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Mar 10, 2011

Family Disputes Leading to a Religious Conflict

The January 25th Egyptian Revolution that led to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak’s government set a new and peaceful model of uprising that the whole world has recognized. The young people’s protest movement was supported by millions of Egyptian people, irrespective of their socioeconomic or ethnic background or their religious affiliation. It was a historical experience to see Muslims holding the hands of their Coptic brothers and seeing them pray together for the success of their revolution. It was a true people’s revolution that set a new standard worldwide.

Nevertheless, in all societies there will always be a minority that disregards and ignores what is taking place around them. During the past few days (March 7-10, 2011) the Egyptian and foreign media reported a bloody religious conflict that led to the deaths of 13 people and 140 injuries in the nation’s capital. This was a reaction to the burning of a Christian church in Soul Village in Hellwan Governorate. The Coptic Community protested the incident that led the Egyptian army to interfere and disperse the protestors movement. The High Council of the Egyptian military forces issued an immediate order to rebuild the church in the same spot as the one that was burned down.

The irrational actions taken by the Coptic protestors who blocked major highways in Cairo and burned the cars of innocent people who have nothing to do with the church burning is as bad as the act committed in Soul Village. Those who violated the state law should be prosecuted for the damages caused.

The incident that led to the burning of the Coptic Church was the result of a fight that took place among three Muslim relatives. A farmer’s daughter was suspected of having a romantic relationship with the son of a Coptic merchant in the village. The two Muslims who are relatives of the farmer wanted him to take revenge on the Coptic merchant. The fight among the three relatives led to the shooting of the farmer and one of his relatives.

After the burial of both men, a village crowd gathered and walked toward the Coptic Church to protest the relationship between a Muslim girl and a Coptic boy. It was reported that some individuals among the crowd instigated the burning of the church.

It should be clear that the conflict that took place was not caused by religious factors. It was caused by sociological and cultural factors, which include the honor of the girl’s family. In this case, the girl’s family cannot force the Christian boy to marry a Muslim girl unless he wants to convert to Islam. At this point I am speculating on the causes of this unfortunate incident that caused many deaths and injuries.

There are people in Egypt who have failed to understand that citizenship rights are separate from religious affiliation. During the previous four decades, starting with President Sadat’s rule, the government, especially through security forces in the Ministry of Interior, secretly encouraged religious discrimination against Copts.

It was well known that President Sadat supported Islamic political groups and used force to combat the power of other secular political parties who were not supportive of his policies. The irony is that Sadat’s policy led to his own assassination by members of an Islamic group.

The policy of religious discrimination increased during the Mubarak regime, which lasted for more than three decades. Recently revealed information identified the former Minister of Interior, Habib al-Adli, as the person who organized the attack against the Coptic Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day.

Historically the roots of religious discrimination were not part of Egyptian culture, prior to the Sadat period. However, it was encouraged during the Mubarak period that stimulated the religious conflict between Muslims and Christians as part of the government policy to justify their authoritarian rule. The government stirred fears that the implementation of democracy will lead to an Islamic takeover, which would not be in the interest of Egypt, the U.S. or the world. Because of this irrational policy, the U.S. never put real pressure on Egypt to implement democracy. As the previous Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it, the U.S. over the past 60 years has opted for stability over democracy in the Arab world in general. The U.S.’s consistent foreign policy, especially when it comes to democracy, was to speak about it from both sides of the mouth.

Over the last six decades, the U.S. government did not pay attention to the grass roots movements in Arab states. Arab authoritarian regimes were supported as long as they implemented American foreign policy. The recent attacks on the Egyptian government’s central security buildings in several places in Cairo, Alexandria and other areas, revealed plenty of confidential reports and information that promoted religious discrimination to serve their political objectives.

The Egyptian government should implement new rules and regulations to prohibit religious discrimination and establish rights of citizenship in Egypt. Those who violate these laws should face the strongest punishment possible. This would be the right step to restoring the country back to its real, national character.

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