The UK Catholic Herald had story Monday under the headline, Coptic priests fear Egyptian youth will turn away from Church:
Maryknoll Fr Douglas May, who worked in Egypt for 18 years of Mubarak’s nearly 30-year rule, said he thought “the Christian leaders in Egypt played it safe”.
Fr May, now stationed in Nairobi, said: “I’m afraid that the Church leadership has lost its credibility with the Christian youth over this.”
Both priests, who have indults to minister to Coptic- and Latin-rite Catholics, spoke of discrimination that Christians faced under Mubarak’s rule and that of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat.
That discrimination spanned the spectrum from direct restrictions by the regime to bias within government institutions to discrimination in wide society. But would these forms of discrimination be any different under other form of government?
As Coptic and Anglican leaders in Egypt watched the street protests they had a choice to make. Would they choose silence, would they echo Mubarak’s line about a transition, or would they support the peaceful protests? Their choice was to play it safe by falling in line with Mubarak and his promises of a transition. Yet Mubarak had been promising a lifting of martial law for years, while enjoying photo ops with every US president throughout his 30-year rule.
The statements by The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, Bishop of the Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt are representative. In the first he said,
Yesterday, President Mubarak made it very clear that he will not seek re-election after he finishes his term in November 2011. He appointed Mr. Ibrahim Soliman as a Vice-President. He has a good reputation among Egyptians. This appointment ruled out the possibility of appointing the President’s son as a successor.
We appreciate your prayers for:
* The end of demonstrations, especially in view of the changes that President Mubarak announced. This will bring Egypt back to normal and the curfew will be ended.
* The new government, in order to achieve the desired targets in serving the people, especially the Minister of Interior who is now trying to re-build the trust with the people of Egypt.
A few days later Mubarak’s fifth column of thugs attacked the masses peacefully demonstrating. Anis wrote again,
‘I am sorry to tell you that things did not go well yesterday evening. The morning gave us hope as demonstrators started to leave Tahrir Square [in Cairo].
‘However, in the evening things changed 180 degrees when the crowds who support President Mubarak arrived in Tahrir Square and both the supporters and demonstrators clashed with each other.
I called upon the people of Egypt to give time for the new government to achieve the needed security, justice and democracy. We meet every day at the cathedral to pray for the situation. We thank God because all our churches and institutions are safe.
‘We, with many other Egyptians, are very sad because of the violence and destruction within our beloved country.
‘Egypt is known in the region as “the mother of the world.” Now, the mother is wounded by its own children, which is harder than wounds of outside wars….’
Although the regime repressed Christians, just as it did all other elements of civil society, it had presented itself as a defender of the church against Islamist violence. Never mind that another tactic of repressive regimes is to play factions off against each other.
For the Coptic and Anglican leaders in Egypt theirs was a calculus was of risk minimization–the risk of retribution by the Mubarak regime for not supporting it, the risk of a transition of power with an uncertainty outcome, and the risk that the peaceful protests could degenerate into violence.
The result is that in the eyes of the young protesters–whether they identify as Christian, Muslim or secular–the church failed to stand up for fundamental human rights, and put itself on the wrong side of history, the church succumbed to the fear dictators use to suppress opposition and the protesters proved that collective action can overwhelm the instruments of repression. For them statements like “the mother is wounded by its own children” are as far out of touch as Mubarak’s equation of them as his sons and daughters.
In an interview with the Italian bishops SIR news agency Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq spoke about the revolutions sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. The Catholic News Agency has a report:
Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, called the Middle East a “scary volcano” because of the possible consequences of widespread unrest. “There are Islamic forces and movements that wish to change the Middle East, creating Islamic States, caliphates, in which Shariah (law) rules,” he warned.
Radical groups present in Iraq such as al-Qaida and Ansar al Islam are calling on citizens in other Middle Eastern nations to inject an Islamic influence into otherwise general protests in places like Tunisia and Egypt. For Archbishop Sako these calls have “the clear intention of fueling … a total religious change” in the area.
“The western mentality does not allow it to fully comprehend this risk,” he said. He explained that politics and religion are interwoven in the Middle East, whereas there is “a tremendous void” between them in western nations. This results in two extremisms, he said. The Middle Eastern mentality is dominated by Islam, while a secularism that denies its Christian roots and relegates Christian values to the private sphere reigns in the West.
Iraqi Christians – plagued by violence and a lack of security – look to the Egyptian crisis with “sadness,” he told SIR news. They are afraid that the North African nation might fall into the same ethnic and religious division.
Despite the example of the treatment of the Marsh Arabs under Saddam, Archbishop Sako plainly believes that Muslim-majority countries require a secular dictator if minorities are to be safe. Young Muslims and Christians stood together in Tahrir Square demanding freedom and social justice. Time will tell whether what evolves is a form of democracy that respects these ideals for all. But Iran and Iraq are not Egypt or Tunisia. In both these latter cases, the majority respect their Islamic heritage, but do not want an Islamist state imposing its standards. Nor does the Muslim Brotherhood have that as its aim, and not only because it knows that is a losing strategy. It’s told Iran to get lost.
Lastly, should the democracy path be headed for Islamist subversion, a secular military dictatorship will step in. But in the meantime, a return to Mubarak-like repression would only stoke the Islamist cause, particularly if the west has any hand in it. The danger at this point appears to be that the senior military leadership is getting in the way of reform.
If the idealism of the youth reflects where Egypt is headed Muslim and Christian Egyptians will find a future of peaceful unity. USA Today reports,
… during the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo, many Christians joined in, protecting Muslims from police and Mubarak supporters while they prayed. Christian doctors manned some of the first-aid stands, and posters with a crescent moon and a cross proclaimed unity.
Many Christians say they suspect the government was involved in the attacks to keep Egyptians divided. “When the demonstrations started, I doubted that what would happen in Tunisia would happen here,” [said David Samuels, 31, a master’s student and a Christian, speaking in a bar near the upscale Heliopolis area of Cairo.]. “But then I understood that there was real anger and people were talking about being Egyptian, not about being Christians or Muslims, and my Muslim friends were angry that the government was making conflict between Christians and Muslims worse.”
“Christians have been raised on fear, and they are always afraid,” he said.
In Shnouda’s cafe, the owner was quiet as his friends chattered about the revolution, about how the political elite who stole all the money had gone, how Egypt was entering a time of more freedom and how the new government would not try to divide Christians and Muslims as the old one did. Asked whether he agreed that the government would bring people closer, Shnouda paused. “Come and ask me this question in a year,” he said. “We hope it will be better.”
Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Coptic Christian Orthodox Church of Alexandria, praised the youth of the January 25 Egyptian Revolution, saying that they “shed their blood for the country,” in a statement on Tuesday. His statement also praised the youth that have been honored by the country’s military and its people and offered condolences to the families of the young who lost their lives.
It comes less than two weeks since Shenouda called on the demonstrations that ended in ousting Hosni Mubarak, to leave and return home. His comments were met with scorn and resentment among Egypt’s population at the time, comments reported by State Television said.
Shenouda, appointed by Mubarak, has a long history of supporting Mubarak and his regime. (source)