Sunday, February 13, 2011

Good example of Muslim-Christian interaction and living together in Egypt

Just like Malaysia, there are Muslims and Christians, and it is good to see how ordinary people live and behave respecting one another's faith and belief. In Malaysia too, ordinary people do live in harmony respecting the differences in the people in their communities, including the religious and other cultural differences. It is only some politicians and a few persons that try to sow seeds of division and enmity, and sometimes I believe the intention is more for some political gain.

Over the years, there have been some who have tried to stir ill-feelings among the multi-religious peoples of Malaysia, but it has really not generated much support at all. In comparison, we see the Reformasi protest in Kuala Lumpur that saw 10,000 plus persons repeatedly coming out to the street  on weekends protesting the wrongdoings and failures of the UMNO led-BN government, despite the real fear and prospect of being water-cannoned, tear-gassed, physically assaulted by the police, arrested and charged, etc...I am talking about the earlier REFORMASI protest... Of course, later on the Opposition parties and  pro-Anwar elements tried to hijack this movement/action of the people and make it their own, just like what did happen in Egypt - it was a people's action -- and now the Opposition parties started creeping in to claim leadership of the masses. [I share from my perspective of being there on the ground during the said REfFORMASI protests, and later being a "Reformasi Lawyer', who acted for hundreds of people when they got arrested,and detained in PULAPOL, etc and for their trials]
Back to the issue at hand, where the positive aspect of interaction of a people, irrespective of their religion and/or ethnicity, needs to be highlighted...
Published on: February 13, 2011,Herald Malaysia

By Anil Netto

By now much has been said about what has been happening in Egypt. But less visible is that the uprising in Egypt has witnessed some remarkable scenes of Muslim-Christian understanding on the streets, especially in Tahrir Square. When Muslims prayed in Tahrir or Liberation Square, Christians formed a protective ring around them.

And when the Coptics and other Christians prayed, it was the turn of the Muslims to stand guard against attacks from pro-Mubarak thugs. You know, when interreligious dialogue takes place, sometimes those occasions tend to be stuffy, formal affairs laced with platitudes and niceties as no one wants to offend the other side.

But what took place at Tahrir Square on Sunday, Feb 6 had none of the usual preparations and pleasantries usually associated with these occasions. Instead, Muslims and Christians together reflected on the autocracy facing their country, the loss of innocent lives, and the struggle for freedom. All around them were symbols of that repressive reality: rocks and stones that had been used as projectiles, army tanks that failed to provide security... and wounded and hungry people.

Reflect as Michael Jansen reports for the Irish Times: Muslims and Christians unite in prayer as clerics and speakers remind us of those who have died: MUSLIMS PRAYED with Christians yesterday in Tahrir Square at the heart of Cairo. A priest from Egypt’s ancient Coptic rite held high a cross, read verses from the Bible and in a deep, sonorous voice led hymn singing. The mostly Muslim throng joined in, familiar with the Arabic phrases the faiths share.

They closed by rendering softly, then belting out lustily the Egyptian national anthem, Beladi (My Country), concluding with the cry: “We are united, Christians and Muslims, we are all Egyptians! Hurriyah, hurriyah! Freedom, freedom!” Muslims performed the noon day prayer before the Copts held a second prayer meeting.

A woman in red standing next to Irish Ambassador Isolde Moylan and me translated the words of the priest. “He told Mubarak, our churches were attacked when you were in power . . . “Now that there are no police in the street and we have revolution, our churches are safe, our people are safe.” The cleric mentioned the bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria during a Mass on January 1 that killed both Christians and Muslims.

Another man took the microphone and spoke of the 300 “martyrs” who have died since hundreds of thousands of democracy advocates seized control of Tahrir Square on January 25 and demanded that Mubarak and his entire regime resign. “You do not speak of the martyrs, Mubarak, but you cannot ignore them,” the speaker shouted. In the crowd were some of the walking wounded. Men with bandaged heads or plaster casts on their arms, a man with his ankles bound in gauze. They were among the defenders of the square when it was attacked by pro-Mubarak elements last Feb 3 night. At least 5,000 have been wounded during 13 days of mass action. We paused to speak to young men gathered near a stall selling tea.

Like many other welcoming Egyptians, Amin, a bearded member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was delighted to see Irish visitors. He was keen to make his point to Isolde who had come in listening mode: “In the West they try to scare people by saying the brotherhood wants to make Egypt like Iran. This is a lie. We are Sunnis, not Shias. We do not want rule by clerics. We want democracy. We want freedom.” An AFP report in the Philippines Inquirer noted that some Muslim demonstrators at Tahrir Square showed solidarity with their Christian brethren.

Ahmed Shimi, 47, raised a banner adorned with a Christian cross, the Islamic crescent and the declaration “Muslims plus Christians equal Egypt.” “We don’t want differences between Muslims and Christians. We believe that we are all Egyptians,” Shimi said. “Mubarak wants to sell the idea to the United States and Europe that we have a problem in Egypt with the Christians and that he is the right guy to address it. But it’s not true.” What made these scenes all the more extraordinary was that they took place against a backdrop of the shocking New Year attack on a Coptic Church in Alexandria.

But even before that, Muslims had rallied behind their beleagured fellow Egyptians, the Christians, to provide them with a protective ring during Christmas Eve services. One report said “thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas Eve Mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside. From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s Mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.” What we have heard in Egypt time and time again is that the people on the streets, Muslims and Christians alike, are united in their desire for freedom and justice.

They have come out to demand their rights. They carry for people and governments everywhere important lessons. Egypt is experiencing serious problems. The gap between the rich and the poor is large, youth unemployment is high and a large number of people are living on less than US$2 a day. Meanwhile, a Guardian report alleged that the Mubarak family fortune could reach up to US$70 billion, a lot of it probably stashed abroad. Consider the impact of neo-liberal policies on countries like Tunisia and Egypt.

These countries had fairly strong GDP growth rates and FDI and had followed IMF-World Bank neo-liberal policies such as slashing subsidies and privatisation. They were regarded as economic miracles. Only last year, the World Bank in a ‘Doing Business 2010’ report had hailed Egypt as a ‘top global performer’. Obviously, someone forgot to tell the seething, teeming masses on the streets for whom such ‘economic reforms’ meant little. Mubarak has ruled for 30 years through his hated security apparatus.

Egyptians who fell on the wrong side of the regime were put away and no one heard their screams of anguish in hidden detention cells or during ‘rendition’. Mubarak, like a string of previous dictators Suharto, Marcos, the Shah of Iran, was of course US backed, and he presided over a repressive system. The United State provided military aid to Egypt but a lot of this money flowed back to US corporations when Egypt bought arms and planes from these firms.

While the extraordinary scenes of Muslim- Christian unity are an inspiring part of the uprising, the danger is that the people’s democratic uprising may be hijacked by conservative forces allied to the military and vested business interests bent on maintaining neo-liberal economic policies, possibly with the blessing of the United States under the guise of ‘an orderly transition’. If that happens it would amount to a massive betrayal of the people’s passionate desire for economic justice and real democracy.

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