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A few armchair observations on Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt


Attending a conference on women’s empowerment. The cell phone of a lady sitting next to me rings—her ring tone -- “We wish you a merry Christmas.” I wonder if she knews the words to the song.


My Coptic Christian friends are often bemoaning the discrimination they face. Although the National Council of Human Rights (read: total joke) 2005 annual report stated that the complaints of the sizeable minority were only “in their heads” (read Bahey El Din Hassan’s, a member of the NCHR, complaints about the report.) Christians (read this article on Christians) face a number of legal and professional restrictions. They are not allowed to join Egypt’s F.B.I. equivalent, the mokhabarat, and other high ranks. Until the law changed at the beginning of this year, they were not able to construct a church without presidential decree. The law has now changed, so that Christian communities need the permission of the governor. Those who want to construct a mosque, however, do not need to follow as contracted of channels to gain permission, and an owner of an apartment block will receive a tax deduction for building a small mosque within the building.

There are larger forces at play in Egypt’s frayed Christian-Muslim relations. I won’t go into these here, but will just highlight my recent experience.

Sitting on a bus heading to an Upper Egyptian village… A Coptic priest is up front with his wife, his bulbous black hat sticking out like a clove of garlic above the seat. (they have such great headgear here!) Like many in his profession, the bus driver had a wide selection of Koranic recitation tapes. He decided to play the Sura 9 of the Quran that said that Christians are infidels. #?, blaring it so that it was above the usual loudspeaker volume to physically uncomfortable.

We stopped by a banquet hall decorated with christmas tree lights, and a large and raucous family got on. They were searching for seats for the small kids and the women. One of the veiled mothers said as she passed the priest, “We must be able to bear this, we are good people after all as Muslims.”

My Christian friend said these events were intentional. I believe him, but my experience was somewhat lost in translation. I’m not sure how he could make out the words of the Sura with the volume up so loud…

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Om Iddunia to give birth again?

Will the Mother of the World Give Birth

For all you armchair Egyptophiles,
  • Sandmonkey
  • catches the mood of the streets and salons of Egypt in a May 24 post, ,
  • Labor Pains

  • Labor pains

    The atmosphere in Egypt is strange these days. There is some weird energy in the air. This feels like endgame. Something is coming. Everyone is torn between anticipation, hope and fear, but no one knows for sure how the final play will go down, or who is going to win. All bets are on children, time to place them.

    The MB are rumored to be deploying 10,000 protesters tomorrow for the downtown Cairo protest. The Shayfeencom ad has been seen by regular people and people in state secuirty apparently, because the website now is blocked . The international response is great, and chosing the 25th of May, the one year anniversery for the referendum , or Black wendsday as it's known now , is a stroke of genius. What happend that day that should not be forgotten , and it seems it never will be.

    It almost feels as if Egypt is about to give birth to something, as if it is in labor, and no one is quite sure what it will give birth to. And we are not the only ones who are worried, because the Government is quite worried too: the economy is unstable , this move by shayfeencom is a clear escalation that no one dared to do before, it is now proven that they can't protect the citizens , and despite heavy handed tactics and arrests by the hundreds , every week's protest and subsequently the number of those arrested is significantly higher than the week before, and the scale of the international response must be terrifying for them . They know that their time is running out. They know that something is coming, and they also have no clue what it will be. Both sides are equally terrified.

    I have no idea what Egypt will give birth to, and I don't dare to guess. I just hope we all survive the current labor pains. I am not sure how much more of this I can take!

    get your opposition stickers!

    The Egyptian newspaper, Dustor is issuing stickers that show support for the judges. Buy your copy today!

    I can't wait until the t-shirts come out.

    We see you!

    The African Egyptian Human Rights Organization has made a site for Egyptian to log in and share their stories of corruption, harrassment, and the usual litany of abuses of an authoritarian regime on its people.

    The Arabic version has a lot of good pictures:

  • The English version offers a slightly pared down version, but still lets you see what the site is about:

  • Power to the people.


    Egyptian embassy in London defends international criticism with magic word.

    An elegant but empty rebuff

    The May 18th European edition of the Economist features a letter from the press secretary of the Egyptian embassy in London, Ayman AlKaffas, in which he defends Egypt's broken processes of reform, including the extension of the security law, due to the ever looming terrorist threat. (see below for the full article)

    This is not the first, nor the last time that the Egyptian government has used this magic word to protect itself from what are indeed a real danger to its stronghold of power--the opposition. And if you happened to see the pictures of the
  • recent demonstrations
  • , ordinary citizens pose a threat as well. Ironically, Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Nazif said the following to the Egyptian parliament April 30:

    "We will never use the emergency law against the Egyptian people...We will use it only to protect the citizens and face the terror cells"

    Calling all the bad guys terrorists harkens to an oh so recent era--call it a cold war, where we could call our enemies the C-word: "communists." Including this magic word in any official policy, gives a policy new legitimacy. Tough "anti-terror" legislation implemented in the Gulf states at the behest of the Gulf shut down a burgeoning number of human rights organizations following September 11. It is now this same "anti-terror" legislation that allows the Egyptian government to protect itself from its own citizens.
  • The U.S. just voted to end arm sales to Venezuela
  • because Chavez was not cooperating in fighting "terrorism."

    Chavez dismissed the charges, saying, "It's the empire."
    Someone please tell me about the terrorists in South America...

    Egypt's challenge

    SIR – Egypt deeply regrets any violence that pits its fellow citizens against one another (“Broken promises”, April 22nd). In the wake of the recent incident in Alexandria, the government has reaffirmed its commitment to guarantee the security and rights of all Egyptians regardless of their religious or racial background, and stands firmly with others in promoting tolerance and unity among peoples. But even the most established democratic regimes are blighted by social ills. To blame these problems just on government overlooks more complex factors.
    You also suggest that possible government interference disabled the leadership of the Wafd Party. Sadly, Wafd has been in decline for years. In last February's Country Report, your sister company, the Economist Intelligence Unit, recorded the climax of this process when the Wafd committee voted to remove their incumbent leader, Noman Gomaa, from office. It seems unrealistic to attribute such deep-seated internal party difficulties to government doing.
    Third, you lament that emergency laws in Egypt have not been repealed in line with an election promise. Egypt is facing turbulent times and is regrettably afflicted by the scourge of international terrorism. We are conducting a similar debate to that in Britain on the best way to respond. Our new parliament, which sat barely four months ago, should be allowed more time to agree on the appropriate legislation.
    Ayman Alkaffas
    Press counsellor
    Embassy of Egypt


    Letter from 3 Egyptian Female Activists from inside one of Cairo's Crowded Prisons

    Message from the 3 female political activists from inside the El-Kanater prison:

    ECWR received a message signed by the three political activists - Asma'a Ali, Rasha Azab, Nada El-Kasass - and was asked to send it as their voice from behind the bars of El Kanater prison. Irrespective of the contents of the message and whether or not ECWR agrees with it, we must send their message and demand their immediate release.

    Their message says:

    "We are announcing from prison our continued solidarity with the honorable judges, who are honest among the greatest of Egypt's generations, and rejecting all the arbitrary procedures and repeated violence against them. We also reject the preventing of their supporters from attending their trial, including consultant Ibrahim Daroush, other judges, lawyers and supporters.

    We emphasize again our solidarity with all demands of the judges and the national movement to achieve the complete independence of the judiciary. We also demand an investigation of all people involved in the election forgery, those who betrayed their country and their honor, and all people who abused Egyptian citizens, including the chair of the court, Mahmoud Abdel-Lateef Hamza, and all who beat or arrested citizens supporting the judges.

    Our demand for an independent judiciary is Egypt's right and her citizens struggling for it continue - even from inside the prison.

    The increasing brutality of the Egyptian government against its citizens and its honest judges is a sign of its weakness and the way it deals with the activists arrested March 24 - May 11, 2006 by State Security is a sign of its collapse.

    We are confident about the necessity of continuing our national movement against the tyranny and our continuing solidarity with the judges' demands. Our steadfastness before this regime is the only way to achieve our hopes to establish a state respectful of free association, justice and freedom. Neither the bars of prisons nor the dark cells will prevent us from struggling against this tyranny and injustice. We ask our colleagues, professors and leaders to continue our struggle for freedom from tyranny.

    We also declare that we will not engage in shameful negotiations with representatives of the regime or any party members since we consider them usurpers of authority and traitors to our nation. They violate our rights and are in collusion with our enemies, the Americans and Zionists, against our interests, our nation and our national security. We accuse all who participate by the name of the Kefaya movement in such negotiations of collusion and announce our rejection of negotiations, whether public or private.

    We didn't negotiate with anyone whether from the NDP or any other government or American or Zionist to speak on our behalf. Such acts destroy our efforts and hopes and we reject all results from them, even if it means our release. Enduring honestly the honor of prison for defending our nation's demands is many thousands times better than the shame of release by cooperation or collusion with those who commit crimes against this country.

    We announce from inside prison that we refused all mediation from the national government's criminals who are using the terminology of "normalization" for dependency, starvation, violating civil rights and their brutal abuses and torture of citizens. We will not accept any less than all these criminals and those who cooperated them be prosecuted.

    We also reject all the procedures associated with our detainment from our arrest to denying us the right to testify in court. In fact, we were prevented to enter the court to testify and were surrounded by state security, who threatened us with torture if we didn't leave. When we insisted on testifying, we were arrested. Some of us objected to these brutal abuses and false accusations, and we were then transferred to the unconstitutional authority of state security under the emergency law. When we demanded an investigation, there was no response.

    We are now detained in El-Kanater prison for women with criminals, and although they have been very cooperative and supportive of us, the prison management refuses to treat us as political prisoners and put us in separate cells. We requested this many times until they finally said "these are the instructions from state security." They have also prevented visits from families and lawyers for more than a week and made a separate curfew for us designated for specific places and times and required we be accompanied by security. We refused this treatment and but the prison management responds with the same answer: instructions from state security.

    This prison is so crowded that prisoners sleep on the ground – even inside the bathroom – but some prisoners offered us their beds in solidarity with our movement. There is no support or medical care for the prisoners and the products sold in the canteen are very expensive and exploit the prisoners. Of course there is a difference between how the management deals with the poor versus the rich prisoners, who have became rich at the expense of the public and cooperated with Youssif Waly and Youssif Abdel-Rahman in stealing the power of the people and spreading the cancer between them.

    We will continue our struggle from inside the prison and nothing will prevent us. Although the bars are very long, our voices will rise above them, and if the tyranny is increased, our religion will be the strongest. We will make sure that this experience and what we saw here is known by our power and persistence.

    Long live the Egyptian people's struggle …. It is a revolution until victory!

    From inside El-Kanaer prison,

    Rasha Azab Asma'a Ali Nada El-Kasas


    Essam al-Erian detained again

    Free Essam Al-Arian
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    Dr. Essam el-Arian, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and no relation to Sami, was one of the hundreds of proestors arrested in the
  • May 18 Cairo protests
  • . This marked the third time that he has been in jail.

    Although soft spoken, he served as the the spokesperson for the Brothaz, al-Arian has stated his group's democratic ideals.
  • Read NY Times Article About him Here

  • He has a sense of humor too.

    I first met him at a conference for human rights activists, and while we were enjoying some lunch-time conversation in the hotel ballroom, Mohannad al-Hassani, the Secretary General of the Syrian Human Rights Organization, asked him how long he was in jail for.

    “6 and a half years,” responded El-Erian, whose soft smile and soft eyes betraying the hard life he had endured behind bars.

    El-Erian swept away some of his graying hair, passing his hand over the large prayer mark on his forehead.

    “That’s all?” said al-Hassani. “I thought you were in jail for longer!” The two men chuckled, and the rest of the table returned to their desserts.

    In an interview with Amria Howeidy in
  • Al-Ahram
  • , he had compared it to death.

    Only in the Arab world are jokes about imprisonment and torture fodder for dining room conversation.

    Read more about him at:
  • UN News report on Erian and the Brothaz

  • Egypt Today article on the Brothaz

  • Muslim Brotherhood Homepage in English

  • Kyoto lotus blossoms

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    Something peaceful for a change.


    American Embassy

    Straight from the RSO at the US embassy, "Downtown Traffic Advisory"

    In what promises to be a repeat of the gridlock associated with last week's protest, another large protest is planned for Thursday morning, May 18, at the Supreme Court Building situated on the corner between 26th July and Ramses St. and the Judge's Club on Abdel Khalek Tharwat Street. The police will close the streets in the vicinity of the square, which will inevitably tie up traffic throughout downtown Cairo, possibly to include El-Kasr El-Einy Street in the vicinity of the Embassy. To avoid unnecessary delay, we ask that you take this into consideration when making your travel plans and steer clear of this area.

    Yes, watch the "gridlock" everyone. Similar to Macy's Thanksgiving Day crowds.

    A sick feeling has been in my stomach since I first saw the pictures of last Thursday's demonstration. Now it stays, and my guts ponder the brave women and men who will start walking towards the High Court sometime around 10:00 on Thursday morning. Everybody has something to lose.


    Plea from a Palestinian

    Many of you who have decided to look past the funny headgear, stereotypes, and suicide bombings, into the humanity of a people when it comes to Palestine. Even though the author of the following letter is a Palestinian Christian, she supports Hamas and wants the world to know that they have a truly peaceful agenda...

    Peace of God be with you
    I hope that everything goes well with you in every aspect of your life! I’m doing very well in my life and at my work. I wanna share somthin with ya about what is going here in Palestine.
    Our life is driving to be like hell. Really, our life is very difficult, especially in Gaza strip. 77% or more of the Palestinians are jobless, so People are selling jewellery, they're cutting back on vegetables, on fruit, the food that in a sense is most important particularly for children. They said that Israel withdrew from Gaza but they still block the borders no food and nothing can enter the strip. The case in Gaza worse than West Bank, I expect to have Humaterian and security crises in Gaza and in few months, West Bank will follow Gaza. I went last week for shopping, believe me most of the shops were empty of people whereas were crowded.
    The other issue we face here is that an economic catastrophe is looming in the Palestinian territories after an Israeli fuel firm cut off supplies because the Palestinian Authority didn’t pay its bills, my family has a care but we pull over, switch off the engine and keep it beside our home. I fell very bad, really I don’t know what shall I do, I will start to go to my work by walking, my home is very fare away from my gob.
    I can’t believe what I’m facing these days in Palestine... my people are under tense, if you wanna experience what is hell like come over to Palestine and you will see the hell. One day I was praying and God consult me with vise from Psalm 40: 17 though. I am poor and needy, the Lord thinks of me; Thou art my help and my deliverer. O my God, delay not. This message comfort me a lot after asking where is God in all of that.
    So The European Union, United Nations, United States and Russia said they would set up a "temporary international mechanism" to transfer the funds for a three-month trial period, but this gona be temporary, but I believe in God so much and he will help me people but when this will be end.
    Bush turn my country and the entire of the world to disaster. Believe me Hamas is not bad people and they looking for peace as well not like the image that CNN news and Israel shows you daily. Come over to Palestine and see by your eyes. We welcomed last weeks American group from Prespaterian church... many of them had completely different idea about the Palestine and what is going here like most of the Americans, but they chance their minds after looking what we face here.
    Please pray for my people especially for the children
    I wish you all the best
    Yours in Christ