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A Lesson from the History of Alexandria - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The well known account of events in Egypt in1882 states that the rationale used for the bombardment of Alexandria, and the invasion of British forces, was the massacre that took place there under mysterious circumstances, although there are many signs that this was part of a plot against the Orabi Revolt, which was taking place at this time. The Alexandria riot was sparked by a quarrel over a fare between an Egyptian donkey boy and a Maltese man, who drew his knife and stabbed the Egyptian; this sparked a riot and subsequent massacre in which dozens of foreign nationals were killed, along with many Egyptians. When the Egyptian government, in which [Ahmed] Orabi was the Under-Secretary of War, learned of this riot, it was alarmed and sent a commission of inquiry. However it was too late, the [British] invasion had already begun.

There is a big difference between what happened roughly 129 years ago in Alexandria, and the massacre witnessed there on New Years Eve 2010. The former happened against a backdrop of political turmoil, and a nationalist movement rebelling against foreign control over the country’s fate. The latter was carried out by a terrorist, or a handful of terrorists, hiding in the darkness, however their goal is clear; and that is to incite strife between Egyptian Copts and Muslims. However, if the perpetrators of the Alexandria massacre are allowed to achieve their objectives, through the creation of an internal rift [between Muslims and Copts in Egypt], there will be only one outcome and that is the weakening of Egypt’s internal fabric, which would open the door to foreign intervention or even control, of Egypt.

The question that must be asked here is, and this is a question that the analysis of this massacre deals with, is: is this attack being talked about as a simple act of terrorism, or is there also a sectarian element [in how this attack is being viewed]? Head of the Egyptian Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III, wisely said that the forces behind this bombing do not want Egypt to prosper. President Mubarak was also wise to stress that terrorism is directed against Egyptians in general.

What happened was a pure act of terrorism, but the problem is that this comes against a backdrop of division, and a strained atmosphere, between Egypt’s Muslims and Copts. This has, in some cases, taken a violent form in recent years, and we have seen a worrying rise in such incidents over the last year. The reason for this is that incidents appear, when examined in an isolated manner, to be trivial, such as the quarrel between the donkey boy and the Maltese man. For example, we see a crisis emerging as a result of a romantic relationship between a young man and woman of different faiths, or a crisis because the Copts when to expand a Church, in other words, small issues that should be resolved by a local council, or even a basic court. However such issues take on greater dimensions and international resonance because of the presence of an underlying climate [in Egypt] that is conductive to tension, and increasing problems.

This is what should be discussed and resolved, within the framework of maintaining national unity and healthy relations between Egypt’s communities. It is not healthy to bury one’s head in the sand; these problems are a phenomenon that can easily be resolved with the understanding of all parties concerned, especially if the Copts have demands which if not met will cause them to feel that there is a lack of justice or equal opportunities. Yet what is most important is to confine the extremist ideological trends. Such ideology is equivalent to a Tartar invasion, in the sense that it consumes everything and everyone, leaving behind an ideology of hatred. We must strengthen a culture of citizenship, God’s religion, and a homeland for all.

Links have already been drawn between what happened in Alexandria, external interferences, and the threats made by Al Qaeda in Iraq a few weeks ago against all Christians in the Middle East, and against the Coptic Church in particular. There may or may not be a relationship between these threats and what happened in Alexandria, but any external parties wishing evil upon Egyptian society will not be able to incite strife if the internal body is solid and sound.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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