A call for making Egypt Egyptian

Emad Gad , Sunday 27 Mar 2011

Egypt is for all its citizens: the authorities must act swiftly to prevent sectarian strife from dividing the nation against itself

Before the 25 January Revolution, Egypt was on the edge of implosion for many reasons, most importantly for religious reasons after the Egyptian regime succeeded during the early 1970s in polarising the public domain religiously, pushing society to become superficially religious. The bombing of All Saint’s Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve was another sequence in a long series of events that the regime expertly executed, and which dilapidated Egypt and the Egyptians.

Yes, Egyptian society is currently swamped in superficial religiosity and blind fanaticism in many shapes and forms that have affected all sectors of society, but most prominently among the upper echelons of the lower class and the majority of the middle class. This is especially true of those who went to oil rich countries and accumulated wealth, as well as the arid desert culture that is unfamiliar with plurality or diversity, and is alien to the values of democratic development or human rights. They embraced a one-dimensional culture swamped with superficialities, which gave birth to a variety of trends that built their vision on the principles of nation not state, focused on religion not citizenship. They believe religious similarity across the globe is closer in heart and spirit than the partner at home who does not share their faith.

The 18 days of revolution were like a sweet reverie or momentary championing of the values of homeland and citizenship, perhaps because the forces of evil were being subjected to blows by the Tahrir revolutionaries and lost their balance, or were distracted. The 18 days between the beginning of the revolution on 25 January until Mubarak resigned on 11 February were like a summer daydream although it took place at the end of winter.

The days and nights of revolution were saturated with beautiful scenes of an Egyptian Egypt before the winds of Wahabism took it by storm. Nationalist songs made a comeback and filled the air above Tahrir Square with their delightful meanings that touched our core, after the words had lost their meaning and our sentiments and reaction to them were numbed.

We knew that the revolution leapt over a complex sectarian reality and we hoped that the 18 days of revolution would leave their imprint on our thorny sectarian reality by softening fanatics and spreading at least a thin layer over this reality so that we might be able to regain the “Egyptianness of Egypt” or “Egypt’s Egyptian spirit”. But what happened was the contrary, for the fanatics were quicker than everyone and spread their antiquated ideas swiftly and found resonance with a sector in society that had not yet shed the chains of sectarianism.

The prisons were opened allowing murderers and terrorists out with their traditional ideas, and Salafi figures who were part of the problem flooded state-owned and private satellite channels. They came with faces from bygone centuries; when they spoke they planted fear in the hearts of Egyptians. Some of them asked the Egyptians who voted against the constitutional amendments to leave the land of their forefathers and go to Canada and the US; the country is no longer ours. They were joined in this campaign to “terrify Egyptians” by a number of prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood who suddenly felt that power was at their fingertips.

Those who are currently in control of the country also participated in this campaign to frighten the Egyptians by rejecting all the ideas of the 25 January revolutionaries, the proposals by civic political forces to draw up a new constitution, and did not even heed the simple fact that Egypt had been unfamiliar with democracy for nearly six decades and would not allow it one year to organise itself. They also turned down suggestions to form a three-member presidential council, nor would they hold presidential elections before parliamentary balloting. They insisted on everything that is opposite to the demands of the revolutionaries.

The final blow came by forming the committee in charge of constitutional amendments, which was led by lawyer Tarek Al-Bishri and included a Muslim Brotherhood leader who was imprisoned in Wadi Natroun on the day the revolution began but was liberated at the hands of the Tahrir revolutionaries. There are many question marks surrounding the composition of the committee and why it did not include other players on the Egyptian political scene. But this was not all; this committee continued to push Egypt to separate along religious lines. Some articles in the Political Parties Law allow parties to be created on a religious basis —the text is purposefully ambiguous compared to the original text that clearly banned the creation of a political party on a religious basis.

This was accompanied by new incidents of sectarian strife, such as at the church in the village of Soul, applying Islamic punishment to a man in Qena, and rising threats against Egyptian churches that remained unharmed throughout the revolution and that days before the revolution had been surrounded by human chains carrying candles in response and remorse for the bombing of All Saints Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve.

The components of the scene are very disturbing and questions about the truth of what is happening are not satisfactorily answered by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The majority of the public are confused because they have not yet digested the new messages on various Egyptian television channels. This is all taking place in a pre-planned not spontaneous manner, to accomplish specific goals, but now is not the time to discuss them.

By looking at all these factors side by side, it is apparent that the biggest threat facing Egypt today is that the country is hurtling down the road of sectarian division, which it cannot sustain. Egypt can only be a civic state interacting positively with the world; it can never be a state shunned by the international community. Neither is it a country that can be divided along religious lines because this would severely undermine the security and unity of Egypt and Egyptians.

Many states have experienced co-existence and succeeded in managing diversity and plurality, until they became ensnared in fanaticism and sectarian division, which tore the homeland apart.

I hope that my country overcomes the post-25 January crisis and we recover Egypt’s Egyptian character, or Egyptian Egypt, as a model of co-existence and joint living. The decision today is in the hands of those in authority to stop pushing the country towards sectarian dichotomy. They must also foil a devilish scheme that has so far not been blocked, although its prevention is not difficult. Those in authority today have the power to redress the situation quickly before it’s too late.


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