The following article appeared in Al-Shorouk on April 8th, 2013 – (apologies for being a bit late on it). In it, Ahmed El-Sawy addresses what many perceive to be growing tensions between members Egypt’s Christian minority and Muslims, a trend that many claim is exacerbated by Islamists in power who deliberately fan the coals of sectarian tension for electoral gains. The title refers to Al-Khusus, a town north of Cairo where sectarian clashes earlier this month left several Muslims and Christians dead before spreading to Cairo.
The crux of El-Sawy’s argument is that Christians have suffered from collective punishment as a result of the errors/crimes/mistakes of individuals, a betrayal of the concept of citizenship and equality before the law. The article struck me because of El-Sawy’s equal indictment of the Islamists in power and the society as a whole from which they draw support.
Al-Shorouk April 8th, 2013
It’s enough for you to be a Christian in Egypt to know that you do not have the luxury of making a mistake. If your fate happens to lead you to err, you do not have the right to be punished and to carry the burden on your own without your family, your sect, and anyone who might just be passing by also bearing the responsibility.
It’s enough for you to be a Christian in Egypt. Don’t challenge the vegetable seller in the market, even if he sells you his goods at double the price, because challenging him will require a fight. If someone gets injured the issue won’t be that one citizen got into a fight with another citizen – there are government bodies whose responsibility it is to decide the matter according to the law. Rather, it could be that you, your family, and everyone from your millet* will pay the price of your recklessness. Your house will be burned and your neighbor’s house too, even though he didn’t fight, was not present, and doesn’t know a thing about the reason for the quarrel, but who is only a Christian like you.
It’s enough for you to be a grocer in Dakahlia whose fight with a neighbor over a bottle of water ends in a fatal blow, or an ironer in Dahshur fighting over a shirt, or a teenager in Beni Suef or Asyut harassing a young woman to bring damnation to your family and every Christian living in your village. You’re the accused, the murderer, the one at fault. Yet you will not pay the price of your mistake alone because you are a Christian and your family, neighbors, and all your co-religionists in your region must also be punished.
The state is absent and deliberately ignoring the law. It was absent before the revolution and was absent during the transitional period. It is still absent and even more weak and fragile in the era of the elected president who swore to protect the people, all the people
However, the problem is not entirely the state. The truth which you have been ignoring is that you live in a society burdened by tension and discrimination that is unembarrassed to kill over identity even as it carries a book that proclaims: “No bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another.”** A society that is not embarrassed to practice collective punishment against others of a different religion, and not because they are all in error.
With the rise of the religious tide in authority, the ruling elite has not attempted to sooth the tension, even just to improve its image domestically and internationally. Instead, it has stoked it in its electoral battles and in the speeches that its prominent figures make about the Christians who demonstrate here and there, as if it were not their right to demonstrate.
This is a new test for a society whose duty is to guarantee for Christians the right to make mistakes in order to begin to reclaim their citizenship and to free themselves from the complex of being in the minority. It must also guarantee that the guilty be held accountable and punished justly and on his own in order to deter looting, stealing, burning, and the killing of innocents under the false and misleading guise of religious triumphalism.
*: The term millet refers to non-muslim religious minorities living in Muslim countries. Here, it implies a sort of second class status that Christians are forced to accept in a society increasingly governed by Sharia.
**: Surat Az-Zumar verse 7. The quote is from the Sahih International translation of the Quran.