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Ahmed Rehab: A Silver Lining in Egypt’s Dark Cloud

An inspiring and heartening post by Ahmed Rehab on the bombing of the Coptic church. We were alerted to this late but this is certainly thus far one of the best posts on the subject. (hat tip: Ivan)

A Silver Lining to Egypt’s Dark Cloud

by Ahmed Rehab

The recent bombing outside a Coptic church in the Egyptian seaport of Alexandria that claimed 21 lives and 96 injuries sent shockwaves throughout Egypt and made headlines around the world.

Much of the global media has limited its interest in the story to the bombing itself and the subsequent angry street protests by Coptic youth; more savvy journalists included some discussion of government negligence and the context of sectarian strife that plagues Egypt today.

Still, an integral part of the story remains untold outside of Egypt: the strong response of everyday Egyptians – Muslims and Copts.

A popular storm of anger, defiance, and national unity is sweeping the country expressed by political leaders, members of the clergy, movie stars, students, and men and women on the street all reiterating one resounding theme: this is an attack against Egypt and all Egyptians.

While sectarian strife – even violence – is a serious problem in this mostly Muslim nation with a sizable Coptic population, Muslims and Copts generally live in peace side by side and have for many centuries.

Ali GomaaEgyptians of all stripes seem to concur that the Alexandria bombing – the most serious act of terrorism in a decade – is an attack on the Egyptian way of life with the intent to drive a wedge between faith communities and push the nation into turmoil.

“This is not just an attack on Copts, this is an attack on me and you and all Egyptians, on Egypt and its history and its symbols, by terrorists who know no God, no patriotism, and no humanity,” said Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt.

Khaled El Gendy“This cannot be classified as religious extremism, this can only be classified as religious apostasy,” said sheikh Khaled El Gendy a popular Muslim TV personality. “I do not offer my condolences to Christians, but to all Egyptians and to Egypt, All Copts are Egyptian and all Egyptians are Copts; their places of worship are national places of worship, a bomb that targets them bleeds us all.” A high ranking member of the Coptic clergy who sat beside him echoed his words.

“An act like this is wholly condemnable in Islam. Muslims are not only obligated not to harm Christians, but to protect and defend them and their places of worship,” said Imam Ahmed Al Tayeb the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt’s seat of Orthodoxy.

Adel Imam“Let us hang black flags from our homes and black ribbons on our cars to mourn this cowardly attack against our brothers and sisters, let us send a symbolic message of defiance against those who are trying to divide us”, said a visibly enraged Adel Imam, Egypt’s most popular living actor, a Muslim, and a long time advocate for Coptic rights.

The message was not much different on Egypt’s most watched talk shows that were abuzz with Muslim and Coptic guests in the studios and on the streets, expressing their solidarity with each other and defiance against what they see as a common enemy trying to drive a wedge between Egyptians.

Muslim college students in Alexandria and Cairo have vowed to join Copts at their upcoming Christmas celebrations (January 7th for the Coptic Church). “We will be there with signs bearing the Crescent and the Cross, celebrating with them, standing with them, and falling with them if necessary,” said a young, veiled student leader surrounded by her colleagues.

As an Egyptian, I am as invigorated by the current mood in Egypt as I am distraught by the bombing. However, I pray that this welcome surge of unity and camaraderie is seized and eternalized. I hope that it becomes ingrained into our societal fabric and that it is leveraged to induce long needed reforms.

I agree that an attack such as this has the bearings of Al Qaeda and its imitation groups therefore taking us outside the realm of common sectarian strife and into one of national security; nonetheless, Egyptians should see the current atmosphere of empathy as an opportunity to address Coptic grievances and strive towards a more equal society.

We can no longer deny that since the rise of Muslim extremist ideology in the 1970′s, Egypt’s once exemplary Muslim-Coptic relations has deteriorated significantly.

My father tells me that growing up in the 50′s, he often did not know if one of his friends was a Muslim or Copt except by sheer coincidence, and then when he did it mattered little. This was not my experience growing up in Egypt where my religion teacher made sure to warn me against the “treachery” of my Coptic colleagues.

Naguib El RihanyIn the 40′s, no one seemed to care that Naguib El Rihany, Egypt’s then greatest comedian and a national treasure, was a Copt; he was simply Egyptian. Likewise, Copts did not bat an eyelid when Omar Sharif, a Christian, converted to Islam in the 50′s, at the height of his celebrity, a far cry from today’s intense reactions against conversions.

As far back as the 12th century, Egyptian Muslims and Copts fought side by side against the Crusaders, viewed then as a national security threat and not a religious war. Together, they stood tall against British colonialism – a lasting image of the period depicts Muslim sheikhs and Coptic priests marching together side by side and chanting “long live the crescent and the cross!”

One needs not look farther than the Alexandria Church itself to gain a glimpse of the sort of religious cohabitation that is uniquely Egyptian: the church is brightly lit up by flood lights perched up on a Mosque, only 30 feet across the street.

Egyptians are asking today privately and publicly, where has all this gone?

But we need to do more than ask and lament. We need to act.

The post-Alexandria solidarity between Muslims and Copts – the likes of which Egypt has not witnessed in decades – represents a silver lining in Egypt’s dark cloud of sectarian strife and mistrust.

We would be wrong not to acknowledge and applaud it, but equally wrong to settle for it; a silver lining never made for a brighter day.

We need to carry the momentum forward into the realm of real change:

When extremist religious discourse at Mosques (and in Coptic circles) is regularly and unequivocally condemned and countered with a proactive and effective discourse of respectful coexistence, it will be a brighter day.

When Egyptians no longer have to list their faith affiliation on their official government ID’s, it will be a brighter day.

When Copts no longer need a special government decree to build churches (or fix bathrooms in their churches), it will be a brighter day.

When I see talented young Coptic men playing on the Egyptian football national team at a rate proportional to the Coptic talent in my 6th grade class in Cairo, it will be a brighter day.

When the glass ceiling barring Copts from reaching the highest levels of government is shattered, it will be a brighter day.

When Egyptian law, prosecutors, officers, and judges treat Muslims and Copts as merely Egyptians – that is as equal citizens – with merit being the only qualifier, it will be a brighter day.

Given the candid conversations happening all over Egypt today, I believe that a brighter day is within reach. It is up to us “to change this tragedy into an opportunity,” to borrow the words of Sheikh Ali Gomaa.

Clearly, the immediate priority is security, but that must be followed – if not paralleled – with addressing Coptic civic grievances. For this to stand a realistic chance of success, the Coptic cause must become a national cause led and fought for by Muslims under a program of comprehensive civil rights reform.

Ahmed Rehab is a board member of the Egyptian American Society and a co-author and signatory of the Chicago Declaration, a practical document calling for equal treatment of Copts under the law, submitted to the Egyptian government in 2005.

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  • Jack Cope

    Oh, article pulled of the internet that has nothing really to do with anything, did you run out of stuff to say bob?

  • JihadBob

    They didn’t know that Muslims and copts are one fabric, one family. Nothing evil can separate them apart.

    Just as Copts are mindful to know their real role in society.,7340,L-4012353,00.html

    The Pope didn’t know his role…

  • Mosizzle

    “Who is ‘they’?”

    Terrorists. Are you just making assumptions that ‘they’ are Jews again. Sort yourself out. Egyptians are treating this as a foreign attack on the country. Al-Qaeda definitely want to see the relationship between Muslims and Copts disappear. If it is Al-Qaeda behind this attack then Egyptians are doing nothing wrong by saying it is a foreign attack on the country as they don’t believe an Egyptian would do such a thing against the people of his own country.

    Makes sense.

  • Crow

    Who is they? LOL take your pick. They are al-queada. They are spenser and geller. They are right-wing war-mongers. They all have the same goal, division and ignorance. They want to be able to point at dead bodies and say: this why they are our enemies. Doesnt matter if its al-queada or spenser and geller who say it.

  • JihadBob

    Who is ‘they’?

  • Dr. Mohsen El-Guindy

    They wanted to shake our solidarity but we came out stronger. Muslims and copts stood together hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder like a great wall. Their conspiracy and plot against the nation turned back as sharp draggers cutting their throats. They didn’t know that Muslims and copts are one fabric, one family. Nothing evil can separate them apart.

    It is strange how Allah acts! We may averse to a thing, and Allah set in it much good. We may dislike a thing and Allah brings throught it a great deal of good.

    Dr. Mohsen El-Guindy

  • Mosizzle

    “I’m not the one to believe Zionists (code word for Jews) carried out this massacre.”

    Neither are we. Many people blame the Jews for everything (a few crazy people, including non-Muslim Americans, hold them responsible for 9/11). Many people blame Muslims for everything as well, for example, Pamela Geller insists that the Virginia Tech Shooter was Muslim and that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

    We all have our crazy extremists!

    “It’s easy to condemn terrorism when you’re in denial that Muslims carried out this terror atrocity.”

    That makes no sense. Muslims have condemned terrorist attacks whilst acknowledging that the terrorists were Muslims. There is already news of a Muslim, Mohammad Sayyid Bilal, that has been tortured to death by Egyptian authorities whilst being questioned about the Church bombing. Obviously, the Egyptian Muslims aren’t looking for Zionists.

  • Khushboo

    OMG! Did Bob just ask how he’s spreading bigotry?? Precious!

  • NassirH

    So how am I spreading bigotry, again?

    I didn’t say who were spreading bigotry, I simply said you are a bigot. If you don’t know why, then just look at your bigoted comments on older threads.

  • JihadBob

    I’m not the one to believe Zionists (code word for Jews) carried out this massacre.

    So how am I spreading bigotry, again?

  • NassirH

    Hey, Jingoist Bob is back! My guess is that he was celebrating Christmas on a date different from most Christians, which I’m pretty sure is what Bobby Spencer does too.

    Anyways, thanks for providing us with more of your latent racism, open contempt for Muslims, and of course, blatant hypocrisy.

  • JihadBob

    It’s easy to condemn terrorism when you’re in denial that Muslims carried out this terror atrocity.

    For some reason, Ahmed is silent on these conspiracy theories in the Muslim world.

    But perhaps that’s why he limited his quotes to one Muslim scholar?

  • Mosizzle

    “I think they need to put Muslims in every church or synagogue to prevent further attacks from happening.”

    Having Muslims there won’t stop the most extreme terrorists. Terrorists have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims, so they have no problem blowing up a Church even if there are hundreds of Muslims inside. This is just sending a message to the terrorists that Egypt will stand by the Coptic community and so their actions are useless.

  • resource
  • Don

    This is nice to see but TBH only Christians and Jews get attacked in Muslim countries.
    I think they need to put Muslims in every church or synagogue to prevent further attacks from happening.

  • Khushboo

    What a beautiful article by Rehab! I’m so glad to see more and more Egyptian Muslims standing up against extremism.

  • mindy1

    I hope they can learn to get along. Jews, Christians and Muslims all branch off from the same religious trunk-we just went in different directions, but we all have the same roots.

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  • Mosizzle

    The outstanding reaction by Egyptian Muslims to this tragedy blows the whole “Muslims don’t do enough to fight terrorism” argument out of the water. I am impressed with the way Egypt has become stronger after this attack and how Muslims and Copts have been brought closer. It is necessary for all public figures to publicly denounce terrorist attacks after they happen. When terrorists are radicalised, one of the first things they are taught is to not trust Muslim leaders who condemn terrorist acts. This makes it very hard for Imams to counter this radical thought. But because so many influential Muslim leaders have condemned this attack, it will be difficult for any potential terrorist to escape the reality that terrorism is against Islam, because even he will be forced to realise that they can’t all be wrong.

    If only Pakistan could be the same. :(

  • NassirH

    Good ol’ Ahmed Rehab is another anti-loon that Loonwatch might want to add to its list. His description of Robert Spencer is perfect.

    “Spencer is actually an anti-Muslim advocate with no interest or capacity for objective scholarship. He spends his time cherry-picking the internet for evil acts or bad behavior by Muslims (whether they do it in the name of Islam or not) and then laundry listing them as representative of normative Islam. That’s all he does, day-in day-out, same exact procedure.

    The fake scholar has built up a cultist presence on his blog that acts as an echo chamber of gullible angry people who believe anything their little leader tells them.”

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