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Can Muslims and Christians get along in Egypt?

Stories of Arab Christian-Muslim tensions are increasingly appearing in the news. The bottom line in many of these reports is that Christians are not welcome in Muslim or Arab countries, and they feel that they have no place there. Egypt has been at the forefront of these stories, with reports of burned churches and the persecution of Christians. These reports do touch on some elements of Christian-Muslim relations, but most are exaggerated and seek to focus on any negative aspect they can.

The Arab West Report has focused on misleading publications about Muslim-Christian relations. It’s cheif editor, Dr. Cornelis Hulsman, spoke two weeks ago to a group of students in Cairo from the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution of George Mason University, where I work. He lamented current journalistic practices in Egypt, which do not investigate accusations of hate crimes. His organization tracks media reports on Muslim-Christian incidents, and sends investigators to verify accuracy and biases. They found that many conflicts that do not originate as faith-based get branded as religious conflicts without thorough investigation.

But perhaps what gives the impression that Christians and Muslims are in a constant struggle is the lack of positive news about Muslim-Christian relations. After the death of the Coptic Pope, Shenouda III,  The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported on Wagdy Ghoneim, a radical Imam preaching against Christians and the pope. The Arab West Report pointed out that numerous Muslim Imams spoke positively about the pope and of Marshall Tantawi’s decision to give Christian government employees three days off to mourn Pope Shenouda III.

A Muslim Woman giving water to Christians in Egypt (Photo: facebook)

The picture above  was posted on the Egyptian revolutionary  “Kolena Khalid Sa’id” Facebook page. The picture shows a Muslim woman with a hijab lowering a bucket of water to Christians mourning the death of Pope Shenouda III. According to the page, she did this for several hours. This woman presents hope and the potential future of Christian-Muslim relations. Publicizing this woman’s action will rob the extremists of their legitimacy and strengthen coexistence efforts in Egypt.

George Mason University students had many other meetings with Christians and Muslims, and both sides spoke positively about  Christian-Muslim relations. The group met also with Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Mohammad, a Salafi, surprised the class by claiming that Christians and Salafis were equally persecuted under Mubarak’s regime. He accused the former government of limiting the freedom of worship to both groups. Mohammad’s vision for Egypt includes freedom for all, with security for Christians and Muslims alike.

But Mohammad didn’t brush off existing problems, and admitted that some clerics have taken extreme positions. He pointed out a Salafi cleric who spoke against soccer, proclaiming the game as forbidden in Islam. As a response, a group of young Salafis organized a joint soccer game with Christians to protest the religious ruling. The game proved that Christians and Muslims can stand together against extremism, and that they are not natural enemies.

Christians and Muslims in the Arab world are facing a rapidly changing political environment. There will be radical groups that want to sever the relationship between Christians and Muslims. However, on both sides, many are working tirelessly and together to challenge these attempts. Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for centuries and have gone through many similar challenges. Coexistence will again triumph over any attempt to divide them.

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    1. rakiba

      gotcha. nothing to see here, move on, move on, don;t let your ears and eyes (or the numbers) deceive you. everything is fine except when it comes to evil israel, the source of all that is wrong with the ME.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Jogortha

      Egypt, no matter how you slice it, has a serious interfaith problem. Ironically, Sadat who is hailed in the West as the peacemaker, was the worst president for the christians: he released the Islamists to use against the left, started calling himself the “Faith President”, and more than once publicly asserted Islam’s supremacy in Egyptian society.

      There’s no way around it, either a secular state emerges, or forget about religious minorities. Very sad, but true.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Steve

      For an interesting experience, study the fall of Christian Arabs every middle east Muslim country.

      Reply to Comment
    4. AIG

      The problem like in many middle east countries is the middle letting the extremists set the agenda. Most Egyptians do not hate Christians, but will they stand up to the extremists who preach hate or will they sit on the fence?

      Reply to Comment
    5. alessandra

      interesting article. it’d be also interesting to know what will happen to Christians in Syria (as far as I read it seems they’re sort of neutral, or better, much near to Assad regime since it was a protection).
      In Iraq Christians are not very happy, many flew in Jordan, Syria, or even Europe. the conditions of Christians could be a next challenge for many Muslim countries facing new forms of goverment.

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    6. Walter Sauerland

      Its true : the subject of the persecuted Christians of the Orient has come to prominence
      lately. Without denying that there are lots of ugly incidents,it seems to me that this item has been functionalized to be a political tool.
      Like in the bad old days of the Cold War,when hints to persecuted Christians had been the ultimate proof for the evilness of the Communists,now alleged persecutions of Christians
      are proof the inherent evilness of Islam.And e contrario of the moral height of Israel.(You may not know it : persecution of Christians, this word sounds ghastly in European and American ears. Narrations of the heroic confessors and martyrs in the Roman Empire are an unevitable part of religious education.The term sounds of Nero and utmost cruellity) Thats why it is not so much the lack of journalistic precision but the eagerness of pro-zionist propagandists to pick up every useful report without evaluating a source’s credibility or looking into further developments of a story.Just take
      one item out of this overwiew by STONEDAGE INSTITUTE : Muslim Persecution of Christians: February 2012 :: Stonegate Institute.Under the rubrum ‘Church attacks’ the author speaks of thousands of Muslims attacking the church of Meet Bashar on the Nile Delta.Writing on March 16 he links to this report : http://www.aina.org/news/20120214194904.htm, dating from February 15.Except for the exagerated numbers- which made a quick career around the web – the detailed narration is surprising.The FB group Maspero Youth Union had on February 13 a rather short sensible report : “breaking news: sectarian tension arising in a village (meet bashaar) in el sharqueya, people of the village trying to break into the local church, after rumors about a girl (converted to Islam from Christianity), “kidnapped inside the church”, as the locals claim.

      the people of the village threaten to burn the church, and broke into homes of Christians there, including the priest of the church.

      2 cars have been burned, 2 people injured during the attempt of breaking in the church.”
      “update: the police returned the “said” kidnapped girl to her parents, it turned out she was hiding at her ubcle’s house in cairo (ezbet el nakhl), her disappearance had nothing to do with religions.”
      Bikya Masr on Feb 14 confirmed these details but added that the local mosques tried to calm the crowd Sectarian strife reportedly contained in Egypt’s Sharqiya – Bikya Masr.The same wrote AMAY/ The Egypt Independent Calm restored in Egypt village after sectarian tension | Egypt Independent additionally quoted the parish priest (whom they promoted into the rank of an archbishop )”The Muslim village elders made a human shield to protect the church and my house..”On February 15 Bikya Masr quoted the local head of police saying that state would take to tough measures to punish perpetrators
      Egypt police say tough measures coming over sectarian clash in Sharqiya – Bikya Masr . Ahram Online’s report of the same day has slightly different details – everybody acquainted with Egypt knows that the way from Cairo to the Delta leads into a different cosmos.On February 16 Dr Hulsman gave a resumee in his Arab West Report confirming that police and locals protected the Copts and pointed out that MYU put all responsibility on the state to establish security in the village 45. AWR Daily Overview, February 16, 2012: MYU urges SCAF, interior ministry to “save Copts of Mīt Bashār” | Arab West Report Finally AMAY/ EG Independent reported on Feb 17 that a coptic coalition staged a protest in front of the People’s Assembly announcing further protest until the law prevails Coptic groups protest in front of People's Assembly | Egypt Independent I quoted these reports to show that as a whole the tale of a mob beating up defenseless Copts is more than misleading.
      First of all the reported defence of the copts by muslims ( either salafis or ikhwan; in the delta both are very near! )shows that the simple Jihad! cry is wrong. Secondly : the police recognized their duty to investigate the incedent.Thirdly – most important – coptic civil society took to the means of political action and manifestation showing not defencelessness but civil consciousness and civil courage.
      Note that all these reports were published before the Stonedgate report.The author easily could have checked them .He wouldnt do it because the development as a whole contradicts his aim of painting a picture of scared powerless Christians amids an ocean of fanatic mad Muslims.I could show the same pattern in nearly all of the incidents he quotes.Again : he acted not out of stupidity ( this may be a factor as well) but out of ideological interests.
      One remark as to the reason of the violent incident : it was about a young woman who disappeared and was thought to be hold in the church.Wael Iskandar wrote about an incident in January which was about an alleged sexual relation between a married Muslima and a young Christian : “This is a story of shame. These are people who react to shame not honor… They are shamed when they realize they do not have control over their women.”Notes from the Underground: February 2012 (A blogpost worth reading!) So the reasons of these incidents are maybe more about changing gender relations than about religion? About repugnance of the winds of change which stir the conservative societies of the Arab world since decades? If so be sure you will find the churches
      on the side of the resisting powers.(sitting next to the Rabbinat)

      Reply to Comment
    7. Walter Sauerland, you wrote an excellent comment! Thanks, it would be good to get to know you.

      Rakiba, Jogortha and Steve are probably not living in Egypt. I agree with Jogortha’s comments on Sadat. I am in favor of a secular state but I do not see this emerging any time soon in Egypt and thus it will be needed for Christians to find a consensus in a religiously oriented society.

      AIG many, many Muslims do stand up to extremists who preach hate but media prefers to ignore them. Take Salafi sheikh Hamdi from Qufada who supported a Christian to remain village head in Qufada, a village with 15% Christians and 85% Muslims. Take members from the Egyptian Moral Rearmament Association or scholars like prof. Hassan Wagieh from the Azhar. There are many such people but would you have see MEMRI, AINA or others report about that?

      Alesandra,true, Christians do flee areas of conflict and I cannot blame them.
      Please visit us on http://www.arabwestreport.info and if you could make an interesting contribution such as Walter then please contact me.

      Reply to Comment
    8. This is the kind of reporting one rarely encounters, and I include some of the comments in that.
      .
      I recall seeing video of Coptics encircling Muslims praying during the revolution in the Square, acting as guards until the prayers were over. I hope to remember that a long time.

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    9. alessandra

      @Kees Hulsman: unfortunately I have only some articles in Italian, if you can understand I can post them here.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Walter Sauerland

      First of all Kees Hulsman I should say that I appreciate your Arab West Report very much since I found it randomly via ‚religioscope’ of JF Mayer in Fribourgh.( http://religion.info/index.shtml ) For me as based in Germany but interested in the fate of the MENA region and the fate of its minorities, precise and unbiased, unideological reporting is very valuable.

      Sorry to everybody : I learned that I have to post links according to the http address or they wont work. Really sorry!

      Some more words about Raymond Ibrahims essay on Stonegate Institute , I quoted above and I am so critical of ( http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/2949/muslim-persecution-of-christians-february-2012 Btw : this essay is spread all over the web by now via the usual weblogs ; thus cementing the idea of jihadist persecutions in the mind of thousands.)

      I picked this essay because the author and the place of publishing tell a lot of the agenda and the network behind the newly arisen interest about persecuted Christians in NE.

      Its worth noting that Raymond Ibrahim is a regular contributor to Stonegate. But in the first place he is a deputy publisher of Dan Pipes notorious islamophobic Middle East Quarterly ( (http://www.meforum.org/meq/editors.php ) linking MEF to Stonegate.

      Stonegate Institute ( subnamed International Policy Council) is a somewhat shadowy thing : basically just a website it was named Hudson Institute NY until lately , probably drawing advantage out of the identity by name with the renowned Institute founded by Herman Kahn, dubbed prophet of the nuclear apocalypsis.(http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/hudson_institute ) Probably after some quarrel with the big “Hudson” it was renamed , but sticking to the prestigious title of an “ Institute”, though without any postal address just with a NY phone number.
      The website doesn’t give any hint as to its funding and no one boasts of funding it. Neither does the website give any information about the legal status of this “Institute” But members of a ‘Briefing Council’ are invited to attend special regular events (http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/events.php ) and listen to e.g. Andrew Breitbart, Garry Kasparov, Alan Dershovitz or Daniel Pipes at the fee of 10.000 $. Ominously Stonedgate doesn’t publish any report about those events, which normal Institutes certainly would do .So one might suspect that the real purpose of those meetings is plainly fundraising.

      This is telling in itself ( it stinks!) but a look into the list of its editors is revealing : ( http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/ny-senior-editors/ ) Next to someone called Taylor Dinerman – a space watcher and addict of Robert Heinlein – perform Paul Belien and Soeren Kern , both figures of the European ‘New’ Right.

      On his website Soeren Kern boasts to be “Senior Analyst for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group” (http://soerenkern.com/web/?page_id=42 ) which “is closely tied to Spain’s center-right Partido Popular/Popular Party and former Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar.”
      To prevent this post of extending ad infinitum I propose that interested readers start a research of their own on Aznar maybe beginning with following remark of J.E. Keating in an essay on Ex-PMs : “Since then,[ i.e. his ouster] Aznar, who runs a think tank and sits on the board of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., has distinguished himself mainly by the extremity of his rhetoric.” ( http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/10/01/bad_exes?page=0,1 )

      Far away of being a renowned scholarly institution ( I couldn’t find any conference documentation or book published by it) GEES is basically an ill- maintained website, giving background to rather obscure writers with militarist, pro-israel and islam-bashing outlooks.
      “Soeren writes a weekly column about European politics for the Hudson Institute in New York. He also writes the Europa! Europa? column for PJ Media, a conservative ‘New Media’ outlet based in Los Angeles.” (ibd) Kern does not seem to keep his HP up to date, since Hudson Institute is now Stonedgate.

      Furthermore Kern is a prolific contributor to “Brussels Journal” a – mildly expressed -controversial weblog edited by Paul Belien.

      Paul Belien is a Belgian Journalist and in private life married to Alexandra Colen , Belgian MP for Vlaams Belang , known for its separatist ideas and staunch xenophobic tendency. The party is successor to Vlaams Blok, which was declared illegal by the Cassation Court because of its unveiled racist attitude. Paul Belien is the editor of “ The Brussels Journal”, a weblog which calls itself “ conservative” but in reality exposes the same identitarian, anti-EU , homophobic and islamiphobic stances as the ultra-right political parties. ( http://www.brusselsjournal.com/ )
      Brussels Journal is notorious for its positive attitude towards the blogger Fjordman, who inspired Breivick’s “Manifesto”.( The website claims to be funded by the “Society for the Advancement of Freedom in Europe (SAFE), a Swiss non-profit organisation” which has no website, postal adress or phone number in Zürich )

      Moreover Belien was appointed in 2006 director of the then new established MiddleEastForum project Islamist Watch (http://www.meforum.org/1070/paul-belien-appointed-director-of-islamist-watch ) Wether he is in this position still is unclear, since he doesn’t appear on the website at all. However Belien’s relatedness to Pipes and vice versa is evident. Pipes is a prominent Zio-kong and according to the Center of American Progress ( CAP) a leading “misinformation expert” in the islamophobic US network (http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/08/islamophobia.html ) , which collected about 40 million Dollars in donations from 2001 to 2009.

      Though Belien denies any official function with Vlaams Belang, he sometimes features as its representative with foreign rightwing parties. For example : he performed prominently on a ProKöln ( a new attempt to found ultra-right parties on a grassroots level in Cologne) anti-islamic rally in 2009 (http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/33462_Pamela_Geller-_Poster_Girl_for_Eurofascists For those who love the original, here an announcement on ProKöln website [ graphic content! ] http://archiv.pro-koeln.org/artikel09/220409_vb.htm )
      ProKöln was named a “ frontshop of the right terror” by prosecutors in Bochum.

      Furthermore , according to a report of AD.nl in 2010 (http://www.ad.nl/ad/nl/1012/Nederland/article/detail/1935932/2010/09/18/Wilders-werft-omstreden-homohater-als-adviseur.dhtml?redirected ) Belien was named “ right hand” of Geert Wilders, leader (and only member with the exception of the fundraiser ‘Friends of PVV’ ) of the Dutch Party for Freedom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party_for_Freedom ). Wilders is worldwide well-known as a die-hard Islamophob and for his movie “ fitna” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitna_%28film%29 ) Though Wilders until lately had rejected contacts to Vlaams Belang because of its homophobic attitudes (shared by Belien but for Wilders an argument against “the” Islam ) and because of the unambiguous rowdy-like Nazi-attitude of its predecessor , this move seems to indicate that Wilders weighs the potentials of an European islamophobic alliance as more important . However no concrete steps are taken
      until now.
      Dan Pipes –like David Horowitz – staunchly backs Wilders ideologically (http://www.danielpipes.org/7888/stand-with-geert-wilders ) and financially ( http://vorige.nrc.nl/binnenland/article2544752.ece/Partners_Wilders_in_VS_verdienen_aan_acties_tegen_moslimextremisme ) Unlike most Americans, who have but vague ideas about European politics and don’t care about anyway , Pipes and Horowitz seem to believe in the necessity of forming an all-out “western” anti-islamistic – to take up the talk – alliance. ( Remember the good old times when “The West” stood united against the soviet Empire of Evil? )

      So Stonegate Institute – run by European rightwing Ultras and most probably funded by American money and – serves as an organisational and propagandist nod in a transatlantic network which ties Republican rightwingers to European “populists “and even extremists.
      Centered on the idée fixe of War of Cultures this network reaches out to conservative and liberal milieus by using the human rights talk ; it reaches out to the ultraright swamp by using the identitarian, racist talk.

      Sorry for the length of this post. I thought it worth while highlighting connections between American and European muslimhaters. Israelis may be unaware of it.

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