• 15:03
  • Sunday ,09 January 2011
العربية

Alexandria 2011 , What now?

By-Watani

Top Stories

00:01

Sunday ,09 January 2011

Alexandria 2011 , What now?

 “Whatever the circumstances, we cannot but rejoice at the coming of Christ to our world.”
The words, used by Pope Shenouda III in reply to rumours that Christmas celebrations would have been cancelled, expressed, in a nutshell, what Christmas is all about. “We have to deal with the incident wisely, not to be driven by emotion. Grieving for our sons and daughters does not mean we should act irrationally”.

Family home
The Pope was speaking at a press conference held last Sunday at St Mark’s Cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, in which Sheikh al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb, Minister of Waqf Mahmoud Zaqzouq, and Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, joined in offering their condolence to the victims’ families. 
When the Pope was asked about the wide demonstrations by angry Copts, he said the Copts had every right to express their anger, but again, it should be done wisely lest it backfires. 
Both Dr Tayeb and Dr Zaqzouq said the crime was not sectarian but was an act of terror. The Islamic religion, they said, does not endorse intolerance nor does it condone attacks against places of worship. Dr Tayeb insisted the criminal could not have been Egyptian, since “the Egyptian character was against such criminal deeds”. 
Dr Tayeb announced the formation of a new committee named Beit al-Aiyla al-Misriya (The Egyptian Family Home) with membership of leaders of al-Azhar and the Church, to be launched starting next week. The new committee would meet on a weekly basis, and would work to promote tolerance and open-mindedness among Muslims and Christians. It would also work to resolve tension between both communities.   
 
Finding the facts
Parliament Speaker Fathy Sorour commissioned a fact finding committee to visit Alexandria, and submit a report on the New Year Eve explosion at the Church of the Saints, as did the National Council for Human Rights which also dispatched to Alexandria a fact-finding commission.
Egyptian human rights organisations condemned the explosion as an act of terror. They called upon the security apparatus to swiftly catch the culprits and bring them to a fair trial.
 
Invitation to protest
“A few minutes into the new year, criminals insisted on dashing Egypt’s hopes for a peaceful, safe year filled with compassion; and instating pain, fighting, division and terror instead.” These words, which opened a declaration issued by Egyptians Against Religious discrimination (MARED) in the wake of the explosion at the Church of the Saints in Alexandria on New Year Eve, spoke for themselves.
Salafi groups or al-Qaeda do not alone bear responsibility for this crime, the MARED declaration claimed; the State is in no way less responsible since it has for so long turned a blind eye to the rampant ongoing public incitement against Christians and the Church. “The State did nothing when Islamic public figures propagated false allegations that churches were stockpiling arms, or when leaflets calling to blow up churches for Christmas were handed out to the public on the streets. A State-owned paper printed an opinion piece that reminded of an article which Pope Shenouda III had been falsely accused of writing in the 1970s, calling for the expulsion of the Muslim “invaders” from Egypt.
“It is time to confront terrorism, we cannot allow extremists to drag us into sectarian strife and religious violence. Mubarak’s confirmation of Egypt being a civic State is no longer sufficient; serious measures should be taken to counter calls for hatred,” the report said. 
Justice should be attained by bringing all the culprits to trial; and taking to account all officials who failed in their duty to protect Egypt’s Coptic citizens and those who incite hatred against Copts, whether in the media or in mosques, MARED demanded. The unified law for building places of worship should be passed, as should a law which endorses equal opportunity and bans discrimination; reforms in national education and the media address should be instated. MARED concluded by inviting all rights movements, political parties, civil organisations and ordinary Egyptians themselves to expressing their anger, protest, and condemnation of the massacre.
 
 
‘Not Egyptian’
In Alexandria, Watani talked to Fr Maqar. “What happened on New Year Eve,” he said, “was tragic. Yet, for the bloodshed not to be in vain, it ought to be exploited by the political regime and the security authorities to remedy faulty conditions in our society. Tolerance and acceptance of the other, not loathing and hatred, should be taught to children at schools. Fanatic speeches or sermons should be banned, the law should be upheld and should apply to all, culprits in sectarian crimes should be penalised, awareness should be raised and religious discrimination should be banned. 
“We will go on praying and will never fear,” Fr Maqar said.
Mohamed al-Daqqaq, secretary-general of the National Democratic Party in Alexandria, told Watani that the incident targeted the Egyptian people as a whole. “The State alone cannot confront the problem; neither can the security apparatus, the Copts nor the Muslims each on their own,” he said, “We should all collaborate to defeat extremism. We should not bury our heads in the sands and claim the crime is not ‘Egyptian’. Egypt, and especially Alexandria which was one day famous as a stronghold of cosmopolitanism, is today dominated by a climate of fanaticism. Even though this is in essence alien to the Egyptian character, it is there—and conspicuously so.”
 
 
Fanatic climate?
“How can some express amazement at the New Year explosion at the church in Alexandria, or ask who the culprit can be as though that culprit is not known to us all or not visible to the naked eye?” Kameel Seddiq, member of the Alexandria Coptic Orthodox Community Council says. “The culprit is the entire community that thrives on sectarianism, discrimination, and religious tension. While President Mubarak claims Egypt is a civil State, the call for an Islamic State cannot be stronger. Good intentions alone can never build a nation.
“Every Friday for several weeks past,” Mr Kameel reminded, “Alexandria was the scene of harsh Islamist demonstrations against the Church and Pope Shenouda, yet no official appeared to sense any danger.” 
The pertinent question, according to Nader Morqos who is member of Alexandria local governement and member of the Alexandria Coptic Orthodox Community Council, is: “What is to be done if incidents similar to the Alexandria New Year explosion are not to recur?”   
Mr Morqos believes the answer lies in a more balanced, tolerant address by the media, religious discourse, and schools. But the most important, he stresses, “is a healthy upbringing. This is the responsibility of the family, which has to educate its children to accept the ‘other’.” 
According to professor of the international law and head of the association of culture and enlightenment in Alexandria Hisham Sadeq, the national unity file should not be a security file, but a concern of the civil society. “Because the role of the security is restricted to protecting society,” he says, “while the role of the community is to spread the culture of peace and tolerance.”