the moment. Enjoy! The first response is Patrick form the USA. Patrick is an American from Egyptian Christian parents and truly loves Egypt and laments its current state. This is a snippet from an e-mail I got from him yesterday . I have dissected his paragraph of questions into individual questions to make it easier to answer: What is the cause of all this sudden animosity among certain minorities of the population? That’s a very good question and one that can not be answered easily, due to the many factors involved, but I will try my best to answer it anyway. This animosity between muslims and copts is not sudden, but it’s relatively recent, with its roots starting in the 1970’s. Up till the end of the 1960’s this was unheard of, partly because of the secular nature of Egypt during the monarchy. This didn’t change after the 1952 revolution and throughout the ruling days of Gamal Abd El Nasser and his left wing government, partly because of the influence of our soviet communist friends, and partly because Nasser either jailed, tortured, killed or kicked out and generally persecuted any member of the Muslim Brotherhood and anyone who held similar views to them of the Islamic right. So they were basically nonexistent until Nasser died. Then came Anwar Sadat. Sadat , a pro-US capitalist, had a simple logical plan to get rid of the influences of the socialist Nasserites: Let the Islamic right out and strengthen it and have it clash with the leftie Nasserites in order to keep them in check and then have the National Democratic Party- which he founded- be the centrist ruling party. He released all the Islamic political prisoners and started supporting the MB, while emphasizing over and over in his speeches his faith and how he is the Islamic president of an Islamic country to continue having the support of the MB. There were some serious side effects to his plan and factors he didn’t take into consideration, which later led to the unfortunate consequence of his assassination on the hands of the same islamists he supported. The first side effect was the issue of national religious identity and how Egyptians viewed themselves. They never before really took it that highly into consideration, but some of them were muslim and some were Christians. Suddenly the new motto wasn’t “Religion is for god, and the country for everyone”, but “Egypt is an Islamic country”. Suddenly Muslims started taking more note of what religion people were in and consequently started believeing the notion of “this is our country because we are muslims and if you are not one of us then you really don’t belong in Egypt”. This naturally started slowly but picked up speed real fast to the alarm of a lot of Christians, which led in turn to the second side effect. The second side effect was the participation of the Christian church in politics in the form of Pope Shinoda. This wasn’t a new idea because during the 1919 revolution the Priests of the Coptic churches and the Imams of the muslims mosques were united politically to get the British out. Only this time it was different, cause Shinoda was clearly disturbed by the declining secularization of Egypt and started making himself heard and started Coptic demonstrations and public clashes with Sadat regarding his plans. What the general muslim public saw was the Coptic Christians getting all “uppity” about the islamization of Egypt, and instead of taking the time to view the Coptic’s point of view, they thought “Those Christians are getting mad because they don’t want Islam to be strong and present in Egypt. Who do they think they are? I am Muslim, and this is an predominantly Islamic country. I don’t like this at all! Isn’t it enough we let them exist in our country? They should just shut up and count their blessings!”. Needless to say, the Christians didn’t share that same point of view, so things between the 2 sides got really tense pretty quick. But still, even at this point, things could’ve died down on its own in a year or so, if it wasn’t for the 2 factors that no one saw coming. The first factor was the Wahabi influence: Egyptians who worked in Saudi and Gulf Countries brought back with them a lot of islamic Wahabi views that they now believed, such as getting women to wear veils and Burkas, and considering anyone who is not muslim an Infidel, cause they figured that the Saudis were the supreme authority of all things Islamic. Then after the peace negotiations with Israel, and there was a lot Wahabi and Saudi funding to the MB and other Islamic groups to support them and help them start an Islamic revolution in Egypt to get rid of the Traitor Infidel Sadat and his regime. So suddenly Wahabi ideas were everywhere and advocated through books and mosques opened with Saudi money and a lot of the Egyptian Youths and college students started subscribing to them and to the notion that “Islam is the solution”, which naturally meant that Christianity wasn’t. The second factor was the open market economy that Sadat started. During Nasser there were no big companies or millionaires, all the prices were fixed by the government and there was no importing or exporting of pretty much anything. For example: the only cars you could buy were Egyptian cars. So the whole social classes and wealth differences thing was a nonexistent thought for most of the Egyptians, and that naturally got destroyed the moment the first new car was imported and seen driven on the street. Suddenly people started making huge amounts of money and importing stuff and starting companies and prices started getting higher and higher. There was the sense that anyone could’ve been a millionaire back then, as long as you have some initial funding or financing, which was something the Coptic church had. Collecting 10% of the income of all the Christians over the years, the church had a lot of cash on hand, and started giving it to enterprising Christians as seed money to start businesses with them. The Muslims didn’t have an equal source of funding, so a lot of them sat back and with growing resentment watched the Christians starteing companies and making money and buying new cars. Most of them didn’t think this was “fair”, cause Egypt is “their country”, yet “those Christians” were enjoying a better living standard then them. Not to mention, it was- and still is- easier for muslims to envy the Coptics and the Coptic church for their wealth then to actually get off their asses and do something about it. And it just grew from there. So, in conclusion and summation I believe that the roots of the current issues in Christian muslim relations are as follows : 1) Sadat’s islamization of Egypt and its effect on national identity , 2) The Wahabi influences and 3) Class and wealth envy. As far as I know, during the Wafd revolution, Christians and Muslims got along well, and we even had a Coptic Prime Minister! Is it true that the British gave preferential treatment to Christians? Is that the reason? Nope, this isn’t the reason. The British tried to do this to fuel sectarian hate but the Christians wouldn’t take it. They viewed the British the same way the muslims did: an invading enemy! I know that the richest family in Egypt is Christian, is that why too? I believe you are talking about the Naguib Saweras family and yes it’s a big part of it. But it’s not just them. Add to it the Ghabbour’s and Ghaly’s and el Ghattas and you get the picture. Are we like the Jews of Egypt? In a way the answer is now yes, but only in the terms of being viewed as a minority that holds a significant controlling interest in the Egyptian economy. Hope that answered your questions Patrick. Next, we have Ramy, whom I suspect to be superhuman because the man has like 4 zillion blogs that he frequently updates, while I suffer from posting in just one. How many of educated Egyptians are like "Hady" and how many of them are like "Reem" and "Waleed"? This has nothing to do with education Ramy, but rather with emotional knee jerk reflexes and growing sense of Islamic identity. I hardly believe that Hady would really go around killing Christians if he had the chance, but he is a big talker and likes bravado. So I don’t really think there is a fundamental difference between Hady, Reem and Waleed. However, that wasn’t what you asked. I would say that a big majority of educated Egyptians, even my mother and my sister, have similar feelings and notions like those three, but with varying degrees. And it manifests itself in stupid things, Like my mother and my sister changing their cell phone service provider from Mobinil to Vodafone cause Mobinil is owned by Saweras and they don’t want to “economically benefit the Christians” and want to benefit the muslim owners of Vodafone egypt. I thought it was a joke at first, but when I told other people about it a lot of them thought it was a great idea and that “it was about time muslims looked out for one another”. I think it has more to do with Muslims then with Christians to tell you the truth. I wager if the jews were still present in Egypt they would be viewed in a similar light , just because they are “non-muslim”. Why did educated people become like that? What happened? Read my response to Patrick. What's this new story about the "wealthy" Coptic millionaires? This isn’t new. Saweras, Ghattas, Ghaly, Lakah, Ghabbour to name a few. They are visible, so naturally the people envy and hate them for their wealth as they do all rich and wealthy people. Them being Christian is a just bonus. It helps justify it. And the churches being more favored by gov't than mosques? Haven't they heard about the many churches being burnt and vandalized in the late 1980s (including one that was 2 streets behind my grandma's apartment)? I guess you answered that question right there. Most of them don’t even know or think of shit like that. Who is behind all this? That's an interesting question. Who goes over and over about the "wealth of Copts" and their bad reputation as "traitors and deal-breakers"? I am guessing people who follow the Hitler method of attaining power : 1) Tell people that their problems are not caused by them, but rather by a different distinct ethnic or religious group. You then you tell them you know how to protect them from this group and make things right and they will make you their leader. So it’s someone who wants to use islam to control and rule the country. Gee, I wonder who it could be? 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... Ramy, the description is intended to put people on the defensive and provoke reactions. Believe it or not, I find it rather helpful in starting dialogues. I never say you should agree with me or that I am always right, but I always back up my argument and views, and I show no mercy for anyone who has arguments and views and doesn’t do the same. 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. No problem man. I just hate injustice as a rule, and I find it rather unfathomable-not to mention hypocritical- how Muslims could claim that the world discriminates against them, when they carry their own forms of discrimination in their countries. Injustice should outrage us all, no matter which group we belong to. Then we have Highlander girl’s comment. Highlander: 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? Nope, but they have the majority if people on their side through emotional control. You can’t win an election against “Islam is the solution”, cause what’s your counter argument? It isn’t? Try to win in Islamic country with that. Egypt has a huge illiterate population and they will vote for whomever the Imam in the mosque tells them to vote to. I don’t know, maybe it is best not to fight but to flee. Let the people see how their lives under islamist rule would be like. Let them scratch that itch so to speak. And when they finally realize that their lives didn’t improve at all under such a rule, they will no longer want it. You can’t add new floors to a building with bad foundation sweetie. Sometimes it’s better to tear the whole building down and start from scratch to build it correctly. Maybe Egypt needs to be ruined by them completely in order for the people to see that the MB or an Iran-style country isn’t the way or the solution to their problems. You know? And last but not least, we have AAG. Don, Understandably almost non existent after the Lavon Affair. You forget to mention that the Lavon Affair wasn’t the real reason for the Jewish community leaving Egypt. Although you gotta admit it was used by Nasser’s goons as a great excuse to kick them out and take away their property. Wait, I didn’t mean kick them out and take away their property, I meant “highly encourage them to immigrate to Israel, while nationalizing their assets for the common good”. Yes, that was more like it. I agree with sandmonkey though, there is massive buried intolerance against copts in Egypt; nonetheless, there is also many good examples of co-existence. The richest egyptian is coptic, and indeed many of the biggest businessmen are, they wouldn’t have thrived like that in a massively intolerant. I am not sure that qualifies as evidence. The richest businessmen in 1920’s and 1930’s Germany were Jews , and they were massively hated. There is an old Egyptian saying : Money has no religion. Them (The Christians) thriving has nothing to do with the massive intolerance of the Egyptian people, but with how they conducted their businesses and the quality of the services they provided. Another example: America is hated by a huge part of the world, yet everyone watches American movies and shows and wears American cloths. Hate is caused by thriving business AAG, but it never really stopped it. Indeed, the whole community wouldn’t have survived and thrived for hundreds of years if there was such massive intolerance. Read what I wrote to Patrick for the causes and timing for this intolerance. Now I am no apologist for intolerance, I admit it does exist on many different levels. Nonetheless, this is a matter for Egyptians for themselves, and should not be used against us to divide us. Sure thing, but let’s be honest: It is a matter that would never be discussed if it wasn’t for those “outside influences” making such big noise about it, because the vast majority are muslims. You make it sound, as Ramy put it, as if Christian inequality is a hallucination and that for the most part all is good and well except for some Christians who are “western agents” or “have ulterior motives”. And I am sorry man, but I don’t get that whole “Fall in line” and “Unity even if we are wrong” crap, like the non-Lebanese Arabs advocating supporting Syria’s occupation in Lebanon in order to “show the Americans and Israel that we don’t get pressured” and what the Lebanese want be damned. We, Egyptians, are already divided; you are just not feeling it on your side of the spectrum. If you want us to be united, then you better make sure that we are acting right. And if you read the laws and examples I mentioned here, then you would have to agree that we , as a people, and the government aren’t acting right at all. 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 addressed by egyptians, not by outsiders. I think Coptic intellectuals in Egypt understand this more than anyone, and distance themselves from dubious "support" that comes from abroad. 200% accepting? Begad? So what you are saying is that only a third of the Muslim Egyptian population is intolerant of Christians, while the remaining 2 thirds are 200% accepting? Which Egyptian population are you talking about AAG? Or are you just referring to your circle of people? And it’s a good thing that your best friend is Coptic and that you would trust him completely, but what does that have to do with anything? Do me a favor : ask him his honest opinion about it and if he really thinks that 2 thirds of the Egyptian population is 200% accepting of him and his people. And again, I ask, who in Egypt is addressing them? It seems that the people who are speaking up are the Coptic Christians who fled the country to Europe and the USA. You really think anyone here will really address it and ask all the hard questions? People would shut him up citing the same reason you are using, that “we shouldn’t give outsiders the excuse to meddle in our affairs; Therefore we will never really admit that there is such thing as intolerance towards Christians in Egypt and instead will accuse anyone who wants to talk about it of igniting sectarian conflict”. And did you ever think that the Coptic intellectuals in Egypt may not have a choice in the matter? That they can not speak up? That they publicly distance themselves to avoid accusations of “treason” and being “American agents” against Egypt? No? Never crossed your mind? Wow man, I wish I had your rosy outlook on life. And that's it for today folks. Have a good one!


At 4/06/2005 08:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Your understanding of the Egyptian society and your passion in writing your post is amazing. I will link to your post.


At 4/06/2005 09:17:00 AM, Blogger Milad said...

Is I too late to comment? Well, I have 2 questions with some bits of answers.

Question: why is it too difficult for Muslims and Christians to live together?
A bit of an answer: I think some of the difficulty is simply because both religions have a common idea of universality. They both believe to bring a message for EVERY HUMAN BEING. This makes cohabitation a sort of "compromise" not considered as a good thing in itself. The GOOD thing is that cohabitation is already a LIVING FACT in many countries in the region including Egypt; which means that it is still POSSIBLE.

Question: Why no official census takes religion into consideration while it is mentioned on all ID cards?
A bit of an answer: I think it is technically very easy to know how many Christians are in Egypt through the database of birth certificates and ID cards (the national number database). However, there is no political will to know these figures because it can be a source of trouble. An accurate figure will probably be considered by Christians as being too low because many of them want to think of Egypt as a country made out of 2 elements (Copts and Muslims) regardless the relative weight of each element. The accurate figure will probably also be considered by Muslims as too high because many of them want to think of Egypt as a Muslim county where some Christians live as an "exception". Only few people, probably researchers and neutral thinking people to whom the imaginary and symbolic dimension of numbers and census is a secondary concern, will be satisfied to know the exact figures.

At 4/06/2005 11:18:00 AM, Blogger Josie said...

Thanks, Sam. Great posts, very informative & knowledgeable (as usual). You sure have taught me a lot.

At 4/06/2005 03:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly...Arabs and Muslims in the US are like Jews in that they have a higher than average education and a higher than average income.

Copts in the US are somewhat prejudiced against Jews when they first arrive...but Americans like Jews...and I'll tell you a secret why...they are extremely generous to libraries, hospitals, and the poor...and they just give the money to everyone to use regardless of faith even though they are minorities. They don't try to convert you...they just give.

Someone told me they do it because they are so grateful that they have been treated just like anybody else. At least that's what one donor told me.

Muslims are newer in America and stay more to themselves and haven't fully integrated in some areas. But they will. And I'll know when they have cause they will start donating just for the common good without trying to convert.

At 4/06/2005 05:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great and informative analysis of the situation of the Copts in Egypt. Thanks for posting it--I learned a lot!

At 4/07/2005 04:05:00 AM, Blogger Kelli said...

I heard a reference to your blog while channel surfing on TV. I heard Mona Eltahawy speaking on some of the issues of women in the Middle East. Afterwards I searched for you blog. I just found your site tonite. It's late here, so I didn't read all I want to yet. But I am so stoked to find this fountain of information. It has opened my eyes to things I've wondered about for so long.

I used to work at an Egyptian restaruant after I graduated from college. The owners are Coptic and one of the cooks was Muslim.Many of the custormers were Muslim. I learned so much working there, but was still so confused about so many other things I've heard in the news.

Thanks again on the history, culture and everything else. Looking forward to devouring your other posts this weekend.

At 4/07/2005 04:27:00 AM, Blogger Peter said...

Thank you sandmonkey for opening my eyes on this issue. I had a rough understanding of what I thought was going on but now I understand much better.
Is there a way to reduce the Wahabi influence in Egypt or is this something that Egypt is just going to have to deal with over time?
Once again thanks and I look forward to reading your next post.

At 4/07/2005 04:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Important topic. I do appreciate you opening up the subject. When I was growing up in the sixties in Cairo, there was hardly any feeling of 'differences'. We were all Egyptians. I see the current issue as a politically-motivated with some un-informed public misled into believing that this group or another are against them. An aspect of the solution is to have the largely-government mass media tools, in particular TV, dealng seriously with this issue in order to point the facts out clearly and to avoid any sort of rumors spreading.

At 4/07/2005 08:17:00 AM, Blogger Highlander said...

Sandmonkey I posted something here last night but kept getting an error message...grrrrrrr blogger is at it again will try to get my muse back though it won't sound as the original thingy ..:(


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