FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

What just happened in Egypt?

It was not supposed to turn out this way: Only a year after Egyptians freely elected Mohamed Mursi as their president for a four-year term, he was removed by a military decree. This sets in motion a “road map” for a new transitional period leading to another experiment akin to the period following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The ambivalence was hard to miss. The sheikh of Al-Azhar Mosque, Egypt’s storied and influential institution, was there to lend legitimacy to the military decree. But his words told the story. He was compelled by sharia, he said, to choose the lesser of two evils in supporting early elections. But the ambivalence of the thousands of liberals who joined together in the protests at Tahrir Square and other public squares was even greater.

Many had chanted only months ago against military rule. Some had even voted for Mursi because they felt that his opponent Ahmad Shafik was Mubarak’s man. This is not where they wanted to be -- but here they were in the millions with some of Shafik’s supporters. Most are not jubilant; they are relieved but worried.

They know what they don’t want. But do they know what they want or do they even all want the same thing?

This, in a way, is the story of the entire Arab uprisings that started in 2010: They are at the core manifestation of new public empowerment that’s here to stay in the Middle East and North Africa. But the public was never of the same mind. In Egypt, for example, the public polarization, especially between Islamists and secularists, was hard to miss.

Egypt’s al-Azhar shuns Western action in Libya

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(A man prays at the Al-Azhar mosque in old Cairo August 18, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, al-Azhar, has condemned Western military “aggression” in Libya but said it supported what it called the legitimate demands of the Libyan people’s revolution.

Azhar, one of the oldest seats of Sunni Islamic learning, warned the United States and Britain against “dividing Libya and destroying its natural and human wealth, as happened in Iraq,” the state Al Ahram newspaper said on Wednesday .

Egypt’s Grand Mufti prays with generals, urges Muslim-Christian unity

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(A rally to demonstrate unity between Muslims and Christians at Tahrir Square in Cairo March 11, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s problems will melt under “the sunshine of freedom”, Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa said in a sermon attended by the ruling military council on Friday when thousands gathered across the country to condemn sectarian violence. He prayed for God to bestow strength on the military which has been governing Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was forced from power on Feb. 11 by an uprising demanding political reform and an end to autocratic rule.

Addressing the sectarian violence that broke out in Cairo this week, killing 13 people, Gomaa said attacks on Christians were un-Islamic. Thousands of Egyptians, both Muslim and Christian, gathered after Friday prayers to call for unity and to condemn the arson attack that ignited the sectarian tension. Thirteen people were killed in clashes between Muslims in Christians in Cairo on Tuesday night after the arson attack on a church. Activists have described the violence as a threat to the revolution.

Egyptian Copts hold funeral after Christian-Muslim strife kills 13

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(Egyptian Coptic Christians gather for funeral of seven victims of sectarian clashes, at Samaan el-Kharaz Church in Cairo March 10, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Thousands of Egyptian Christians attended an emotional funeral service on Thursday for people killed in the worst Christian-Muslim violence since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power. Six coffins lay by a church altar during the ceremony, victims of the violence on Tuesday in which 13 people were killed and 140 wounded. A seventh coffin arrived later. Some held aloft signs with slogans that included: “No to sectarianism, no to murder,” and “Farewell to the martyrs of Christ.”

“We will sacrifice our souls and our blood for the cross,” a crowd of mourners chanted at the end of the service as they poured out of the Samaan al-Kharaz Church, built in a cave above the Cairo slum of Manshiet Nasr.  It was not clear how many of the dead from Tuesday’s violence were Christian and how many Muslim.

Muslim-Christian unity at Tahrir Square

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(A Muslim holding the Koran (top L) and a Coptic Christian holding a cross are carried through opposition supporters in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 6, 2011/Dylan Martinez)

Muslim-Christian unity was one of the themes on Tahrir Square, focus of the Cairo protests against President Hosni Mubarak, on Sunday. Members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority said mass in the square and many of the placards combined the Muslim crescent and the Christian cross. “Hand in hand” was a common chant.

From “Protesters in Cairo square settle in for long stay

For more on Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt, see:

Copts say Egypt regime change trumps Islamist fears (Feb 1)

Egypt’s Islamists well placed for any post-Mubarak phase (Feb 1)

Egypt sentences Muslim to death for Coptic shooting (Jan 16)

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Copts say Egypt regime change trumps Islamist fears

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(Egyptians rally at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo February 1, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

For Rafik, a member of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, the myth that President Hosni Mubarak is the community’s best defense against Islamist militants was shattered by an Alexandria church bombing on New Year’s Day. He and other Copts continued to demonstrate alongside at least 1 million Egyptians on Tuesday, saying their desire to end Mubarak’s three-decade rule was for now more pressing than any fears that a change of power might empower Islamist groups.

“After (the Alexandria) bombing the Copts for the first time started to demonstrate against Mubarak. He was telling us that ‘When I’m in power, you’re safe.’ Well, obviously, when he’s in power, we’re not safe,” the 33-year-old dentist said as he stood amid thousands of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Egypt’s Islamists well placed for any post-Mubarak phase

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(Anti-Mubarak protest at Tahrir Square in Cairo February 1, 2011/Suhaib Salem)

The Muslim Brotherhood, one of the Arab world’s oldest Islamist movements and Egypt’s largest opposition group, is well placed to play a prominent role as President Hosni Mubarak’s rule teeters on the brink of collapse.

The movement is active in the protest movement massing in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities on Tuesday in an attempt to persuade Mubarak that after 30 years it is time to go.

But decades of severe repression have taught the Brotherhood to move cautiously, and the movement is anxious to preserve the impression that the protesters are part of a broad-based movement of which the Islamists are just one part.

Guestview: Unrest in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood

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(Protesters at a demonstration in Cairo January 29, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone.  Jonathan Wright is a longtime Reuters correspondent in the Middle East who is now a translator and blogger based in Cairo.

By Jonathan Wright

As in the case of Tunisia, a succession of commentators have remarked on the small role the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have played in the unrest in Egypt. One of the latest I have seen came from Michael Collins Dunn, the editor of the Middle East Institute“Do you see any beards? Well, maybe a few beard-and-mustache looks of some young hipsters, but not the beard-without-mustache ‘uniform’ we associate with the Muslim Brothers,” he writes.

I think Dunn is mistaken here on several counts. For a start, Muslim Brothers come in many guises, and the ‘beard-without-mustache’ look is hardly a Brotherhood uniform. He may be confusing Muslim Brothers with salafis, while the two groups are quite distinct, though with some overlap. From my own experience on the streets (see my earlier reports on my blog), I believe people are underestimating the level of participation by members of the Brotherhood, though I will readily concede that they have not taken part at full strength and at a level which reflects their demographic weight.

Major Muslim TV preacher Amr Khaled heads for Cairo

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One of the world’s most influential Muslim television preachers said on Friday that he was traveling back to his native Egypt, which is in turmoil amid mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak.

Amr Khaled, whose TV shows promoting Islam are widely viewed throughout the Middle East, told Reuters he was leaving the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland to head for Cairo. He would not say whether he would join the protests.

“My message to all Egyptians now is that our country is precious and the future needs a government that listens and respects young people,” he said in a telephone interview.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood seeks int’l support over rigged votes

brotherhood (Photo: Mohamed Badie, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in Cairo on November 30, 2010. The sign behind him says:  “Election fraud”/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, has said it is gathering evidence of vote rigging and other violations in last month’s parliamentary elections and will alert international human rights groups. It also said on Saturday that it would turn to Egypt’s constitutional and higher administrative courts to call for the dissolution of the new parliament and a re-run of elections.

The Brotherhood, which controlled a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament, boycotted the second stage of the elections after a first round it said was rigged in favour of President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP secured about 80 percent of seats, based on final figures released by the elections commission, compared with about 70 percent in the last parliament.

Although banned by a rule that outlaws religious parties, the Islamist movement fields candidates as independents. It said none of its candidates stood in the run-offs because of the boycott, although 26 had made it through the first round.