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How Should the Coptic Church Deal With Sectarian Violence?

June 6, 2011

The Catholic journal Oasis–dedicated to Christian-Muslim relations in the “age of Mestizaje of Civilizations” (aka “globalization”)–has two essays in its May 31st edition on the recent sectarian violence in Egypt.

The first, “From the Hopes of Tahrir Square to the Shadows of the Present” by Milad Sidky-Zakhary reflects on the decline into sectarianism from the unity of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Of the latter, he writes:

Who would have thought the protesters would clean up Tahrir Square and repaint its pavements, a Christian girl to take water to a Muslim Brother for his ritual ablution, a veiled woman to lift up the cross together with the crescent? Or that Muslims would form a human shield around a church to protect it during the Easter celebrations? Or that one of them would write in Egyptian dialect a banner addressing the former president, before his resignation: “May God curse you, you let us love one another”?

He blames the degeneration on the absence of effective police, the release from prison of criminals and extremists, and the Army using neutrality as an excuse for inaction.

This persisting void of power has surprisingly allowed many Islamic extremists to circulate freely in the streets. In the absence of any deterrent, they have begun to call the shots: after provoking Sufi anger by destroying the shrines of the saints venerated by Muslims, they turned their attacks against churches…

The second article “The Egyptian Church is Called to a Rennaissance” by Father Rafiq Greiche, also blames salafis for instigating the sectarian violence, but calls on the Church to consider how it will need to respond to these events in the absence of any reliable order.

The Church, particularly the Orthodox Church, must, however, discover its own essence and reserve a more active role for the laity, allowing them more freedom to express themselves and their will, and to play, as everyone else, a social and political role in society, and not just inside church walls. After having lived marginally or, to be more precise, after having marginalized themselves, Christians must adhere to parties (particularly to the liberal ones), and take on the place that belongs to them in the Country, by participating in the next elections and forming an opinion on the current situation in Egypt.

Oasis is published monthly in Arabic, English, French, Italian and Spanish by the International Centre for Study and Research by Cardinal Angelo Scola.

For some deeper background on Egypt’s sectarianism, I recommend “Behind Egypt’s Deep Red Lines” by Meriz Tadros, published in the Middle Easr Research and Information Project October 2011, just a few months before the uprising began.

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