NEW ORLEANS (BP)—The news from the banks of the Nile River has left many without hope of ever understanding from the outside what has happened over the past several months in Egypt.
We live in a small world deeply affected by other places which operate within different cultures. This is true of Egypt. What is important there differs from here. Let’s look at various aspects of this reality.
Egyptians expect a stable strong ruler. However, the decades of dictatorship under Hosni Mubarak made them wary of that style of leadership. After deposing the dictator, Egyptians elected Mohamed Morsi by a slim majority, and he soon began to install men in governing functions whose only qualification was their Muslim Brotherhood party membership. The economy and other vital parts of Egyptian life began to deteriorate in his first year of office.
As an elected president Morsi began to gather to himself unrestricted power. He hurriedly formed a constitutional revision committee devoid of non-Islamist input and drafted a pro-Islamic constitution. He then recanted on his promise to hold elections after the constitution was approved by the Egyptian Parliament’s upper house. Freedom of expression was suppressed. Non-governmental organizations monitoring civil liberties and human rights were harassed and employees arrested. Leaders of state-run media and news outlets were replaced. All of this led Egyptians to see that the president was not a stable and strong ruler but just another dictator like his predecessor Mubarak. After one year Morsi’s actions, administration and words were destabilizing the country and its economy and threatening the future of Egypt.
By June 30 a large swath of Egyptians—Muslims and Christians—were committed to remaining in the streets and squares of Egypt until Morsi resigned as president. There was a general sigh of relief when the military began to act to remove the president from office. However, within days of his removal, those Muslims who had held hopes for Morsi to establish their view of Islam and government began to demonstrate for his reinstatement. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group which had been denied political involvement through their 80-year history, began to demonstrate for legitimacy. In their various ways, all the elements—the huge mass rallies before June 30, the army and its leadership, and the Muslim Brotherhood—are seeking stability. It is valued as much as life itself.
On July 3, the military deposed the elected president and established a transitional government. Since that time the nation has moved into open, armed and violent confrontation between two forces: the Egyptian security forces (army, police and State Security office) and the National Coalition to Support Legitimacy (Muslim Brotherhood and several extreme fundamentalist salafist organizations) in cities and villages across Egypt.
A mark of the Muslim Brotherhood’s sponsored violence since that time has been the increase in attacks on Coptic Christians and their institutions and on other Christian minorities. In the preceding months, all Egyptians including Christians suffered the pain of political and social turmoil. But during August, the number of churches, monasteries, Christian schools and orphanages damaged and Christians injured has dramatically increased. In Muslim countries many churches are identified as “religious societies” because of prohibitions for registering new buildings as “churches.” This is a reason for the vastly different numbers (from 33 to more than 90) in reports of damaged or destroyed churches. Many Christian families have been intimidated, terrorized or have suffered the death or injury of family members in recent weeks in some form of retaliation for current events. During times of social upheaval, minorities are frequently marked as scapegoats”and Christians are the clear minority here.
Lastly, Arabs are more tribal whereas Americans are more individualistic in our orientation. This leads to a more pronounced “other” to fear and hate. However, Egyptian Arabs and Copts are united by the river Nile basin. A fertile valley bisecting a vast and harsh desert has drawn the peoples into a strong national identity which transcends tribal interests in many ways. This makes the Arab/Coptic and Egyptian Muslim/Egyptian Christian relationships complex.
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