Salama Abdellatif

New sectarian fault lines drawn in Egypt

Morsi will not attend Easter celebrations

anti-sectarian egypt

CAIRO – An Egyptian presidential source told NOW that President Mohamed Morsi will not attend the Easter mass to be celebrated by Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, saying that a presidential delegation chaired by a high-ranking figure will attend the mass instead.


Copts will be celebrating the Orthodox Easter amidst a feeling of marginalization addressed by Pope Tawadros and in the wake of clashes in the vicinity of the St. Marc Cathedral, which were a first-time occurrence and which, Pope Tawadros said, represent a “stigma” that will go down in history.


Public figures, especially representatives of the liberal opposition, are expected to attend the Easter mass knowing that Islamists – both the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists – have issued fatwas prohibiting Muslims from conferring holiday greetings on their Coptic fellows.


The Coptic Church addressed invitations to President Morsi, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, and Shura Council Speaker and Muslim Brotherhood official Ahmed Fahmi, to attend the mass. The Church has always issued such invitations to high-ranking state officials, opposition party leaders, and public figures, but things have taken a turn since the Muslim Brotherhood has assumed power, adopting tougher stances on Coptic holidays. The Church has since been printing and sending out invitations only to political leaders who make public their wishes to attend festivities in order to avoid being shunned by Islamists.


The Salafist Front asked President Morsi to consult with Muslim scholars before attending the Easter mass, and banned its own officials from acknowledging the Coptic Easter holiday. Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Office member Mufti Abdel Raham al-Barr, who is also a professor in the Al-Azhar University, said that congratulating the Copts on the Orthodox Easter is “religious haram [taboo],” adding in a statement that “it is illegitimate to offer greetings for something that blatantly contradicts our creed….Our creed, as Muslims, is unequivocal: Christ – peace be upon him – was neither killed nor crucified, as Allah protected him from the Jews and elevated him to His presence. [Prophet] Isa – peace be upon him – was not crucified to be resurrected. Accordingly, there is no need to congratulate someone on something we know to be a falsehood, even though we do not deny our partners in the nation the right to believe or act as they please.”


Al-Barr, who is an influential Muslim Brotherhood member, went on to distinguish between offering acknowledgment of other Christian holidays (like Christmas) and doing so for Easter: “Congratulating our Christian partners in the nation on their various occasions and holidays is an expression of charity ordered by Allah and of righteousness from which He has not banned us as long as it is not at the expense of our religion, and does not pronounce… any religious slogans or expressions that contravene the principles of Islam, and does not constitute any admission or acceptation of their religion or participation in their prayers. Rather, these would merely be words of courtesy common among people and would not entail any religious contraventions. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, in greeting [Copts] on Christmas, as we believe that Isa – peace be upon him – is one of the primary prophets, that he is human and that his birth was one of Allah’s miracles.”


In contrast, Egyptian mufti Dr. Shawqi Allam says “There are no objections to greeting Copts on [all] their holidays as they are partners in the nation, and there are no objections to sharing their joys and comforting them in their times of grief.” This statement by Egypt’s new mufti shows that he abides by a centrist line and is steering the Dar al-Fatwa away from what some believe is intransigence and immoderation on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood.


The fatwa banning Easter holiday greetings has caused a stir among Copts. Coptic journalist Sameh Yanni told NOW that such fatwas “highlight the extent of our marginalization within our own society. If Muslims who are not affiliated to the movement of political Islam feel persecuted, this speaks loads about the Copts. The Copts’ predicament is but a small part of the general landscape.”


Yanni noted that a growing number of Coptic Egyptian families are deciding to leave the country, noting that “two fellow Christian journalists have emigrated, one to Canada and the other to Austria. If we look further away from this circle, we notice that thousands of families have emigrated due to marginalization against all Coptic categories, especially modest tradesmen who are appalled by what is befalling major Christian businessmen, such as Naguib Sawirs.”


Egyptian politics expert Dr. Nabil Abdel Fattah agreed that the feeling of marginalization is behind the Copts’ emigration from Egypt, adding in an interview with NOW: “The fact that Copts are kept away from influential positions and besieged has blocked all chances to express any creativity, thus compelling them to resort to emigration.”


The increasingly unstable status of Copts in Egyptian society is indicative of an increasingly unstable Egypt itself. A beleaguered economy, continued political and social instability, and now religious persecution, bodes ill for the near future of post-revolutionary Egypt.


This article is a translation of the original Arabic

A protester, holding Islamic prayer beads and a Christian cross, demonstrates against increasing sectarian allegiances in Cairo. (AFP photo)

“Such fatwas ‘highlight the extent of our marginalization within our own society.’”