Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Limelight: Tomorrow is another day

Al-Ahram Weekly

Tomorrow, the sun may never rise for you and me, but the sun will always rise on the land of Egypt. There will be smiles from the heavens as they look on Egypt now. Egyptians are accustomed to live in hope of a better tomorrow and tomorrow is near — tomorrow is here... to usher in a new day, after the torments of hell of our yesteryear.

The sun will rise even more brightly for the Christian minority in Egypt. They have been through the gates of hell during the past year, and now their sigh of relief can extinguish even hell’s roaring fires.

Christians in Egypt, estimated to be anywhere between 10-23 per cent, are referred to as Copts, a gross misnomer since all Egyptians are indeed “Copts”. “Gypty”, or Copt, is an adaptation of the Greek Aigyptos, meaning Egypt derived from the ancient Egyptian Hut-kap-tah, name of the temple complex of the god Ptah, at Memphis, (Luxor). The word “Copt” is a 17th century English adaptation from the Latin Coptos.

Who therefore do we mean when we refer to the Copts today?

Christianity was introduced in Egypt by St Mark who came to Alexandria in 42 AD. By the second century Christianity had spread to the rural areas, and scriptures were translated in the Coptic or Demotic languages. Christianity was tolerated in the Roman Empire until 284 AD when Emperor Dioclecletian persecuted and put to death a great number of them.

By the beginning of the third century, the Church of Alexandria was recognised not only as the largest in Africa but one of Christendom’s four Apostolic Sees, second in honour only to the Church of Rome. Their contributions to Christianity and to Egypt are priceless. Notably among them is the creation of monasticism, a result of the Roman persecution which forced them to retreat to the desert. Known as the “Era of Martyrs”, it marked the beginning of a distinct Egyptian church. By the end of the fourth century Egypt was a Christian nation.

The Muslim invasion in 639 AD saw a gradual conversion to Islam. By the 12th century, mainly Christian Egypt became mainly Muslim. Christians lived freely among them until the Fatimid Caliph “Al-Hakim Bi Amr Allah”, (Ruler by Divine Right), 996-1021 AD. His persecution of Christians was relentless, and while it would rise and wane through the centuries, it has been ongoing, in one form or another ever since.

In the modern era, discrimination was more subtle, evident on a governmental level, rather than a social level. Muslim and Christian citizens, by and large, lived in a congenial, friendly manner. During the 1919 Revolution both united against the British invasion. Credit goes to Ahmed Lotfi Al-Sayed, (1872- 1963), known as the “Father of Egyptian Patriotism”, who emphasised that Egypt is for Egyptians, and religion should have no role in Egyptian politics. He was the first to suggest that the Egyptian character was built around a Pharaonic core, rather than an Arabic core. 

In the context of Pharaonism, Egyptian intellectuals began using the term “Gupt” in the historical sense. Markos Semeika, founder of the Coptic Museum, addressed a group of students thus: “All of you are Copts. Some of you are Muslim Copts, others are Christian Copts, but all of you are ascended from the ancient Egyptians. Perhaps tomorrow, this is how we shall address each other.”

Among the best times for Christians is during the Nasser era, when the growing Muslim Brotherhood were incarcerated.  Since their founding in 1928 sporadic acts of discrimination had struck fear in the heart of the Christian population. With Nasser we stood side by side in love and friendship, never distinguishing who was who. We look alike, we talk alike, we eat alike, we worship — as we like.

The good times ended too soon! The Sadat years fomented inter-confessional strife. The MB were released from jail, an act that Sadat lived to regret a million times over. They grew and multiplied and eventually assassinated him.

The last quarter of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st saw a rapid deterioration, caused by extremist groups, offshoots of the MB. The burning and looting of Christian churches and businesses was unprecedented... then came 25 January, 2011.

The true spirit of Egyptians surfaced in Tahrir Square as Muslims and Christians stood together in communal harmony, chanting together national songs as they carried the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran, wearing the Crescent and the Cross. It was a moment of ecstasy, but little did we know then that it would be short-lived. Mubarak was gone, but the MB took over, and the torments of hell awaited us all, Muslim and Christian.

One year of hell ended 30 June 2013, when together Egyptians dealt the MB the final blow. Angry groans are still heard from both extremes, and Salafis are still lurking in the background. Tomorrow however, our normal life will resume and those extremists will vanish forever. We may be dreamers like Martin Luther King, but his dreams came true, why not ours?

We have seen the end of political Islamists in Egypt. Minorities may be discriminated against around the globe, but never again in Egypt. We have no minorities here, and Christians can sleep soundly again. Never again will they go through the purgatorial flames of past years or past centuries.

“After all, tomorrow is another day”!

 

“Would you realise what revolution is, call it progress,

Would you realise what progress is, call it tomorrow”.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

 

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