Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Beyond the Alexandria Crime | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Investigations into the bombings which targeted al-Qiddissin church in Alexandria are still in their infancy, so it is difficult to say who was behind this heinous crime. Therefore, it is not wise to make reckless accusations, which would only add fuel to fire. It is true that al-Qaeda, in the guise of the so-called “Islamic State of Iraq”, has issued several statements over the past two months, which threatened to target Christians in Egypt. [It is also true] that some websites, frequented by ‘Jihadists’, have published the addresses of a number of churches in Egypt, including al-Qiddissin church in Alexandria, and called for them to be targeted during the new year celebrations. However, these days we are aware that ‘al-Qaeda’ is no longer an organization, in the strict sense of the word, but rather it has become an international banner under which different organizations are operating. In reality, these organizations share nothing in common, except for extremism and terrorism. The term ‘al-Qaeda’ may sometimes be used by deviant groups seeking to sow the seeds of discord, create problems, and undermine stability.

Of course, ‘al-Qaeda’ cannot be declared innocent of this crime, for the act, and they way it was carried out, bore the hallmarks of the global terrorist network. The organization and its slogans seek to destabilize the region and incite sectarian strife. Al-Qaeda has attempted, and continues to attempt, to trigger a war between Sunnis and Shiites, or create tensions between Muslims and Christians, as we saw with the Lady of Salvation Church massacre in Baghdad last October. Following the massacre, the so-called “Islamic State of Iraq” warned that it would target Egyptian Copts, under the pretext that two [Christian] women, who had recently converted to Islam, were being held in custody in Egyptian monasteries. One should highlight here that “al-Qaeda” does not target Christians in defence of Islam or Muslims. The organization has previously targeted mosques, and more Muslims have died as a result of its attacks than the followers of any other faith. However, whether or not ‘al-Qaeda’ masterminded the horrific crime in al-Qediseen church, there is a greater and more significant issue here; namely the underlying conditions that have paved the way for those seeking to create sectarian strife, and undermine the stability and unity of our nations.

Without a doubt, Egypt was targeted in particular, because it is undergoing a difficult, tense period, which represents a favourable opportunity for any party seeking to undermine the country’s stability and security. Sectarian tension is regarded as Egypt’s Achilles’ heel, and it is easy for those targeting national unity and social cohesion to trigger violent confrontations between Muslims and Christians. The virus of sectarian strife has been growing for quite some time, and numerous incidents have taken place in recent years as a result of constant tension, and increasing extremism. Such incidents are the outcome of a previous accumulation, dating back to the 1970s or even earlier. When religion is brought into a political dispute, with the aim of using it as leverage or a bargaining chip, the door is open for extremism. Likewise, this also paved the way for sectarianism, in a country where the Muslim and Christian population had lived in peace and cohesion since the dawn of Islam. Without a doubt, political suppression and a lack of freedom of expression have fed extremism further, thus preventing any conscious and courageous effort to deal with the sectarian tension.

Many rational minds warned several years ago of the dangers of dealing with Christians as ‘non-Muslims in a Muslim state’, rather than simply treating them as citizens. Despite this, the dominant discourse, not only in Egypt but across the Arab world, continued to handle the situation on the bases of ‘the majority and the minority’. The logic of ‘a majority and a minority’ within a nation is in fact a poisoned dagger. It is being driven into an open wound, exposing it to the bacteria of sectarianism and the disease of extremism. To label someone as a minority would cause them to feel wary, and adopt a defensive position, out of fear for their existence.

So what is required?

The concept of citizenship is the correct approach to galvanise our societies, on the basis that we are all citizens, whether Muslims and Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, or Arabs, Kurds and Berbers (for example but not exclusively). As a result, everyone enjoys full rights and duties, as long as they belong to the same country, and protect the sanctity of the homeland. Full citizenship is a safeguard for human rights, dignity and humanity, and promotes one’s allegiance to his country, regardless of his race, religion or sect.

Present-day Sudan is an example of what can happen to a nation when it fails to entrench the concept of citizenship, when people are dealt with on the basis of majority and minority, and when the language of ‘Muslim this and Christian that’ is used. Iraq is another example of what can happen to a nation when a sectarian mentality prevails, with a division between Sunnis and Shiites, and Arabs and Kurds. Yet Lebanon may be the greatest example of how sectarianism can damage a nation. The country has been torn and worn out by sectarian wars, which continue to ravage at its weak body.

Egypt may be different to Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan, but it is certainly not immune to the virus of sectarian strife. Perhaps the recent events will prompt people to think of how to handle such an issue, not in terms of how to calm the current situation, but instead to search for a comprehensive cure and preventive solution. In doing so, the concept of full citizenship must prevail over the language of ‘minorities and majorities’, which has only made matters worse. Only then, extremists and those seeking to incite civil strife will be unable to undermine the country, or trigger sectarian conflict.