To say that there is a sectarian crisis that is about to explode in Egypt is an exaggeration. However, there are alarming and worrying trends taking place which cannot be denied. In this current climate, some are manipulating the moods of the public, threatening them with an eruption of sectarian violence. The key figures in this tense scene have become well-known.
Rumours have continued surrounding two Coptic ladies, ‘Wafaa’ and ‘Camellia’, who have allegedly converted to Islam, and are now being held in abandoned monasteries, under the supervision of the Church itself, to prevent them from communicating with the public or the media. Despite the fact that Camellia has come out on tape to deny her conversion to Islam, there is a continuing campaign to ‘save’ her. Websites have been created ‘in support of Camellia’, and photos of her have been doctored with modern technology to show her wearing the Hijab or Niqab. The purpose of all this is to manipulate people’s emotions, by transforming Camellia’s story into propaganda. As for Wafaa, her destiny remains a much greater mystery, as there has been no information regarding her situation.
The sectarian tension has been directed to serve other political aims. Amidst this public friction, the second highest-ranking official in the Egyptian Coptic Church, Anba Bishoy came out and gave statements that could be described as stupid and provocative at the very least. Bishoy stated that Muslim were guests in the land of Egypt. What kind of logic is this man applying? How could guests constitute more than 90 percent of the country’s overall population?
However, Bishoy did not stop at such a strange statement. He went even further by arguing that some verses were added to the Holy Quran during the reign of the Third Caliph Othman Ibn Affan. Bishoy claimed that such verses prompted Muslims to be hostile towards the People of the Book. This statement could only be described as idiotic, and Bishoy was playing with fire. He risked inciting anger amongst the overwhelming majority of his country’s population, and among hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world. Someone of Bishoy’s standing should have had the prudence and wisdom to know what to say in such situations, but he has committed several infamous lapses in the same context.
The Head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, sought to ‘play down’ the issue by appearing on the Egyptian state-run TV, in an arranged peak-time media broadcast, with the Head of News, Abdul Latif al-Manawi. During this broadcast, Pope Shenouda expressed his deep sorrow over the hurt caused by the words of Anba Bishoy, with regard to Egyptian Muslims.
This act of appeasement was well received by Egyptian Muslims, because it was a quick response, following the provocative words of Anba Bishoy, and because it had been performed by the Head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, in person. However, tensions soon rose because on the very next day, Pope Shenouda III denied making an apology! This denial drew a strong reaction, firstly from the Copts themselves. Some of them did not understand the Pope’s stance, considering his actions to be a ‘weak’ gesture, and an embarrassment to the Copts. Furthermore, one activist has decided to sue Anba Bishoy, and has filed a lawsuit against him. Another group have capitalized on Pope Shenouda’s ‘inconclusive’ stance, and have completely rejected the idea of him issuing an apology, as it does not befit the status of the Pope. Matters quickly escalated, and transformed into sit-ins, protests, and unprecedented chaos. Insults have been exchanged amid a torrent of abuse that has taken place between Muslim and Coptic Egyptians, in a country which has embraced Christianity and Islam for centuries.
Anba Bishoy, who was a candidate to succeed Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, has effectively ruled himself out of the running to assume that office. There is no way that a man who openly displays such animosity toward the overwhelming Muslim majority of his country would be installed as Head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church. The political leadership in Egypt would have deep reservations about appointing him such a post.
Extremism and radicalism have made strong incursions into the religious discourse in Egypt, both with regards to Christians and Muslims. This is a plague that has befallen many Arab countries; a plague which manifests itself in the public scene, the media, politics, the intellectual domain, and culture. Continuing to confront this plague, from the perspective that there are two rivals in conflict, only makes matters worse.
Something has happened. Something evil has entered society. It is the demon of extremism and obstinacy, which only sees with its own eyes. Thus, it never sees the whole picture, which Almighty God has demonstrated boundless creativity in shaping and fashioning. I am talking about the picture of human diversity, with all its richness and variety. This is one of God’s greatest achievements, which we ought to contemplate, respect and work through, and not try and eliminate.