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Author Topic: MODERN EGYPT  (Read 7813 times)
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« Reply #30 on: January 14, 2009, 10:04:40 am »

                                                Blessed be the people of Egypt

                                      Copt or Muslim? Dina Ezzat declines an answer


The Coptic moulid of Virgin Mary in Assiut and the Muslim moulid of Al-Sayed Al-Badawi in Tanta: the boundaries are crossed most often when Muslims and Christians attend the same moulids
It was under exceptionally tight security measures that the Coptic Church Tuesday night celebrated Christmas mass. Security officials admitted that the alert they applied this year was above average. "These are tough times and we want no headaches," said one.

It was for more than one reason that security measures were intensified this year. The most obvious, though not the most pressing, is related to developments in Gaza. Security officials are well aware of fears within some sections of the Coptic community that churches might be subjected to some "unfriendly" demonstrations.

"This is very sad. Some people keep suggesting that we, as Copts, are happy to see the disaster in Gaza just because it targets Hamas, a movement we are supposed to dislike as we are supposed to hate all forms of political Islam," commented Raafat, an Egyptian Copt, as he left the Coptic Cathedral in Abbasiya a few days ago. "Well, yes, we do not like Hamas and we do not like the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamic groups that tend to perceive Copts as lesser citizens but we do not like to see the Israelis doing this to the Palestinians either," said Raafat.

Developments in Gaza, however serious, remain a very small part of much larger security concerns. It is civilian clashes about which the state is most worried, prompted at times by the mere presence of economically frustrated and religiously agitated Copts and Muslims in the same place.

This worry is perfectly legitimate, argues Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights. According to Bahgat and other concerned observers, 2008 was an alarming year in terms of sectarian strife. It was marked by dramatic cases of confrontation, most famously at Abu Fana Monastery in May when Coptic monks were directly involved in violent clashes for the first time in 35 years of on-and-off sectarianism. It was also a year in which clashes over the construction of churches, romances across religious divides and the exercise of religious freedom proved a daily headache for state and society alike.

"Throughout the year we had to deal with an alarming increase of tension [between Copts and Muslims]," Bahgat notes, citing three reports issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights monitoring relations between Copts and Muslims in Egypt. The increase of tension, the reports warned, "was coupled with an increased frequency of anti- Coptic sentiments". Such sentiments "and behaviour", the reports went on, "assumed a wider geographic scope". "Cases of sectarianism used to be more or less confined to certain neighbourhoods and villages in Upper Egypt, Alexandria and parts of Cairo. Today we are talking about a nationwide phenomenon. From Upper Egypt to the Delta and beyond sectarianism is clearly monitored and is not sufficiently or efficiently confronted," says Bahgat.
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