FaithWorld

Egyptian revolution brings show of religious unity after tensions

koran cross

(A Muslim holding the Koranand a Coptic Christian holding a cross in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 6, 2011/Dylan Martinez)

The surge of popular unity that toppled Hosni Mubarak last week has eased tension between Egypt’s Muslims and the Coptic Christian minority and raised hopes for lasting harmony. Muslims and Christians joined hands and formed human shields to protect each other from riot police as members of the different faiths prayed during the protests in Cairo.

Alongside banners demanding Mubarak’s resignation and an end to emergency rule, protesters held aloft posters of the Christian cross and Islamic crescent together against the red white and black of Egypt’s flag.

“Egypt has been victorious over what they called sectarian strife,” respected Muslim preacher Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi told millions gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square on Friday. “Here in Tahrir, the Christian and Muslim stood side by side,” he said. “This cursed strife is no more.”

Some of Egypt’s Copts, who make up a tenth of Egypt’s 79 million population, say it will take more than effusive displays of interfaith unity to heal the wounds of the past. “I am still afraid of what will happen in the future,” said Marie, a tourism worker in her late 20s. “More guarantees are needed that Copts will live freely and be treated fairly.”

In the new Egypt, Gama’a Islamiya steps out of shadows

tahrir 1

(Tahrir Square in Cairo February 18, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak has allowed an Islamist group that took up arms against his administration to step out of the shadows for the first time in years. The Gama’a al-Islamiya (Islamic Group) this week held its first public meetings in 15 years, said Assem Abdel-Maged, a leading member of the group who has spent half his life in prison for a role in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

That would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago when Mubarak was still in power. Mubarak spent years suppressing Islamists he saw as a threat to his rule and survived an assassination attempt by militant Islamists in 1995.

Abdel-Maged, who once shared a cell with Al Qaeda no. 2 Ayman al-Zawahari, says the Gama’a wants a new start in relations with the state. The group remains committed to non-violence and a truce it declared in 1997, he said.

Muslim Brotherhood treads cautiously in the new Egypt

cairo sunset

(A girl waves an Egyptian flag at sunset in Cairo February 14, 2011 /Suhaib Salem)

The Muslim Brotherhood is treading cautiously in the new Egypt, assuring the military government and fellow Egyptians that it does not want power and trying to dispel fears about its political strength. The target of decades of state oppression, the Brotherhood wants to preserve the freedoms it is enjoying under the new military-led administration that took power from Hosni Mubarak.

So far, signs are encouraging for the Brotherhood: an eight-man judicial council appointed to propose democratic changes to the constitution includes one of its members. But experts say the Islamists remain wary of the military. That partly explains why they have gone out of their way to say they are not seeking power — a reiteration of a position they have long espoused to avoid confrontation with the state.

Egypt opposition needs time, or Islamists will win – party

clean egypt

(Opposition supporters clean up Tahrir Square in Cairo, February 13, 2011/Dylan Martinez)

The Muslim Brotherhood will be the only group in Egypt ready for a parliamentary election unless others are given a year or more to recover from years of oppression, said a former Brotherhood politician seeking to found his own party.

Abou Elela Mady broke away from the Brotherhood in the 1990s. He tried four times to get approval for his Wasat Party (Center Party) under President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, but curbs on political life prevented him doing so.

U.S. eyes Egypt Islamists as extremist fears fester

egypt flag

(An Egyptian flag with a peace sign at a rally in Trafalgar Square, in central London February 12, 2011/Luke MacGregor)

U.S. officials are concerned that Islamic extremists may try to exploit Egypt’s upheaval but are not yet convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s most influential Islamist opposition group, is necessarily a threat.

The toppling of President Hosni Mubarak on Friday marked the beginning of a new, uncertain era in Egypt that promises to empower Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, long viewed with deep suspicion in the West.  Al Qaeda is widely seen as weak in Egypt thanks partly to Mubarak, and his departure is raising fears in the U.S. Congress that the rise of even moderate Islamists may give radical elements more room to operate.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Egypt and Pakistan; something borrowed, something new

candelightThe Egyptian uprising contains much that is familiar to Pakistan - the dark warnings of a coup, in Egypt's case delivered by Vice President Omar Suleiman, the role of political Islam, and a relationship with the United States distorted by U.S. aid and American strategic interests which do not match those of the people.

President Hosni Mubarak cited Pakistan as an example of what happened when a ruler like President Pervez Musharraf - like himself from the military - was forced to make way for democracy. "He fears that Pakistan is on the brink of falling into the hands of the Taliban, and he puts some of the blame on U.S. insistence on steps that ultimately weakened Musharraf," a 2009 U.S. embassy cable published by WikiLeaks said.

Comparisons with Pakistan tend to make you somewhat sceptical about the chances of Egypt's uprising turning out well.

Banned Islamists say time for change in Morocco

mosque morocco

(A mosque in Ksar el Kebir February 5, 2008/Rafael Marchante)

The banned Islamist group Justice and Charity, believed to be Morocco’s biggest opposition force, has said “autocracy” will be swept away unless the country pursues deep democratic reform.

The group of Sufi inspiration is believed to have 200,000 members, most of whom are university students, and is active mainly in the poor districts of some cities. Banned from politics, its avowed aim is to achieve a peaceful transition to a pluralist political system inspired by Islam.

In a statement posted on its website late on Sunday, Justice and Charity said the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia left “no place today for distortions … and empty, false promises… The gap between the ruler and the ruled has widened and confidence is lost … The solution is either a deep and urgent democratic reform that ends autocracy and responds to the needs and demands of the people, or the people take the initiative and (it) erupt peacefully … to sweep autocracy away.”

Tide turns in favour of Egypt’s Brotherhood in revolt

brotherhood

(Essam El-Erian, spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood, at a news conference in Cairo February 6, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The first time Essam el-Erian went to jail, he was 27. Last Sunday, he left prison for the eighth time at the age of 57. The medical doctor’s crime for each incarceration was belonging to the Muslim Botherhood, Egypt’s most influential and best-organised Islamist opposition movement and long feared by President Hosni Mubarak, Israel and the United States.

Egypt’s courts have repeatedly rebuffed the Brotherhood’s requests for recognition as a party on the grounds that the constitution bans parties based on religion.

International investors fear anti-market regime in Egypt

cairo bank

(People queue to make withdrawals outside Cairo Bank in downtown Cairo February 6, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

International investors fear protests against Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak could spill over to other Arab countries, leading to regimes more hostile to western investment practices in the region and the introduction of more Islamic economic rules. They also express concern about the future role of businesses run by Coptic Christians in Egypt.

“Egypt has long been one of the most tolerant countries toward multiple faiths (in the Muslim world),” said Donald Elefson, co-lead portfolio manager at Harding Loevner Funds, with $210 million under management. “The Coptic Christians are still very powerful, though they are a minority, and there are many large-scale businesses that are owned by Coptic families. The only risk for the business environment would be if Egypt becomes a sharia state.”

Muslim-Christian unity at Tahrir Square

tahrir unity

(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)

.
Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

rss buttonSubscribe to all posts via RSS