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Defeat is called Camilia - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Let us borrow the title of the short story written by the late famous Egyptian author Ihsan Abdel Quddous, entitled “The defeat was called Fatima”, which was written following Egypt’s 1967 defeat [the Six-Day war], to reflect the humanitarian and social suffering of millions of families who fled towns in the Sinai Peninsula in order not to find themselves at the mercy of the Israeli aerial bombardment. This story is told through the character of Fatima, who is forced into prostitution. If we were to borrow this title, then today we would say that the defeat, not just for the Egyptian revolution, but the social and cultural heritage of the whole of Egypt, is embodied in the case of Camilia. This case first came to prominence long months before the 25 January revolution, causing social unrest and sectarian clashes which threatened the very fabric of Egyptian society itself. The case of Camilia, in this instance, is nothing more than a symptom of a disease or virus that is far more dangerous than cancer, especially if this is allowed to spread, and not treated or dealt with. In the case of societies or nations, discord and strife between different components of society usually leads to the collapse of the state or the disintegration of society, paving the way for foreign interference [in the state’s internal affairs], and this is something that ancient and modern history attests to.

The story of Camilia, and the controversy surrounding this, was settled following her appearance on a television channel where she announced that she was not being held against her will, and that she remains a Christian. This resolved long months of debate and uproar [over the fate of Camilia Shehata]; however this is not important in itself, rather what is important to note is society’s preoccupation with an individual case such as this. Nobody can know the personal dimension of this case, and whether this was the result of a normal dispute between a husband and wife, however it almost ignited a civil war.

All stories of sectarian clashes in Egypt, whether they took place before or after the 25 January revolution, revolve around personal cases, stories that at best appear to be delusional, or just rumors. Even if they were genuine, they are individual cases that belong in the Personal Status Courts, and they should not be inflicting society’s mindset with a sectarian virus and extremist rhetoric.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that this issue is not just one of ignorance and extremism, but that this also includes a degree of exploitation of the current social situation in order to ignite flames that will consume everything in their path. There are a number of suspicious circumstances surrounding the bloody events that took place in Imababa last Saturday, which left 12 dead and hundreds more wounded. According to the New York Times [Clashes in Cairo leave 12 dead and 2 churches in flames; 8/5/2012], which quoted a police report, a Muslim from a Nile Delta city had come to Imbaba looking for his wife. He claimed that his wife, a former Christian from the neighborhood who converted to Islam [in 2010] had recently disappeared, and he said that he believed she was being held in the Church [of St. Mina] against her will, which was then subject to damage. The Christians in the neighborhood denied this charge, as did the Church and the police; however hundreds of Muslim residents in the area received telephone calls urging them to go to the Church to rescue the wife of a Sheikh who was being held against her will. Christians also received phone calls urging them to take to the streets to protect the Church as a group of Salafists were approaching it. What is ironic is that in the same [New York Times] story, an Imbaba resident who was recently released from prison after serving a long sentence admitted that he was one of the Islamists that received this phone call, but he said that he declined to answer the request because the caller could not provide him with details. He said “in this period we are in, we cannot bear this kind of talk…this could kill the revolution.” Even the Salafists, or some of their symbols, denied any link to these rumors. So who wants to provoke sedition? Who is making telephone calls trying to provoke people? It is up to the investigative authorities to answer such questions, but whatever the plans to incite sedition or chaos, in the end this is only exploiting an existing situation, and we cannot bury our heads in the sand with regards to this [tension between the Muslim and Coptic communities]. This situation is the legacy of the past two or three decades of sectarian division and tension, and the state lay the foundations for this situation by, in some cases, refraining from applying the law in favor of formal reconciliation [between the Muslim and Coptic communities], and politicizing religious institutions.

The 25 January revolution may have opened the door for sectarian discourse to appear freely in public, but it did not produce this sectarian discourse, this has existed for a long period of time [in Egypt] as a societal phenomenon. The solution is for society itself to confront this discourse, and to promote the political and educational role of the elite that created this [political] change, to reject and refute these [sectarian] ideas. Otherwise, the history books a hundred years from now will be full of those who mocking say that…Egypt entered into turmoil and civil war because of the quarrel between a husband and wife over a cooking pot or a casserole.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

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

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