Sunday, June 26, 2011

Seen An Egyptian Coptic Church Lately?

Ever heard of the Virgin Mary Church on Cairo’s al-Wahda Street?


Well, on
May 8, this church, in the impoverished Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba, a ten-minute drive from Tahrir Square, was a scene of devastation. It had been ravaged by flames and its insides gutted, smashed, looted, and charred after clashes broke out between Muslims and Christians over the case of a Coptic woman named Abeer Fakhri, an alleged convert to Islam whom ultraconservative Salafis had claimed was being held against her will at the nearby Church of St. Mina, which was also attacked. Fifteen people were killed in the violence and almost two hundred injured.

This extract is from this article, "Egypt: The Victorious Islamists" by  Yasmine El Rashidi in the New York Review of Books, a very liberal left weekly.

The "good" news in Egypt is

Of all the organized political movements and groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, its Freedom and Justice party, and its loose alliance of similarly conservative political entities—such as the recently approved Islamist al-Wasat party—are the only ones pushing for elections in September. Liberal opposition groups have called for their postponement, citing the need for more time to organize, but the military, so far, has said it will not change the date.

And there's more:
The Brotherhood made scathing statements against women and Copts soon after Mubarak’s ouster. Its leaders are now openly calling for an Islamic state, something they had previously denied was among its goals. “They will never change,” the outspoken newspaper editor Abdel Halim Qandil told a friend and me recently. “I don’t trust them. They are deceptive.”...the Muslim Brotherhood seems confident that it will emerge victorious in September’s parliamentary elections. In February it said it would win no more than 20 percent of the seats; it is now—officially—aiming for 50 percent. Essam el-Erian recently told me, “But of course we want a majority or the largest percent we can get.” Through a coalition agreement with other Islamist groups, Lacroix said, this “seems increasingly likely.”
At the end of May, in a public library in Imbaba, not far from the Virgin Mary Church, a group of Salafis—who call themselves “Salafyo Costa” after Costa Coffee, which they like to drink—held an open meeting, intended “to begin a dialogue with liberals and help cast aside this idea of us as devils,” as Mohamed Tolba, one of the group’s organizers, told me...After the meeting, one of the Salafist wives approached me, inviting me to a women-only gathering at her house. “You’re so young,” another said, before proceeding to explain how she slowly converted from being uncovered to wearing a full-face veil. “It just takes time,” she said reassuringly. “You get used to it.”

...Sitting in the Virgin Mary Church with Father Sarabamon, I told him about the invitation of the Salafi women. He smiled. “They want to convert you,” he told me. “I fear the worst. You know already that they don’t teach Coptic history in schools. It will take time, but I see the direction we are moving in.”

As goes Egypt...

But of course Barry Rubin has been writing this for months.


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