The Long and Winding Road for Democracy in Egypt Part 16
Minority Report: Egypt’s Ticking Bomb
“The only alternative to coexistence is codestruction” Jawaharlal Nehru (Indian politician, 1889-1964)
Evidently a lot of modern days Egyptians are unaware of that quote by the late Indian prime minister and respected politician. They continue in their path of division and bigotry towards each other neglecting their legacy of tolerance as a nation for all creeds and races and the melting pot in the Middle East. It’s disheartening to witness the long traditions of tolerance that was an example to the whole world for over a millennium fades away gradually within the Egyptian society. Egypt at one time during the Middle Ages the only place on earth side by side to the Umayyad ruled Andalucía where people of all creeds coexisted together in a harmony only matched in few modern day societies. That long tradition only interrupted by the tyranny of a few rulers never faded away and Egypt always served as a testament of the ability of people from different nations and creeds to coexist and thrive all the way till 1952 coup d’état.
Before the coup d’état Egypt was a beacon for enlightenment on the Mediterranean and while Europe was struggling under fascist regimes in Germany, Italy and Spain and a Racial Segregation System in the USA, South Africa and Australia, Egypt served a model being ruled by a Christian ministers and a cabinet that featured Jewish ministers of finance among other minorities. Minorities in Egypt whether religious or ethnic have usually enjoyed a very good status during the monarchy especially when compared to their counterparts around the world. Egypt had a very thriving cultural life during the first half of the 20th century, which included literature, theater, cinema and journalism traditions that was second to none in the region.
The diversity of the nation was reflected in its works of arts, a mere glance at once of the opening credits of the Egyptian black and white movies would be like opening United Nations representatives’ logbook. Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Armenian, Italian, Greek, French and British names would easily be noticed on the credits of any Egyptian movie of the era. The movies and literature expressed the rich diversity that ruled Egypt during the Golden Era of liberty that existed from 1923-1952. Gone are those days and the brutal reality of the homogeneity and polarization that is rapidly replacing the cultural pluralism that dominated Egypt’s history all the way to the first half of the 20th century.
Egypt is now polarized and culturally divided more than any time in recent memory thanks to a legacy of dictatorship coined by the 1952 coup d’état which prevailed till this moment. Polarization was amplified with an outbreak of religious extremism that has been mostly imported through the expats who lived in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar and carried this virus of religious polarization to the motherland. Unfortunately, years of dictatorship left the country vulnerable to such extreme thoughts. The religious authorities and bodies represented in the likes of Al-Azhar institution, the oldest Islamic institution in the world and the oldest functioning university, haven’t been doing a stellar job in recent years and have actually been infiltrated by the Saudi Wahhabi influence themselves starting from the late 1960s and onwards. The same clerics and scholars who went to Saudi Arabia to enlighten and spread the Egyptian cultural message in the Arabian Peninsula were ironically affected in reverse by the closed societies in the region and returned home brainwashed by the Wahhabi doctrine. Like an outbreak and assisted by an influx of funds mainly from Saudi Arabian associations the Wahhabi franchise in Egypt also known as the Salafi movement spread massively in universities and mainly in rural and urban impoverished areas. Since the central government system apparatus formed during Nasser era and started to decay post the 1967 war as the government couldn’t deliver all its obligations towards the citizens while have curbed all the personal initiatives in the society during the times of nationalization policies coined by Nasser. Accordingly these Wahhabi groups started to infiltrate society gradually by offering medicinal, educational and food retail prices at affordable prices thanks to the influx of funds from Gulf States under the pretext of human aid. Thus that led to the spread of the doctrine eventually in villages and areas where a service is needed and is not provided by the government. This tactic was utilized by both the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis during the past 5 decades and as a result they have gained a lot of ground counter to liberals who were confined and restrained by dictators’ government from working on the ground. The roots of division were seeded in the society through these religious groups and eventually the harmony between Muslims and Christians started to fade away eventually.
Ancient Egyptians treated women as a higher entity and with more respect than any known or recorded civilization in history. Women in Egypt rose to become Pharaohs such as Twosret, Merneith, Cleopatra and the mighty Queen Hatshepsut which expanded Egypt’s realm and wealth immensely. Also women were depicted as deities worshipped by ancient Egyptians like Isis, Bast and Hathor. All of these examples were a few to depict how women represented a symbol of motherhood and respect and a true partner to men during ancient times. Unfortunately, over 2000 years since the last Egyptian Pharaoh Cleopatra IV the same cannot be said about the status of women in Egypt.
Egyptian women fought a hard battle for recognizing their full rights throughout the 20th century till today. The women rights and suffrage was initiated as early as the 1919 revolution against British occupation in which women played a major role in its success and many brave women lost their lives alongside their male counterparts when the occupation forces attempted to brutally quell the rebellion. But it wasn’t till 1923 when the great Feminist leader Hoda Sharaawy formed the first Egyptian Feminist body in March 1923 under the name The Egyptian Feminist Union (EFU) The EFU represented the first step towards obtaining women rights in Egypt and was affiliated with the International of Women formed in New York in 1904. EFU published the first women magazine of its kind in Egypt called L’Egyptienne which is French for the Egyptian women and later an Arabic one with the name Al Masreyyah which carries the same meaning. Egyptian women like Sharaawy continued their struggle and following her death in 1947 other great feminist leaders like Doria Shafik who stood firmly against late president Abdel Nasser and staged a hunger strike among other protests till she and her company of brave women managed to acquire the women suffrage rights in 1956 after a long struggle.
The foundation of the National Council for Women (NCW) who are very active in promoting women's rights in Egypt in 2000 represented a step forward for empowering women in society , that foundation granted the women rights to divorce themselves in case they find it impossible to continue with their partners among other rights.
Women were an integral part of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, many women and girls paid their lives to change the status quo and demand for great freedoms and total equality. Nevertheless, little did they know that the very revolution they supported and participated in, will become the beginning of a long struggle for maintaining the rights they previously acquired through the years all the way to 2011. Little did they know that they will be facing the Islamists backwardness and radical clerics who demand that women shouldn’t be equal to men in all facets of life despite the fact that is even against the basic principles of the Islamic faith. Now, Egyptian women are facing an unprecedented challenge that they were not prepared for in light of recent events in the country. They believed that freedom will prevail after the deeds done to achieve that but unfortunately the new constitution strongly curbs on the women rights to an extent never witnessed before , in fact it’s legitimizing the oppression of women in a systematic way. The new illegitimate Islamist constitution has placed some religious obstacles on women practicing politics freely or achieving their political goals to run as a President for example. The articles in the constitution have stipulated that some articles are only open to interpretation according to the whims of some religious Islamic clerics which is an unprecedented in any modern constitution in the world. Thus providing clerics unchecked powers over the political spectrum and the women and other minorities remain to be the first victim.
Women are becoming the target of political Islam group to be sidelined in every aspect whether it’s in political participation or job opportunities. Women are being faced by a deluge of attacks from radical Islamist clerics whose main aim is sidelining women from social life in Egypt. They were not content of committing women to all sorts of headscarves from a regular Hijab to the full facial veal with woes and betide to those who defy their will which is conveyed to be the will of God. They have been cornering women and sidelining them for decades and now they are stooping into new lows with calling actresses in Egyptian cinema as prostitutes like in the special case with famous actress Ilham Shaheen who was accused of prostitution by an obscure preacher due to some roles in her movies. Shaheen took the preacher to court and he was sentenced for a jail time and a fine of 5000 Egyptian Pounds. Other cases continue as these Salafi and Wahabbi preachers. But women have proven time and time to be much more courageous than those so called Salafi preachers and their followers and they time and again remain confident and undeterred by their continuous waves of attacks and attempts to put fear in their hearts but like their ancestors Egyptian women remain defiant and vigilant.
Women in Egypt are not just suffering from oppression by some religious fanatics but also on a social level especially in terms of rights and social expectations. Women are still not on par with men in terms of salaries and also are expected to perform both complete house duties and job duties in case they have a steady job. Lots of divorces take place as the husband expects an old fashioned marriage with all rights and very little obligations from his side. The old school mentality still looms in the minds of a lot of Egyptian men who still seek a mother figure in their spouses.
Furthermore, women harassment has been a plague in the past decade and Egypt has been reported the second worst country in terms of women harassment in the streets. This is happening despite the façade of religiosity that is sweeping the nation for almost 2 decades. In fact it has been reported that religious groups like Muslim Brotherhood and Hazemoon have formed and paid some thugs to harass women during demonstrations and protests in public and even in the heart of Cairo at Tahrir square the symbolic square of the Egyptian revolution. The harassment continued to turn into rape cases that have been documented by eye witnesses, videos and journalists among them an American and a French journalist. Women have been targeted at the gates of the Presidential palace in Heliopolis by the Islamist mobs and the reason was always a psychological one which is to discourage them from participation by harassing and humiliating them sexually.
The audacity and the vileness of some of the so called Salafi clerics have reached unprecedented and inhuman levels which fits a Nazi concentration camp guard and not a so-called man of God. Some of them are actually rationalizing the mass rape that took place in Jan 25th 2013 protests against Morsi.
Egyptian Women all of a sudden found themselves having to fight an uphill battle not just to acquire more independence but to retain the relative freedoms their hard earned freedoms they enjoyed before. The majority of Egyptian families in modern day have women as part of if not the main source of income in the family. Hence, no ruler or cleric regardless of his political or social clout can deny women their rights and he who will attempt that will certainly lose on the long run. Women are becoming the force that mobilizes the nation in Egypt and without their substantial contributions or efforts the country will crumble into chaos.
This was evident in the defiance shown by women during elections that took place after revolution and how they are a force to be reckoned with especially that the number of females are on a continuous rise according to statistics and very likely to have surpassed their males counterparts but that will be only confirmed in any upcoming census.
Christianity in Egypt dates back to the early days of the faith emergence and is believed to have been spread in Egypt through the visit of Saint Mark in the first century AD. The sacred family visit to Egypt marked the Biblical significance of Egypt as the base where the faith spread all over the globe. In the 900 AD and despite the Arab conquest of Egypt in 639 AD, Alexandria was considered as one of the great cities for Christianity in the world and the Coptic Pope is designated as the Pope of Alexandria. Also the first Christian monastery in the world was founded in Egypt by Saint Anthony nearby the Red Sea initiating the Christian Monasticism which was followed by other monasteries in Egypt and all over the world.
Christians have been an integral part of the Egyptian nation and they were present in Egypt before the spread of the Islamic faith in Egypt starting 639 AD and onwards. Although the word “Copt” refers to an Egyptian Christian, the actual meaning of the word is “Egyptian”, Copts in general are a home born minority unlike most minorities in the world. At one time they were a majority in the nation but afterwards the Muslims became a majority during the middle ages.
Up till 1952 Egyptian Christians hardly complaint about their position in society and in fact a Christian prime minister like Noubar Pasha the first ever Egyptian Prime Minister in 1878 and later Boutros Ghali who took office in 1908 later. Many Christian and Jewish Ministers followed without striking any issues with the society. The society was harmonious enough before the coup d’état and the ousting of King Farouk I the last king of Egypt. The ruling junta led initially by Mohamed Naguib then later by Gamal Abdel Nasser had some close ties initially with the Muslim Brotherhood. Though that leaning with the Brotherhood was cut once and for all in 1954 with the declaration of Nasser as president, the sidelining of Christian political figures from political life was initiated gradually especially with the banning of all political parties by Nasser and the formation of the soviet like single party system that lasted all the way till 1975 when Sadat restored the multi party system. During that phase a lot of Christian political leaders were eventually removed from the scene and Christian Copts started to recline to their churches instead of public services with a few exceptions.
Christians are still under a 160 year old rule ridiculous law dating back to 1856 under the name Hamayouni Decree that prohibits the erection of churches without the permit of the Ruler and though lately this authority has been delegated to governors but it’s still considered an act of discrimination against Copts since erecting a mosque doesn’t require such a permit and is usually granted without much complications. Regimes after regimes ignored this rule and Copts were in great concern about it till a few decades ago due to the population boom that affected both Christians and Muslims in Egypt. In 1952 Egypt’s Population was about 21 Million and the number of churches back then almost covered the needs of most Christians however the same cannot be mentioned now since the Egypian population approaches 84 Million according to Official census and approximately 91 million according to other census. The number of Christians in Egypt range around 10 -12 Million in some conservative estimates and up to 15 million in other estimates. There are about 2869 Churches in Egypt covering all the different churches sects including Coptic Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, etc according to statistics issued by General authority for data and statistics in Egypt in June 2011. On the other hand there are over 108,000 Mosques thus Churches represent 2.64 % in ration to the mosques which doesn’t correspond to the ration between Muslims and Christians with the latter representing 12-15% of Population.
The main demands of the Christian Copts can be summarized as follows which are mainly demand of equality rather than a special position in society:
A- The cancellation of the 19th century Hamayouni Decree and the issuing of unified places of worship buildings law that permits all faiths to have equal rights and obligations concerning the establishment of new places of worship whether they are mosques or churches.
B- Egyptian national education curriculums to include Coptic history in order to balance the existence of only Pharaonic and Islamic history mostly in the Egyptian curriculums.
C- The omission of the religious affiliation slot in the Egyptian ID which open the doors for further discrimination in terms of the job opportunities or occasional mistreatment of Copts and other minorities in Government agencies and registrars.
D- Copts demand that the lands entitled to them called “Awqaf” to be under the authority of the church. “Awqaf” are lands or endowments left by either Muslims or Christians to be in favour of charity as a charity trust usually in effect once the owner dies. Nevertheless, after 1952 coup d’état Nasser issued a decree that both Muslim and Christian “Awqaf” to be returned to the Church authority as this represented the main source of revenue for the church and the government had no right to expropriate these lands under any pretexts.
E- A bigger representation in the governmental agencies, public service and leadership positions than the current low percentage as according to some statistics the presence of Copts in the police and the army is about 2% according to Coptic resources which is very low in terms of actual percentage of the population.
F- A balanced representation in the state TV and media as there are no official TV programs that deals with the Christians theology and faith as opposed to dozens on the Islamic faith. Christians believe that they as tax payers have the same right to have their TV programs broadcasted the same state TV that their taxes contribute in its functioning.
G- Copts demands that the state protects their churches and curb down on the extremist elements and propaganda campaigns waged on them Salafi groups and other radical elements in society especially after the revolution.
H- Freedom of religion conversion from or to Christianity. Despite the fact that Egyptian constitution guarantees freedom of belief theoretically but in reality that is not usually the case and converts from to both major religions in Egypt Islam and Christianity find a lot of obstacles in doing so be that officially or socially to the extent that many do convert to another religion without declaring it for the their entire lives.
On the New Year eve of 2011 and amidst Copts celebration of the New Year a blast in the Church of the Saints in Alexandria killed and wounded dozens. This was the most unprecedented attack of its kind on Christians and till this day the real culprit behind this horrendous crime is unfound since a lot of speculations revolved around former minister of interior Habib El Adly then it was denied and the involvement of a radical Islamist group is the more likely scenario but till this day the real culprit is still anonymous and consecutive governments in the past 2 years and long trials haven’t solved the case on who is behind the attacks that took place only 25 days of the January revolution . Speculations that it was an attempt to provoke Christians against Mubarak regime keep surfacing but without any evidence.
Furthermore, On March 4th 2011 and just less than one month of Mubarak stepping down from power, some shocking events post the revolution was initiated when armed Islamist thugs bulldozed a church to its foundations in the Giza village of Sol. The reason was an alleged illicit relationship between a Coptic man and a Muslim woman. The incident sparked further riots riots and clashes that left 13 people dead and 140 wounded. Furthermore attacks happened on other churches occasionally by hooded thugs or by sparked by Islamist radical clerics. The results was a deep feeling of alienation which got worse by the infamous massacre of Maspero on October 9th 2011 of which no culprits were caught captured or put on trial as well. The massacre that resulted in the killing of 34 people mostly Christians many of whom have crushed under armoured vehicles. The incident which wasn’t the last post the revolution have sent the impression that the Military regime have even worse consideration for the lives of Copts in Egypt and much worse than any former one.
Despite the many obstacles thrown at Christians, they continue to contribute successfully to the Egyptian society in all fields. For example, the wealthiest family in Egypt is the Sawiris family which has massive investments in Egypt and worldwide despite reports that they are slowly liquidating their assets in Egypt which have been denied by the members of the family. Also there are a lot of great Coptic examples in the political spectrum like activist George Ishak and former minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour. Also ex UN General Secretary Boutros Boutros Ghali is a Copt who happens to be the grandson of the former Egyptian Prime Minister.
Christians have been and still are a major contributor in Egypt’s development at all times and in the 20th century their contributions in the cultural, political and scientific levels are numerous. The founder of modern Egyptian theater was George Abyad and followed by the great works of legendary Egyptian actor Naguib El Rihany. Christians have also contributed to major scientific and medicinal work on the domestic and international levels like the famous heart Surgeon Dr. Magdy Yacoub nicknamed “King of Hearts” among many other scientists and physicians in Egypt and abroad. They continue to enrich the Egyptian society with a lot of contributions since as mentioned earlier they not an immigrant minority but an actual native one and even the word “Minority” might not be befitting their status and can only describe their ratio in terms of population.
The bulk of the sectarian rift and problems happens usually in rural areas especially in the South of Egypt and in impoverished urban areas in the cities. These kinds of rifts hardly ever happen in posh neighbourhood or even middle class areas. As in all societies poverty and illiteracy are catalysts for violence and sectarianism.
Now, with Islamists in power, things are looking discouraging with the Islamist radical Sheikhs are left loose with their controversial Fatwas . One of these Fatwas issued was not to saluting your Christian neighbour or wishing a Merry Christmas or send New Year wishes. The core of Egyptians stood firmly against these insane Fatwas and Muslims who lived for 14 centuries with their Christian neighbours shunned these sorts of Fatwas and expressed their solidarity to their Christian’s brothers and sisters. The moderate Muslims who are still a majority in Egypt despite everything have a daunting task to protect the Christians and acknowledge their rights to have equal rights and obligations as they are since this is the only way to protect the sovereignty and the integrity of the 7000 years old nation. Nevertheless, good will and warm speeches will never be enough especially after the past few 6 decades of relative marginalization of the Christian community , but only the laws that guarantees and implement these rights without any form of discrimination that will appease the Christians as well as other minorities.
Nubian existence in Egypt is traced back to the very beginnings of the establishment of civilization on the banks of the Nile. Nubians played a great role in Egyptian history since ancient times and even managed to rule Egypt for a century. Nubians have managed to strike a balance between assimilating in the Egyptian society while maintain their unique cultural traits including their unique language. Unfortunately Nubians have been a subject of occasional discrimination mainly because of colour and unique identity especially during the Ottoman Rule of Egypt.
The Modern Nubian issues in Egypt date back to the building phases of the High Dam in Aswan which had dictated that the ancient Nubia to be flooded as a result of the foundation of the dam in that location creating the 7th largest artificial reservoir in the world and 3nd in terms of volume. Unfortunately, the Nubians willingly migrated to other locations and temporary villages were founded to host them till the project is done. They were promised to be allowed to return to their homeland once the project is finished and that happened in 1970 and till now the consecutive governments ignored their calls for the government to keep its promise. Now after the revolution many Nubians believed that their dream of returning to settling in their ancestors land is imminent and even Presidential candidates promised that especially Ahmed Shafiq who stressed that his first decree will be the return of Nubians to their homeland but unfortunately for them he didn’t win. Morsi the winner of the elections hasn’t as much as all his promises kept his word at least till the first 7 months of his rule.
Now, Nubians are feeling very frustrated from the marginalization and the disregard they are facing despite that their demands are quite logical and simple which is the right to return to their native lands and the receipt of adequate compensation for the sacrifices they have done for Egypt’s biggest engineering project in the 20th century to be completed.
Egyptian media for decades played a very negative role and depicted Nubians in cinema and television series as lazy, stubborn and usually eccentric human beings. Aside from the tasteless jokes about the colour that still exists in the Egyptian cinema even in the 21st century. Occasionally, it’s not a systematic racial discrimination or a targeted bigotry with the cinema as much as of a blatant display of ignorance and shallowness on behalf the producers of these work of arts as some of them who get involved in these jokes are also are actors or producers of Nubian origin.
Nubian artists such as Mohamed Mounir and Ahmed Mounib have enriched Egyptian Music for decades. Other famous Nubians include former SCAF head Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, feminist and Nubian Right activists Dr. Manal Al-Taibbi, writer and Nubian activist Haggag Adol.
The simple yet complicated issue of remigration and resettlement of Nubians back to their original territory has been postponed for decades and it will continue to establish a problem for Nubians who are proud of their Egyptians identity and also proud of their unique culture that enriches the Egyptian culture.
Bahaiis in Egypt represent one of the smallest minorities in Egypt despite they have been in Egypt since 1863 according to Graham Hassals Egypt: Baha’is history as Baha'u'llah, the founder of the faith was in Egypt himself in 1868 when he was on his way to imprisonment in Akka , Palestine currently (Acre, Israel) . There were converts to the faith as early as 1896 but starting from 1960 during Nasser’s regime issued degree 263 which eliminated their status as organized religion but yet still 7 organized communities remained till 1963. The Baha’is in Egypt who are numbered between 2000-7000 have been disallowed to issued ID cards with their faith printed it on it like the rest of the faiths Islam, Christianity and Judaism as a result of a controversial Constitutional court decree in 2006 . As a result of this controversy and overexposure by mostly overzealous media and the bad treatment to this case, many Baha’i families found themselves asked by police to leave a small village of Shuraniya in South of Egypt in fear of their safety. Their houses were burned and were forced to leave. Baha’is demand recognition as a faith and their right to choose to write their original faith on their IDs and passport but the Egyptian government is refusing this matter till now despite them being normal citizens. This refusal disable Baha’is from utilizing any services provided by the government be that education, health care or others. They were asked to lie about their face as a solution but this lie would be against their religious belief. The Baha’is problem may be solved by simply allowing them to freely declare their own religion or omitting the religion slot from any official personal papers that Egyptian citizens have.
Among the prominent Egyptian Baha’is is one of Egypt’s most famous artists of the 20th century Hussein Bicar (1913-2002) who enriched the modern Egyptian artist movement with his numerous vibrantly coloured paintings and still regarded as one of Egypt’s best of all time. Also other significant Baha’i followers including winner of Naguib Mahfouz Literature prize Sumaya Ramadan who is a well known writer and novelist.
Egypt was the birthplace of Judaism and represents an important chapter in the history of the religion in both ancient and modern times. The number of Jews remaining in Egypt doesn’t exceed in most optimistic counts 100 people who are mostly elderly senior citizens that refused to travel anywhere and consider Egypt as their one and only homeland. At the height of their presence in modern Egypt Jews were estimated to reach about 80,000 Jews in 1922. Egypt had one of the most active Jewish communities in the world all the way till the 1948 war between Egypt and Israel which result in a sort of rift between Egyptian Muslims and Christians on one side and their Jewish counterparts. Zealous elements of mainly Muslim Brotherhood have targeted Jewish quarters with bombings that killed 70 and wounded over 200. Also further violence and riots claimed more lives which lead eventually to massive immigration from Egypt heading to several countries including Israel, USA and France mostly.
However , it wasn’t till the 1952 coup d’état followed by the “Lavon Affair” failed operation in 1954 which was organized by a Zionist splinter cell to sabotage British and American targets in Egypt in an attempt to discredit Nasser’s Regime. The 1956 Trilateral attack from Britain , France and Israel gave Nasser a Casus Belli to further oust the Jewish community from Egypt and eventually they were compelled to sell their properties and flee under stressful conditions. Unfortunately, the once thriving Jewish community paid the price for the actions of some radical Zionists and a government that have committed a fascistic reaction to these actions. As it’s unfathomable that a group of 80,000 people would pay the price of incidents and a war that is taking place with another country while hardly having a hand in its ignition.
Most Egyptian Jews never returned back to Egypt though some have kept some ties to the homeland. The 1979 Peace treaty between Egypt and Israel has enabled many Jews to be able to visit their holy places and the areas they were once resident in. It’s noteworthy that the Egyptian media tainted by Nasserists elements are always sending the vibes towards the public that these visits are unwelcomed and portray them as an excuse for Israelis to have further influence in Egypt which usually seems to be an exaggeration since most of the remaining Jews in Egypt are women about 70 years old who are hardly interested in political roles or involvement in any sort of conflicts.
The almost extinct Jewish community was at one try a very active one with lots of successful businesses as well as contributions towards Egyptian cultural like Togo Mizrahi whose movie directing and production enriched the Egyptian cinema at its early stages. Also Egyptian Music Composer Dawoud Hosny who was one of the pioneers of modern Egyptian music. Other Jewish origin actors and singers include Raqia Ibrahim and Laila Murad who later converted to Islam.
The Jews presence in Egypt is almost non-existent in recent years and is not likely to grow again unless a major shift in the perception of Egyptian to Jews would change after years of wars with Israel and demonization by the media.
Shi'a Muslims in Egypt have been in Egypt since the Fatimid Caliphate (969–1171AD) and the very Al Azhar university the biggest Islamic institution in the world was originally founded as an Ismaili Shi’a Mosque and institution and remained so till Sultan Saladin (1138- 1193) of the Ayyubid Dynasty (1171- 1341) changed its doctrine to the Sunni doctrine and since that time it remained to be the pillar of Sunni Islam. Shi’a numbers in Egypt are undocumented and they have as well been the target of prosecutions by authorities especially post the Islamic revolution in Iran and the endless attempts of the radical Iranian regime to export the revolution to the Middle East countries through splinter cells. Accordingly all Shi’a were the usual suspects throughout the past 4 decades and have been carefully monitored by the security apparatus in fear of their attempts to act as in favour of the Iranian Islamic Republic. It’s no secret that Egypt and Iran have been in a state of cold war before the 2011 despite few attempts to bring the countries closer which usually ends in further rifts since the Iranian regime is adamant on sending negative vibes by insisting on establishing splinter cells and funding groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that usually have animosities towards Egypt. Also Iran still threatens the Gulf States which represent an ally to Egypt. At the same time, Iran has been a religious state since 1979 which adopts the Shi’a sect of Islam and the growing Islamist in Egypt are wary of any such close ties with Iran since the radical Wahhabi doctrine that rules the Islamist thought patterns renders the Shi’a Muslims as the biggest danger on Islam.
Yet again everyday Egyptian Shi’a find themselves paying the price of such conflicts and prejudices as they like any other sect or ethnicity in the world want to be treated as equal citizens without prejudices and discrimination. They seem to be one of the sects that always have to prove everyday that their loyalty is to Egypt and not to Iran.
Much like for Christianity and Judaism, Egypt is one of the most important religious centers for Shi’as whereby shrines of the Prophet’s family are located in the old Islamic part of Cairo represents very important religious tourism destinations for all Shi’as in the world.
Egyptian Muslims are sufists in tradition and they revere and admire all the prophet’s Mohamed family members, many of whom are buried in shrines in Egypt. Nevertheless, the average Egyptian Muslim differentiate between that reverence and the Shi’as doctrine which includes some elements that contradicts with their core believes, hence the general rejection of the Shi’a doctrine in Egypt by the masses. This rejection is mostly based on the propaganda by the Salafi groups in Egypt who keep repeating the warnings that Shi’a Muslim want to spread the doctrine in Egypt as if the doctrine is some sort of epidemic that will cause an outbreak and Egyptians will turn to in masses. Salafis and their other holier-than-thou-allies still can’t grasp the fact that religion and faith are the most personal of all matters and it’s up to every individual to choose his or her based depending on his or her convictions and not based on their recommendations.
While most minorities can cause some sort of civil disturbance in cases of riots and anger from public policies or during any sectarian violence, Bedouins can be a source of a grave national security trouble in case their problems are not resolved in an immediate and satisfactory method. The Bedouins are desert dwelling nomads of Arab descent who are about are spread in 21 different countries in the Middle East. In Egypt the Bedouins reside in two main Areas in Egypt the Sinai Peninsula and the North Western Coast nearby the borders of Libya. The Sinai Peninsula Bedouins have been an integral part of Egypt’s struggle for independence and have aided the Egyptian army for decades especially during the wars in Israel and during the Israeli occupation of Sinai (1967-1979) they have played some gallant and heroic roles during that period and have always prided themselves of being patriotic Egyptians.
The negligence and injustice that befell the Bedouins during the 3 decades that followed the peace treaty in 1979 have escalated their anguish and anger towards the central government and the Egyptian state. Bedouins who found themselves unable to legally own the land in Sinai have found themselves being gradually alienated from the rest of the Egyptian state. All Egyptians and even foreigners were enjoying better facilitations in investment and cultivating the land contrary to the Bedouins who are natives of this territory. On the other hand, most Bedouins are not issued any identification cards or passports since they don’t have stable homes and the government is wary of issuing them since they are always skeptic of them getting infiltrated by neighbouring intelligence agencies.
Consequently, few Bedouins in Sinai started to secure their own sources of income most of which are illegal and that includes narcotics cultivation and smuggling, weapons smuggling, goods smuggling and the vilest of them in the past decade is the human trafficking. Sinai became a hub of human trafficking of illegal immigrants from African and East European countries to Israel. Many of them are seeking a new life in Israel and many ends up working in prostitution rings. Dozens of Africans die every year by the border police or by the abuse of the Bedouin human traffickers who have forgone all humanity and many cases of tortures have been reported in the Egyptian media.
Bedouins of Sinai felt the ironfisted policies of the central government that failed to assimilate them into the Egyptian society as citizens became a prey for the Jihadist and extremist groups of all sorts. Many of them turned to violence against the government and the touristic facilities and hotel in Sinai as well some tourists became a target for these Jihadist groups who receive an influx of weapons and funds from other terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. The north of Sinai is a hotplate for radical Islamists militants and has caused the Egyptian police units and army some substantial damages through ambushes. The most famous of these ambushes is the one that took place on Morsi’s regime watch in August 2012 which ended in 16 border patrol soldiers in the highest military casualty in Sinai since the 1973 war with Israel.
Many of the tribes expressed disdain towards the central government especially its security apparatus which is the police. The Bedouin families have complained about the disrespectful treatment by the police forces and incarcerations of their tribe members. As the case with most tribes in the world, Egyptian Bedouins believe in their own code and usually resort to their own set of rules to settle feuds with other tribes or their own members. The failure to assimilate the Bedouins in the Egyptian society manifests itself on different levels as socially the Bedouins still feel that they are recognized as full citizens of Egypt, they are not even summoned to the compulsory army service up till 2009 and only post the revolution they were acceptable as students in Police academies. The identity crisis that the consecutive governments have implanted in Bedouins aside from the negligence of the development for Sinai has left the Bedouins alienated for decades. The Government has neglected the northern part of Sinai which represents of the poorest governorates in Egypt in terms of wealth and services. The entire focus of the consecutive governments was on the establishment of touristic project in south of Sinai or in the Egyptian Riviera belt that has some of the classiest touristic resorts in the world like those in Sharm El Shaikh. However, none of that development outcome was ever poured towards the development for the Sinai Bedouins in fact that the Bedouins were hardly given jobs in the new touristic facilities built on the southern coast of Sinai. Sinai represents a national security breach that requires solutions on different levels including economically, socially, politically and last but not least security measures in order to close that breach. It’s been reported that the extremist Islamist militant’s numbers mostly located in North Sinai amount up to 5000 militants. The army who underwent two major operations to cleanse the area from local terrorist activities named “Eagle 1” and “Eagle 2” still haven’t finalized the job and the threat is still there with hundreds of tunnels providing the militants shelter, weapons and aid from Gaza. The situation in Sinai remains a clear and present danger and may remain so in for some years before the political and military commanders in Egypt that supporting the Palestinians in Gaza cannot be on the expense of the national security in Egypt.
On a similar level the Bedouins on the Northwestern coast on the borders of Libya have been mostly dormant and neglected for decades, however they have a much better economical status as the government usually negotiate with their leaders before acquiring any new land for development. Despite this fact, the development in the Northern coast did little to boost the lives of many Bedouins or improve their health or social conditions. Still the problems of the mines planted by the Axis and Allied forced during the Second world war represents a huge challenge to the government in developing these areas and hundreds of Bedouins have been maimed or killed as a result of direct contact with these land mined that amounted about 19.5 million according to statistics in 2000 done by Al Ahram center for Strategic studies.
Egypt have been seeking assistance from both former Axis and Allies countries precisely the UK, Germany and Italy to help in this major problem but the help so far hasn’t been enough and this problem is still hampering any serious development in the Region.
Post the Libyan revolution thousands of light and heavy weapons were smuggled from Libya through the western border and despite many shipments have seized by army and police and the amount of weapons already found their way in Egypt are staggering and represent another national security issue that has to be handled. Egypt is witnessing large security problems for not being able to secure the borders and the Bedouins can be a major assistance in this matter given the opportunity. Assimilating the native Bedouins must be a priority for any future nation security strategy to rectify the negligence of the past decades.
Egypt’s Ticking Bomb:
One finger cannot lift a pebble – Native American Proverb
The Native American proverb is very accurate and can be applied to Egypt since no single faction can take the toll of rebuilding the country as well as the integration of all minorities in Egyptian social, political and economical activities is an essential step to diffuse the ticking bomb that can explode at any time.
It can be easily deducted from the above that almost all the demands of the minorities in Egypt are sensible and are neither excessive or break the boundaries of logic, yet somehow they have been ignored by regimes for many decades for a variety of illogical reasons among them national security. Nevertheless, these regimes fail to acknowledge that national security starts with the homeland stability and the sense of justice among citizens of all races and creeds. This very fact those previous regimes as well as current ones fail to ignore thus triggering a ticking bomb that can blow at any time without prior warnings.
Furthermore, the current political regime led by Islamists is using unorthodox methods to put fear in the hearts of women who are defying their authority. The Islamists radical clerics are helping in this process by issuing some Fatwas which are Islamic Non-Binding Juristic rulings in regard of different issues in life. These Fatwas have been widely abused in the past 4 decades particularly during the period of rising Islamism and radical Wahhabi doctrines on the scene. These Fatwas are becoming Morsi’s best weapon against his opponents usually issued through the allies of the Islamist regimes within controversial radical clerics like El Howeiney , Hassan , Yacoub and worst of all Ghoneim among many others who serve the purposes of the Islamist president and give him a fake religious halo. New Fatwas include that women should not run for political office and occasionally they should not work side to side in the same office to men. Segregation in mixed schools has been called for and calls for unbanning circumcision and removing the minimum age for marriage are being fought for by the radical Islamists. The radical Islamists are even defying the very Islamic faith when it comes to women rights but they are in fact not following the Islamic faith as much as the Wahhabi doctrine. This doctrine has been the source of trouble ever since its propagation and adoption by Political Islam groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and ever since it has been propagated as the true faith when it’s far in every respect from it.
Islamists believe that that their attempt to utilize Islam as an ideology is actually protecting the faith and keeping it defended from what they deem as attacks from others. While in reality they hardly realize that almost all ideologies diminish, fail and end eventually. In the case of Islamism the failure will be mistakenly attributed to the religion and not their subpar performance which ironically will cause a counter effect against the whole point of Islamism and will irrevocably damage the faith.
The strong bind between Muslims and Christians in Egypt is not easy to break for both have adopted each other’s ways of living and mixed their traditions in a way that is hardly scene in any other society in the world. Now these common traditions are becoming the target for the Islamists and the radical groups as they want to separate Christians and Muslims from being a one identity into two identities. They have succeeded in doing that in Sudan thanks to the failed Islamist state there and resulted in 4 decade war and the separation of the South of Sudan. Accordingly, Egyptians shouldn’t allow Islamist to have the final say if they want to keep the integrity of their country.
Furthermore, as discussed earlier the mixing of religion and politics have always created injustices for minorities in Egypt as they seem to pay the price of random prejudices and mass stereotyping regardless of their stance on any foreign or domestic conflict. Once again the secularization of politics in Egypt proves to be an absolute necessity that must be reached and implemented to avoid further frictions that dissolves the very fabric of society. Secularism and equality in Egypt towards its ethnicities and religious backgrounds will be the guarantee for a sustainable and health society that can bolster Egypt’s chances for a better future.
The rights of minorities and their stature in society represent the parameter and benchmark where civilized modern nations are categorized and ranked. It’s usually when a politician from the minorities rule by the vote of the majority that this country is deemed as possessing a mature democratic systems. Examples for this are the USA with its Black president and India with its several Prime ministers and presidents from the Sikh and Muslims minorities who govern by the people’s choice. Egypt used to have tolerant democratic life prior to 1952 where all the minorities’ rights were guaranteed in good will by the majority and the ruling parties.
The recent phase in Egypt represents a dark period in Egypt’s history of mostly tolerance and harmony amongst Egyptians. The length of this dark period will mainly depend on the Egyptian’s ability to curb the influence of Islamists and take back their own country before they turn into another failed state like they used to do in every country they take charge of.
Also the current Islamist regime which in cahoots with the Islamists agenda is being exposed on daily basis as a holder for an agenda that doesn’t represent the Egyptian nationalist value but other sectarian narrow Islamist ones. The sooner Egyptians manage to overthrown this government to save the boundaries and the pillars of their nation, the sooner it will save Egyptians further bloodshed and political turmoil. A very simple way to diffuse a ticking bomb in Egypt is the acknowledgment that every Egyptian has the same full rights and obligations regardless of colour, sex, creed or political affiliation without exception. It is a very simple solution but Egyptian consecutive regimes have made it very hard to implement.