Religious Tolerance in Egypt
Writing about this is probably a bad idea, and GM agreed when i told him what the topic was. But since I am incorrigible once I set to talk about something, I figure I might as well give in sooner then later. My id is just too strong boys and girls, and one day it will be the end of me. Here is the thing, I was having this discussion with my co-workers about their favorite topic: Religion. This is funny to me cause you never discussed religion at the workplace in the US, yet here it’s like the prime topic of conversation. My friend O always told me that Egyptians had 2 fetishes: Religion and cell phones( we will discuss the cell phone one later) and he is right. They are all muslim and they all pray together, and they forward to each other all kinds of religious e-mails and stuff. And if someone sent u such an e-mail you don’t dare say anything bad about it. It’s like communist directives: Not to be discussed or criticized. Just nod your head and agree for your welfare and peace of mind. (I feel like I should just a create a series of posts that documents our discussions cause I find them rather telling. What you guys think?) Naturally that shit doesn’t always work out for me and I find myself –against my better judgment- sucked into an argument that I know is pointless. Yesterday was one of those days. The topic for discussion was the upcoming elections, which most of them seemed resigned to the idea that Mubarak will win it either way. That was not the discussion. The real discussion started once one of us wondered what will happen to the country when Mubarak dies. My friend and co-worker Hady ( all names changed of course) immediately predicted that the Muslim Brotherhood will start a revolution and take over Egypt, which seemed to be the consensus among the rest of the co-workers. Ok, no problem there; it’s a plausible prediction, nothing to get worked up about. That is until Hady smiled this really mischievous smile and in utter glee said “and when that happen, haha, all the Christians in Egypt will get what’s coming for them. They will be killed on the streets baby!”, and then started laughing. Three of my co-workers laughed with him, but I didn’t. I was boiling on the inside, but I was more confused then anything. You see, Hady lived most of his life in Europe, so he shouldn’t be thinking like this. I believe he was always kind of bigoted towards Coptic (Egyptian) christians, but he kept it under control for the most part. The problem started when he had decided that he was leading a sinful life and that he should be a better muslim, which somehow he aligned with the idea that he should be an enemy for anything that could possibly be against Islam. Given the kind of hate indoctrination they give you in some Islamic religious circles against “Christians and jews” and how they are infidels who don’t believe in Allah, Hady naturally felt that he was justified in his bigotry. I , naturally, wasn’t gonna let him of the hook that easily. So I simply asked him : “ why are you so afraid of them?” He replied : “ Huh? What are you talking about? Who am I afraid of?” I said: “ The Coptic Christians. Why are you so afraid of them? I mean, if you hate them so much it must be for a reason. It must mean you are afraid of them or something they do or represent.” I then took a dramatic pose and continued, “So what are you so afraid of Hady?” Hady, slightly offended, replied: “I am not afraid of no Christians. I am just stating the obvious. That’s what Islam would dictate us to do if we lived in a truly Islamic country”. To which I quickly replied: “ So what is Islam so afraid of?”, which drew a rabble of shock from people around us and immediately antagonized Hady : “Watch what you are saying. Islam is not afraid of them and neither are we”! “So why would you be so gleeful at the thought of them killed and slaughtered?” “Cause they are Kafarah “Infidels” and should not be allowed to practice their “Kofr” in this country!” Hady quickly snorted! “Kafarah Hady? But I thought they were people of the book. Doesn’t the Koran teach that they should be respected and not be harmed?” I said to him calmly, only to be replied by Reem, the only female coworker we have who happens to be veiled, with a resounding “No! That’s not true. Those are not considered People of the Book!” I was taken back and replied “excuse me? The Koran is clear Reem. Christians and jews. People of the Book. What the hell are you talking about?” “Well, the Koran said we should respect the real people of the book. Those don’t qualify cause everyone knows they altered their religious texts that god gave them. Not to mention, the Christians think Jesus is god, which makes them idolaters and infidels. The Christians we are supposed to respect are the ones who don’t think Jesus is god incarnate. Like the Unitarians!” Okay, you guys can just imagine the blood rising to my head and steam coming out of my nostrils at this point, right? That statement was so wrong and stupid on so many levels that I had to just give it to her. “ Reem, you really don’t know what you are talking about. There is no such thing as Historical Christians who didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus. That’s actually what makes them Christians in the first place. If back then they thought Jesus was just a man, they would be Jews or non-Christians. As for the Unitarians, well, that’s a movement that started in the 18th’s century sweetheart and trust me, not a single MB member would agree with them on anything. But let’s ignore all this for a minute. Let’s speak of the real reason why you don’t like Coptic Christians: they have money and they take care of their own!” “That may be true, but why do you defend them anyway? You know that they hate you, right? They hate all of us. If they could kill us they would!” Reem yelled! “I am not sure that’s true Reem. But let’s put it this way, have we given them any reason to not hate us? They get treated like shit in this country!” I said. I was getting aggravated with this. “What are you talking about, treated like shit ?!” Waleed, our IT guy, jumped in. “They get everything they want. You know that Mosques and Zawayas (small mosques in regular buildings) can no longer be open all day, and only allowed to be open for 20 minutes before prayer and 15 minutes afterwards? They even have 2 policemen who will stop you from going in and could arrest you. They don’t have that in churches here. They have police cars there for protection. Not a single mosque in Egypt has police cars for protection, and you claim they have it bad?” I smiled and said “I didn’t know that the government did this but, well, look at the reasoning behind it and u would get it. They naturally don’t want the mosques open all day because then some young people who can’t find jobs and have no purpose will go and sit there all day to get closer to god and listen to the Imam. That’s the best recruitment atmosphere for terrorist groups. Some of them could be the imam and fill those kids up with ideas about jihad and committing terrorist acts against this “infidel country”. That’s what happened in the 1970’s , 80’s and 90’s. You only need like 5 people to commit a terrorist act. Any Zawya can fill up at least 50. That’s 10 different terrorist cells waiting to happen, and you telling me you don’t see why they do that?” “Yeah, I guess so!” Waleed said. The rest of the group seemed to be watching us now. “Ok then, let’s address your other point. Now explain to me, why would the government protect mosques? Who would dare attack mosques in Egypt? Nobody! So why would you need police there for protection? Now let’s talk about churches, if there was no police cars protecting them, what would happen?” Waleed smiled and said “We would carry beating sticks and destroy and loot the hell out of them! Ok, I see your point!” “ You know something Sam”, Hady said to me with a smile, “ when the Islamic revolution happens, and it will, they will cut your neck alongside those Christians you like to defend so much!” “ You know, if that ever happens, you will end up envying me, cause they would fuck this country up so badly for you and your children, that if you are living in it, and you will be, you will wish they had killed you alongside me!” I said to him smiling calmly and I secretly marveled on how Zen I was at that moment. He looked at me, shock his head and started chuckling. I expected that reaction! I know that my “youthful misguided opinions” amuse him highly. I get that a lot from people in the office, especially with Hady. But Alas, the discussion was over and no “harm was done” as far as he was concerned. He was wrong. This made me seriously think about all the Coptic Christians in Egypt and what they have to deal with. I figured I should do some research and post about it here, as a sequel to this post.