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January 12, 2011

To my brothers and sisters, the Copts

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Mohandes

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All Egyptians, Muslims and Christian Copts have condemned the horrible act of violence in Alexandria. As an Egyptian I feel sympathetic to the victims of this attack, Muslims and Christians. But we Egyptians must learn the lesson of Lebanon.

During the civil war, the Maronite Christians tried to have the higher hand in the country by the means of violence, and calling upon French, American, and even Israelis to intervene. However when they couldn’t achieve that goal, they finally accepted to live in peaceful co-existence. Alas, after a lot of bloodshed from all sides, (mostly innocent bystanders) and the dispersion of Lebanese Christians around the world, merely because the Maronice political and religious leadership.

We Egyptians are all on the same ship and if we continue wrecking this ship, we will all drown, and no one will survive to celebrate or gloat for the destruction of the other party.

Therefore, for a lasting political peace in our beloved Egypt, I would suggest we Egyptians, Muslims and Christians sit together and agree on the following points:

  • Your religious rights are guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution, and also by all the agreements your Church leadership has signed with all the governments of this country for many generations. If you feel some injustice or you don’t like anything in these agreements, please talk with your fellow Muslim citizens and the government of this land (whatever it is) and try to reach a consensus, without threatening the country by outside interventions or rioting or destroying peace and harmony.
  • Your political rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, the same as all Egyptian citizens. If you have any disagreements or complaints about some rights please resort to the Egyptian law and courts without discrimination for or against you.
  • Let’s be one universal law for building houses of worship for all Egyptians. However, you must abide by the same rules Muslim abide by without any special privileges. There must be financial transparency, and Mosques should also be granted the same independence the Churches enjoy. Your Churches, like Mosques, have to be open for all Egyptians, and the government must have the right to enter any place of worship to investigate any allegations of kidnappings or storage of weapons. In general you have to abide by the law with no special privileges.
  • In this universal law, the density, size, and lot space of your churches in every neighborhood and village has to be in accordance with the density of your population in that area. The same rule applies to Mosques.
  • Stop confiscating state lands and playing the game of annexation of lands that is not for the purpose of building churches. If you need any extension, it has to be approved by the authorities. If you violate the law and especially if you use force against the authorities, the government has to take all security measures including force to apply the law and keep order.
  • You must respect the fact that majorities sometimes have some unofficial special privileges (this is the case in Western democracies). For example, the heads of state, army, and intelligence are usually Muslims (an unofficial rule). So please stop complaining about not having these positions. In addition, Al-Azhar religious institute and its educational institution have been linked to the state for many centuries, and I don’t think you want to lose your independence in return for state funding. Only Catholic schools in Ontario are funded by all tax payers, so Egypt is not strange on that issue.
  • Please stop your calls for changing the Egyptian constitution to remove the passages that mention Islam as the official religion and Islamic jurisprudence as a main source of law (not the only one). Similar examples from Western countries that have an official religion are Anglican in the UK, Catholic in Spain, and Orthodox in Greece. Egypt is no different on that matter, and we didn’t hear adherents of other religions in such countries complain.
  • Please stop the insults that come from your leadership and priests against Islam as a religion and against Muslims of this country. In return, no Muslim should not be allowed to make fun of you or your religion. As the Qur’an says: You have your religion and I have mine.
  • Please stop calling for outside intervention and protection. If the ship sinks you will be the first losers (for the mere fact that you are a minority).
  • Your Church should refrain from intrusion into politics, as the Bible says: Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Therefore, the Church should not force Copts with its powerful religious authority to take specific sides during elections and condoning a certain person for presidency or a certain political party for government.
  •  Freedom of religion must be for everyone in Egypt (including transition from/to both of the two main religions: Islam and Christianity). However, Christians as well as Muslims must refrain from preaching amongst the other side, to avoid destroying peace and harmony in a deeply religious country. This also includes stopping the practice of kidnapping converts and preaching hate on satellite channels and other media; and this applies also to Copts who live in the West as long as they are followers of the Coptic Church. Muslims will not believe that these rouge Copts talk against the will of the Church, especially that the strong Coptic Church has the long-going practice of expelling whoever disagrees with it.
  • Please stop playing the card of history and propagating lies that you are the native people of Egypt and Muslims are the Arab invaders. Muslims by history and geography are native in this country exactly the same as you are. Let’s review here some historical facts: The word Copt is a Greek word, not an ancient Egyptian one. The Coptic language is a mix of Greek and unofficial (slang) old Egyptian. The majority of Muslims are not ethnic Arabs; the same as the majority of Christians are not ethnic Greeks. The oldest religion in Egypt is the Ancient Egyptian religion, then came Christianity and also Judaism, and then came Islam. While Christianity destroyed the old Egyptian religion, and persecuted Judaism, Islam was tolerant with the existence of Christianity and also Judaism.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Mohandes lives in the U.S.

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Dotan Rousso. Holds a Ph.D. in Law—a former criminal prosecutor in Israel. Currently working as a college professor in Canada.

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