Saturday, July 16, 2011

Salafis Gaining Traction

I was reading this article, and it seemed to summarize the Salafi situation pretty well.

It's interesting that the Salafi mentioned that Muslim, Christian, and Jewish women in Egypt used to wear the veil.  Pretell, what happened to Egypt's Jewish population?  Oh, yes, they were expelled and their property was confiscated after the establishment of Israel!  I wonder if this fellow would be interested in allowing them to return, you know, in the name of justice?  Probably NOT.  He also fails to inform the interviewer that women in cities wore the veil, and that the vast majority of the population, as poor farmers, just wore whatever was comfortable, which most likely included a loose hair cover, not a full veil.

I spent some time living in Egypt and my mother and her siblings grew up in Egypt in the 60's and 70's... my mother and her sisters used to wear miniskirts, and my aunt, a physician, felt more respected by her peers and patients than she does in the U.S.  Movies highlighted the injustice against the poor and women.  However, something changed.  Women began wearing the veil in droves.  Men began harrassing women in the streets.  Fundamentalist preachers now come on tv regularly and say that the 8 million Christians should leave, that they don't want tourism, that the Sphinx and pyramids are "infidel" monuments that should be destroyed (yes, someone actually said this).  The fact that people come on tv and say these things and no one reacts is sort of distressing.  Like the article suggests, no one seems to stand up to someone speaking with religious authority, no matter how crazy they are.  This is bad.

To me, democracy is not just about giving people the freedom to vote.  Egypt has absolutely no institutional foundation for a well-functioning country in any sense-- corruption is completely rampant, the constitution is lousy, the entire legal system based on said constitution is lousy, the same people who were running the show when Mubarak was in power are still, essentially, running the show, there is a huge, poverty-stricken, un-educated population that is just going to vote for whoever their clergy tells them to, and finally, there is a vulnerable Christian minority just waiting to be scape-goated.  The people we saw in Tahrir are not representative of Egypt's population as a whole.  I don't know what's going to happen, and I always have hope, but the facts do not sway me to being optimistic.  My optimistic scenario is a functional, "Islamic" Egypt where the poor would not have to live in cemeteries (like they do now) and Christians would just be harassed, instead of killed en masse.

The lesson here is that we cannot ignore fundamentalism of any stripe, and that we have to fight to have an educated population.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thanks for caring!

As a Copt, it's comforting to read articles like this, which help bring American attention to the Coptic situation, which makes us all feel better, even though it's probably kind of useless.

However, today a thought crossed my mind... Who is this Benny Avni character?  Since when does he care about Copts?  Why does he have this specific and incredibly bleak viewpoint?

Now, this article wasn't so bad, but many of these types of articles are written by conservative authors want to give strength to the idea that Arabs are still too "barbaric" to have a democracy with equal rights.  They have titles like "Will the Copts Survive?!?!" and "Egypt's Scapegoats!"  In many ways, they want to undermine the strength and idealism of the revolution by focusing on the ugly stuff- ugly stuff that was there long before the revolution, long before they seemed to care about the fate of the Coptic people.  Where was Benny Avni when violence in Asyut happened in 1994?  I think the sad truth is that many of these pessimists are much more concerned with the fate of Israel than that of the Copts.  I'm sorry, but the Coptic people are not pawns in someone else's political game.  Egyptians are more than capable of producing a country with equal rights, if that's what they decide to do.  I hope I'm not casting aspersions on this guy's motives, but paying attention to the U.S. media can be a frustrating, frustrating thing.  Fortunately, the Egyptian people are going to be making these decisions now, whether the U.S. likes it or not.  Let's hope we all do the right thing!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Isolated Copts

This is a long post, so I will give you my point up front, and if you want to read the rest of it, go for it:

Copts need legal protection.  They don't need to be friends with Muslims and holds hands and hug.  Those are wonderful things, but what Copts need is equality and protection under the law, and only then will the violence against them stop.  And then, probably after many years and maybe after we're all dead, everybody will be friends.

Here is my actual post:

So after this whole Imbaba disaster, I've been reading a lot of commentary and blogs on the topic of sectarianism from a lot of liberal Egyptian bloggers, and what I've noticed is a super-disturbing trend.  A lot of people seem to believe that because Copts isolate themselves, they've helped to make the sectarian situation worse, and that there is an impetus on them to re-join Egyptian society so that people hate them less.

 I've studied discrimination and civil rights law a little bit in the U.S., and it's something I like to read about  on my own time.  And I have never, ever heard the argument that a minority "isolates" itself, making its own situation worse, treated as an actual, legitimate idea before.  The only close example I can think of is something like when anti-immigrant French people bring up this idea that its Muslim immigrants have isolated themselves.  I'm not an expert on France, but I think that even those people realize that France, through a series of bad public policies and a discriminatory society, created that situation, and that France is going to have to fix it, with or without immigrant cooperation.  I could be wrong.  But people don't wake up one morning and say "Today, I think I'll cut myself off from society, just for funsies!"  They do so because they have faced a pattern of discrimination, violence, and hatred from the rest of that society.  The isolation and fear are the result, not the cause, of the majority's actions.

And this is not scientific, but every Copt in Egypt I know has had awful experiences where a Muslim discriminated against them at work, treated them badly at a store, or much, much worse.  Just the looks we get from people on the street can be enough to make you afraid.  Once, my mother and aunts and I went to a shop, and upon seeing us, the ladies working there turned on Koranic verses on full blast.  Like, as loud as possible.  In an underwear shop.  And we were only visiting Egypt for the week.  These types of displays of dominance do NOT make any Copt want to go outside and befriend a Muslim.  Nor, in fact, does telling Copts "you need to be nicer and go make friends with Muslims," after two of their churches have been burned (this month).  This does not convince any Copt to go out and join the community with their Muslim brothers and sisters.  Sorry everybody, scars don't go away that easily.

Nor do all Copts want some separate legal regime from the rest of the country where Pope Shenouda is their king.  I don't know why people have this idea that all the Copts just follow the church leaders around drooling, but it's not terribly accurate.  Pope Shenouda was forced into a pretty obvious Catch-22 situation by the old regime: defy us and your people will get hurt, support us and you'll look like a tool.  He chose the latter option, for historical reasons I won't get into here.  But given the choice, I would bet money that Copts would universally vote for a completely secular government.

Would you like to know what will make Copts want to go out and befriend Muslims?

We would befriend Muslims in a country where any murder of a Copt led to the arrest, trial, and conviction of the murderer.
We would befriend Muslims in a country where we had a chance to get the same jobs as Muslims if we had the same talents.
We would befriend Muslims if we had the exact same rights and protections as everyone else.

Some Copts may want something else, but no one owes them that.  What they are owed is equality, nothing more, nothing less.  That is their human right.  And that equality comes from a clear, specific legal regime where people who perpetrate hate crimes are actually punished.

Give the Copts enforced, LEGAL equality, and only then, and only after MANY YEARS, will they begin trusting society and de-segregating themselves.  It's your right as a human being to socialize and raise your kids however you want and hate whomever you want and love whomever you want.  It is NOT your right to steal from people, loot their stores, kill people, and discriminate against qualified workers with impunity and no punishment.  You should be allowed to hate people, but arrested when you hurt them.

The people who hurt Christians will never stop until this happens.  Never.

I have a lot more to say about this, especially from a legal perspective, but that's for later.

Why WOULD a Physician stay in Egypt?

My cousin and her husband, both physicians, recently emigrated to the United States from Egypt.  Our family's attitude was basically- "What took you so long?"  Both are excellent at studying and taking tests, and were at the top of their class, but were routinely abused by patients and their superiors in Egypt, and, if you believe them, discriminated against because they were Coptic (I think they are both a little bit obnoxious, so it could be that too).  But as for me, I don't know why ANY smart doctor would stay in Egypt.  Here are some facts:

In the U.S., there is an shortage of physicians, and it's getting worse every year.  Pass the tests, and as a skilled worker, the physician has a clear path to immigration in the U.S.

The median doctor salary in the U.S. is almost $150,000 USD.  So a doctor can someday buy a house like these, which have actually become cheaper lately.  For an American, it can cost up to $250,000 to get a medical education.  In Egypt, not so much.  So Egyptian-American doctors get the best of both!

Nobody yells at doctors in the U.S.  Actually, nobody at in the U.S. yells or abuses other people as a general rule.  There are exceptions, like when you're at a party and the room is really loud.  Then you can yell.  Canada, Europe, and the like are similar, but with slightly lower salaries.

So, I often wonder about who is left to serve Egypt.  Every time a physician leaves Egypt, they take with them their skills, their smarts, their $250k USD education, and years of productivity that in economic terms, add up to millions of dollars in their lifetime.  All that gets taken away from Egypt, and given to another country, just because the other country is a nicer place to live.  Whether it's a Christian physician who feels they were treated unfairly in Egypt (there are LOTS of them), or a Muslim physician, Egypt just loses.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

First post! How should a nation respond to hate crimes?

Hello!  This is my first post, and I've been thinking about starting this blog for awhile, but the impetus was definitely the recent events in Imbaba.  I'm not really an expert on anything, and I'm not sure that anyone will read what I write, or that I even have anything very unique to say.  But the reason I'm starting this blog is because I see so many arguments thrown out there that are untenable:  that Muslims and Christians hate each other, and that's the root of the problem, that the Church leadership is making things worse, that Christians are so passive and have pulled themselves into a ghetto etc., etc.  Some of these things are actually true and totally legitimate criticisms, but they're not necessarily a valid or appropriate response to violence against Christians.  And by valid and appropriate, I mean a response that would advocate alleviating harm instead of making excuses and false equivalencies.

Here is a valid response to violence against a minority, ANY minority: "Violence against *minority* is never acceptable.  Violence against another religion's house of worship is never appropriate.  Attacking shops and businesses belonging to *minority* is never acceptable and should be met with swift justice and prosecution."  That, or something like that, is the appropriate response to hate crimes.  And again, by appropriate, I mean that is the response that would begin a healing process, that would make someone who is the target of a hate crime feel better.

But why should someone care about that, particularly someone in the majority?

Why should they care about Christians, and their feelings, particularly Christians that seem to hate them, or fear them?

For one thing, these events, and their growing frequency and violence, are an international humiliation for Egypt.  They hurt Egypt's image, as well as its ability to draw back tourists and heal the economy.  No one wants to visit a country in sectarian chaos.  The whole mess is like a giant black spot on the revolution, and it's only growing.

But really, a passive "everyone is wrong" reaction has other unintended consequences.  It makes the rift larger.  It makes Copts feel like non-citizens, like people who can never be free in their own country.  You should be safe from crime, no matter what your religion, your church, your feelings are.  When a crime is committed against you, and then someone tells you "But it's partly YOUR fault!" they are basically telling you "Screw you!", that they don't care, not about you, and not about your rights.  And eventually, some people get fed up, take that message and do something about it. Some Copts have actually begun openly asking the U.S. for protection.  This is a disaster on a variety of levels.  It's another national humiliation on Egypt.  The idea that a country's citizens would openly and publicly ask another country to protect them indicates a level of hopelessness that I can't imagine.  You've essentially given up on being a citizen of your own country, of ever having equality.  But I think what these people want is not "protection."  They want the U.S. and Canada to open immigration doors for Copts.  They want to leave, and they want everyone else to be able to leave too.  They're fed up.  Maybe that's something that a lot of Egyptians want, I don't know.  But that's something that Egypt, as a nation, has to deal with, before things get even worse.  Later I want to write about what Egypt would lose if all of its Copts just got up and left, but not today.  I'm pooped!  And emotionally exhausted.

Things I want to write about and address in the future: the Church's role, Coptic passivity, immigration, why minority rights are important, and civil rights law.