Egyptians disillusioned by the end of the Arab spring
by André Azzam
Following the adoption of a new constitution, the country is caught between the Muslim Brotherhood's hegemony and opposition of liberal and secularist parties. Ordinary Egyptians have taken a wait-and-see attitude. For them, a Brotherhood-led Egypt is not much different from Mubarak's regime. Meanwhile, Salafists continue to issue anti-Christian fatwas. In the latest, Muslims are told not to wish Merry Christmas to Christians. An Islamic leader weeps on TV saying: "Our Islam has lost its reputation and its fame under backward minds who are frittering away religion into factions and parties with sectarianism".
Cairo (AsiaNews) - In the beginning of the new year and almost two years after the 25th of January revolution, Egypt and Egyptians can only celebrate disillusion and disenchantment, since most of the people one meets agree that "the revolution has been stolen" and "our Egypt has been kidnapped". The general feeling is that "the home country is lost and torn apart between the rule of the Supreme Guide, the liberals and tenants of civil society and the population who is watching". The beautiful slogan and banner of the 25th of January 2011 revolution asking for "Bread, Liberty and Social Justice" has been shelved, put aside, forgotten...
A general feeling of disappointment is reigning after the succession of misdoings and deceptions all along the previous year. Everybody finally accepted the presidential election, though dubious, hoping for good and proper decisions to discover little by little that the regime is turning more and more towards a dictatorship, under the ferula and the strict authority of the Muslim Brotherhood... Demonstrators in November in front of the presidential palace awarded the new president the title of "sheep" to signify that everybody is aware that he is a kind of a handle manipulated by the office of the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brothers. So many decisions have been announced to be retracted soon after...
Then people are not feeling the difference with the former regime, since a new law about demonstrations is prepared just to neutralize any popular movement. As says a newspaper's headline: "The return of a police state... by law"! On the other side, the arrival of the head of state on Saturday last to the Senate/Parliament escorted by a huge retinue along a road bordered with so numerous guards recalled everybody of the heavy escorts of the previous president.
Dawn on 31 December saw the shooting down of Mohannad Samir, a known activist, on Tahrir Square. He got a bullet in the brain and is clinically dead, which will prevent him to testify about the killing of a demonstrator last year in front of the Ministers Council. Two days ago a huge demonstration of thousands of members of 6th of April Movement crossed the Nile and Tahrir Square to end up at Abdine, east of Cairo to celebrate the 17th birthday of Gaber Salah, called Gika, the teenager who was shot last November when celebrating the first anniversary of Mohammad Mahmoud Street slaughter. During the recent period ten people were shot dead, among whom the journalist Al Husseiny Abou Deif, who was said preparing a solid financial enquiry about a relative of a high rank well established politician.
This event probably explain why the big gathering foreseen for New Year's eve last night on Tahrir square did not happen. Only a celebration gathered thousands of people inside and in front of the Evangelical Church one street behind Tahrir Square. At the same moment a huge gathering happened in Alexandria in the Two Saints Church to celebrate the second anniversary of the atrocious bomb attack on this church which resulted in 24 dead people and numerous wounded. Pope Tawadrous II surprised everyone by presiding over this ceremony.
The newly elected Patriarch on November 4th last will preside for the first time the Christmas celebration in St Mark Cathedral in Cairo on the 6th of January night. No one knows who from the officials will attend the celebration to represent the state. Recently a fatwa was issued by the Legal Authority for Rights and Reform, which joins Muslim brothers and Salafists, preventing from greeting Christians during their feasts. This fatwa dragged many strong reactions. Sheikh Ahmad Mahmoud Karima, eminent teacher at Al Azhar University, well known for his attacks against Salafists reacted vigorously during a TV programme asserting with tears that "Our Islam has lost its reputation and its fame under backward minds who are frittering away religion into factions and parties with sectarianism. All those people who established themselves as preachers have never studied and know nothing about religion or theology", and quoting the Prophet, he called them "insignificant, worthless". Severe criticism spurted out against Khayrat al Shater, assistant supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is seen as the real brain of the movement, because of his contradictory duplicity: he is member of the famous Legal Authority for Rights and Reform, and, at the same time he addressed in English on his web site greetings "on behalf of the Muslim Brothers to our Christian brethren around the world for joyful Christmas feasts".
Amba Pakhomios, bishop of Behayra and Matrouh (west of the Delta) who acted as interim patriarch after Pope Shenouda death stated strongly two days ago that the Church opposition against the constitution is not meant by the article 219, that describes implementation of the Sharia, but mainly because of all the articles concerning general liberty and human rights
One eminent Salafist leader stated, "We do not intend to force Christian women to wear the veil, but we are going to try to convince them". A few days ago, an unveiled lady leaving her work at a hospital in Tanta, in the midst of the Delta ; north of Cairo, was savagely attacked by a Muslim man who hit her shouting, 'Infidel, miscreant, impious, we shall teach you how to respect Islam values'. . . ."
As a punishment for stealing, the sheikh of a mosque, in a locality south of Cairo killed two recurrent burglars after trying to convince them to amend from their conduct, stating that before implementing his judgement, he did ask Muslim religious authorities in the area about how to deal with such situation.
This addition of events reveals how much any one can decide now, in the name of religion, to act in a way that disregards the law and the basic rights. At the same moment, it shows how much Egypt is going deep into an apparent narrow minded pseudo religious path that is reinforced by the constant benefits and progress grabbed by the present movement that is taking hold of every nook and cranny of the country's mechanisms and institutions.
According to the expert politician Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, famous writer and former press councillor of late president Nasser, "the constitution has been imposed by force since the referendum was a real comedy..." The facts are proving that only 20 % of the electors shared in this voting and from all around observers agree that the results were fabricated. It has been endorsed by a Senate whose members have largely been nominated by the president. The opponents cover all the elements of society: judges, media, artists, peasants, women, workers, etc.
In the midst of all that, 'Essam el-Erian, vice president of the Freedom and Justice party (i.e. the Muslim Brothers), invited the former Egyptian Jews to come back to Egypt and to retake their stripped possessions, properties and rights that would be returned to them. According to the French Jewish Authority, these rights are evaluated to 30 billion dollars. This suggestion drained a flood of reactions asserting that it is not realistic or politically correct or legal. "Better ask for the return of Egyptian prisoners in Israel ", said a Muslim leader. On another side, a member of the leading authority of the Freedom and Justice Party stated that Essam el-Erian's suggestion is private and does not commit the party.
As for the economic situation, Egypt is not far from a breakdown : prices are going high ; the dollar increased by nearly half a pound in a few days ; people are rushing to buy foreign currency, fearing nearby devaluation of the Egyptian pound ; local and foreign investments are interrupted ; unemployment rose from 8,5% in 2011 to 12,8 % in 2012 ; tourism is at its worse condition ; industry and agriculture are in a state of recession ; electrical power cuts are worsening,... Everybody is expecting rise of basic prices. Some economists are predicting bankruptcy...
Facing this situation, the president presented a high level optimistic panorama on his speech in front of the Senate two days ago. Some newspapers reacted asserting: "Persistence of the succession of lying, counterfeiting, and misleading". Seldom are the people believing in the "Islamic Bonds" power to reactivate the economy. One newspaper is mentioning the possibility of leasing the Suez Canal to Qatar Emirate for a concession of 99 years and asks if "we are going to have a Muslim Ferdinand de Lesseps in the 21st century"? Another newspaper is asking: "Where are we going with this group (Muslim Brotherhood)"?
And finally, the "Destour" (Constitution) newspaper gave yesterday a sad headline saying: "The people is mourning the Egyptian nation for the death of 25 January Revolution. For the dear deceased, our compassion and for the people our sincere sympathy". Conclusion of the obituary: "The people has to pay the cost ...".
The panorama is far from being bright at the edge of this New Year. One of the achievements of the recent new regime has been to unite the opposition, which is composed mainly of liberal and secularism forces. Will they be able to counteract the invading Islamist movement?
Egypt is exposed to be driven out of the Arab Spring to enter a long and obscure tunnel equal to a black and freezing winter. But Egypt is Egypt, with its long lasting history of so many millennia, the endurance, stamina and resilience of its people, who were able to egyptiannise different cultures and civilizations, such as Christianity and Islam, who could provoke a movement of egyptomania all over the world, its high sense of reality and humour... All qualifications that should enable to overcome the most acute situation and give hope for the future.
Al-Azhar rejects Salafist threats, extends Christmas greetings to Orthodox Copts
Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam al-Azhar, makes the announcement during a meeting with Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II. Coptic community prepares for Orthodox Christmas on 7 January.
Cairo (AsiaNews) - Next Monday, al-Azhar leaders will extend their Christmas greetings to Egypt's Coptic community, said Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam at al-Azhar, the most important Sunni university. In so doing, he is openly rejecting the attitude of Salafists who threatened Muslims who want to share Christmas with Christians or just extend Christmas greetings to them.
In a meeting with Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II, al-Tayeb said that al-Azhar "rejects and condemns statements by some extremist figures. As in previous years, we shall greet the Coptic community with 'Merry Christmas'." According to Orthodox tradition, which follows the Julian calendar, the birth of Christ falls on 7 January.
Since the start of the Arab spring, more and more websites and TV stations have broadcast sermons by Salafist religious leaders, many of whom were in prison during the Mubarak regime.
Death threats against Christians have become common place on TV and in newspapers. With the passing of the constitution that recognises Sharia as a basis of legislation, radical leaders have been emboldened.
In the past few days, Hesham el Ashry, a Salafist leader who founded the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice Authority, issued threats against Muslims who extended Christmas greetings to Christians, calling them "traitors" and "apostates" if they do.
His message was eventually picked up by other radical leaders whose dream is a completely Islamised Egypt.
El- Ashry also said that his movement plans to convince Christians to change religion, telling women to wear a veil.
Against this background of tensions, Orthodox Copts are preparing to celebrate Christmas, showing the joy of the festivity to their Muslim compatriots, this despite fears that Egypt might be Islamised.
Still, many are emotionally conflicted. "We Christians are not afraid," said Nasser Abu Ghaly, a teacher in Shubra, a mixed Christian-Muslim working-class neighbourhood in Cairo, "but we are concerned about our children and families. In any event, as Copts and Egyptians we have right to pray to our God."
In predominantly Christian areas in Cairo all the windows and balconies are decked out with coloured lights, garlands and religious symbols. But in the parish of the Virgin and Mar (Saint) Mina Church, Copts celebrate Christmas with their Muslim neighbours who often take part in religious services and extend Christmas greetings to Coptic Orthodox families.
On Christmas Eve, local sources expect the small church to be overflowing with people, many following Midnight Mass in silence in the churchyard and the streets.
A few months ago, the church made the front page when a group of Salafists tried to seize land belonging to Mar Mina parish in order to turn it into a mosque.
The attempt did not cause any clashes, but it was as a clear warning to local Christians who had planned to build a new parish building on the same land, which they owned.
"Tensions have been running high among locals," said Mar Mina parish priest Fr Felopater Rateb Towfiles. "Everyone is trying to be careful not to provoke Islamists."
"Thank God that none of us got into a row with the Salafists," Fr Towfiles said. "Otherwise, there would have been a massacre."
In fact, "At the time, Christians were unarmed whilst Salafists had automatic weapons and grenades," which the clergyman saw with his own eyes, he said.