In my last posting I talked about the sad events of the suicide bombing of a church on New Year's Eve in Alexandria, Egypt. I also hinted a little about the complex nature of the 'inter-religious' stresses, and the relationship between the government and the religious institutions (namely Al-Azhar, and the Coptic Church).
The fall-out of the sad events in Egypt 3 weeks ago is still unfolding although it has been to some extent shadowed by widely popular uprising in Tunisia, and the planned protest scheduled on January 25 in Egypt.
Unified people can force any brutal or totalitarian regime to submit to the people. Unpopular governments can only continue to govern when the people are fractured. In such case, a government really makes no effort to heal the fractures between the different ethnic and religious groups, and in some cases even promote the fracturing and the rise of tensions between the minority and the majority- 'post-colonial divide and conquer', if you will.
A friend has recently forwarded to me an article that vividly illustrates the thoughtless careless attitude of the government in Egypt regarding what the Egyptian people think, or what could lead to more trouble between the two religious groups there.
The articles title is:
"وزير العدل يوقع قرارا بمنح الموظفين المسيحيين مكافأة خاصة بمناسبة أعياد الميلاد"
And in English: " The [Egyptian] Minister of Justice signs a decree offering a special [monetary] bonus to Christian employees on the Occasion of Coptic church Christmas". (Read the article here)
As I mentioned in my previous post, the Egyptian government has systematically exercised, contributed to and enshrined the discrimination against Christian Egyptians for decades, and has directly or indirectly contributed to the flaring of inter-religious strife in Egypt by condoning anti-Christian rhetoric as well as their reluctance to prosecute anti-Christian discrimination. Still, every now and then, they throw a bone to the Christians, the intention of which is not always clear.
The vast majority of Egyptians are Muslim (90%-92%). And poverty is cruel and rampant. On Islamic religious events (Ramdan, Eid-ul-Fitr or Eid-ul-Adh'ha) the governments decrees 'special financial bonuses to help calm people down). The bonuses are issued on Islamic events, but the recipients are all Egyptians: Muslims, Christian. So, the recently announce 'special' bonus to Christian Employees' is most odd even by Egyptian standards.
And at a time when the religious tensions are at a combustive level, what would be the wisdom of giving special treatment to Christians working for one particular government agency? The financial burden is obviously small, but the emotional repercussions are tremendous.
The massacre against Christian Egyptians in Alexandria has triggered a lot of true positive expressions of care, sympathy and soul searching from many Egyptian Muslims towards their Christian compatriots - potentially helping to heal some of the rift between the two groups. Also, the success of popular up-rise in Tunisia against an oppressive regime could help unite the Egyptian in a dream of similar event. Given these facts, and in view of a planned mass protest against the Egyptian governments on January 25, it seems that appeasing Christians by the governments cannot be seen in a light of 'good intention'.
Egyptian governments are not known to be efficient or savvy except when it comes to their own survival. And, at time of wide spread poverty, it is hard to see why a poor Muslim would see the government financially favoring a group of Christians in a way that would help heal the inflamed religious emotions.
I do not know how the Coptic Church leadership will respond to that weird gesture and appeasement.
The Coptic Church is one of the most politically clever organizations in Egypt having had to learn how to walk a fine line for decades. I hope they react appropriately, although at times it also has appeased the rulers in Egypt – who lead and enforce the discrimination against them - against the feeling of the majority of Egyptians, Muslims and Christians alike.
Only 2 months ago, the second highest ranking Christian clergy in Egypt announced that the Christian Holy Book enjoins Christian to support Mubarak governments, and prohibits protesting against rulers in general, with rare exceptions
"الأنبا بيشوى سكرتير المجمع المقدس لـ «المصرى اليوم»: الكتاب المقدس يدعونا إلى تأييد الرئيس مبارك"
In English, "Bishop Bishoy, secretary of the Coptic Holy Synod, to 'Almasry Alyum' newspaper: The Holy Book enjoins us to support President Mubarak". That is the same president heading the government the Church complains it discriminated against Christians!!! (Read the article here.)
The Second man in the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church Bishop Bishoy then quotes from scripture that "Apostle Paul said the [political and ruling] authorities are there by the will of God, and that resisting them is resisting the will of God".
It is hard not to be cynical when it comes to judging the intentions of the Egyptian government or the big religious institutions in Egypt (be it the Islamic Al-Azhar, or the Coptic Church). Like big institutions of all colors and flavors, their own survival usually trumps the interests of their own constituency.
I just hope the Coptic Church publicly rejects that appeasement, otherwise, no one should be surprised if Muslims demand that the bonuses on Islamic occasions should be distribute to Muslims only.