Updated. In the aftermath of recent attacks by militant Muslim groups against Coptic Churches in Egypt, Egyptian Muslim clerics and intellectuals have called on ordinary Muslims to stand outside Christian Churches during their Christmas celebrations both as an act of solidarity and to function as "human shields" against further violence.
“Although 2011 started tragically, I feel it will be a year of eagerly anticipated change, where Egyptians will stand against sectarianism and unite as one,” Father Rafaeil Sarwat of the Mar-Mina church told Ahram Online. The Coptic priest was commenting on the now widespread call by Muslim intellectuals and activists upon Egyptian Muslims at large to flock to Coptic churches across the country to attend Coptic Christmas Eve mass, to show solidarity with the nation's Coptic minority, but also to serve as "human shields" against possible attacks by Islamist militants.
Mohamed Abdel Moniem El-Sawy, founder of El-Sawy Culture Wheel was among the promiment Muslim cultural figures who first floated the bold initiative.
“This is it. It is time to change and unite,” asserted journalist Ekram Youssef, another notable sponsor of the intiative, in a telephone interview with Ahram Online. She added that although it is the government’s responsibility to act and find solutions to bring an end to such violations, "it is time for Egyptian citizens to act to revive the true meaning of national unity."
Update: They were as good as their word. Arhamonline reports on the many Muslims who came to church to protect Christians from extremist violence. Word got around via Twitter and Facebook, and many Muslims changes their profile picture to a cross or a cross and a crescent together to show their solidarity with the Christian minority.
Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.
From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.
“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.
Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.
“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”
In the days following the brutal attack on Saints Church in Alexandria, which left 21 dead on New Year’ eve, solidarity between Muslims and Copts has seen an unprecedented peak. Millions of Egyptians changed their Facebook profile pictures to the image of a cross within a crescent – the symbol of an “Egypt for All”. Around the city, banners went up calling for unity, and depicting mosques and churches, crosses and crescents, together as one.
The New York Times said that the Egyptian government laid on extra security to prevent violence and that the attacks are seen as a wake-up call on the deepening sectarian divide not only between Christians and Muslims but within the Islamic community itself.
After the bombing and the ensuing riots, political experts, politicians, commentators, opposition leaders and average citizens said that the very steps taken by the president in the name of stability — including preservation of an emergency law that allows arrest without charge — had produced a state with weak institutions, weak political parties and a bureaucracy unable to resolve the social, political and economic problems that helped cultivate extremism.
“It is very clear that the government totally lost control — of everything,” said Muhammad Aboulghar, a professor at Cairo University medical school and a liberal activist. “The only control they have is on the security of the president, the group around him, and few other party figures. That’s it.”
But for all the criticism it unleashed, the blast appears to have forged a consensus that Egypt, despite its historic tradition of moderate Islamic thinking and multicultural tolerance, has in recent years become overwhelmed by fundamentalist religious identification, a position that until now the government strongly denied.
That view has reinforced the growing belief that President Mubarak was not ready to surrender the reins of power, people here said. Mr. Mubarak underwent surgery in Germany last year, and appeared frail for months afterward, leading to speculation about who might succeed him. But people who have recently met with him said that he appears to have regained his strength and seems to have no intention of giving up power.