Coptic Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population of 80 million. They complain frequently of discrimination. The Coptic community says authorities in Egypt are reluctant to approve permits to build churches, which they say they need to accommodate the growing numbers of worshippers.
It is precisely for the accommodation of the growing numbers of worshippers that Muslims want to build mosques in Europe and North America.
Flare-ups of violence, especially over limits on church-building, are increasingly reported from Egypt.
A press report spoke of hundreds of Christians smashing cars and windows and trying to assault a municipal building in Cairo on Nov 24, “after police violently stopped the construction of a church that left one person dead and underscored Egypt’s sectarian tensions”. Thirty people were injured in the clashes and 93 arrested. Two priests were summoned by the general prosecutor for interrogation. The government said the protesters had to be cleared because they were blocking a major highway.
In the case of the current row over church construction in Egypt, the government says the construction was ordered to be halted because the building was not licensed to become a house of worship. “They had previously been ordered to cease construction due to violations of building safety code standards, and because they were attempting to illegally transform the building into a church for the conduct of religious services,” an official statement said.
In Egypt, one way to evade the rules by Copts for church-building is to obtain permits for Christian service centres, which they then turn to churches.
A week before the church dispute, Muslims in southern Egypt set fire to ten Christian houses following rumours that a Copt had an affair with a Muslim girl.
Last year in Qena, also in the south, a Coptic man was accused of raping a 12-year-old Muslim girl. The alleged assault led to tensions which culminated in the murder of six Copts and one Muslim security guard at a church on Jan 6.
In July last year, Cairo had erupted in protest when Dr Marwa Ali el-Sherbini, 31-year-old German resident of Egyptian origin, was stabbed 18 times by Alex Wiens, a Russo-German racist, in a courtroom in the German city of Dresden. Ms Sherbini had sued Wiens after he called her a “terrorist” because of her headscarf.
The media and the clerics gave her the title of “Headscarf Martyr.” The Egyptian media strongly protested over the treatment of Muslims in Germany and growing Islamophobia. The case had echoes all over the Muslim world.
The episode took a surreal turn when the Iranian president began to protest over Marwa el-Sherbini’s murder while women in Iran were stoned-to-death. Following the incident in Dresden, a group of Iranian students pelted eggs at the German embassy in Tehran and chanted “Death to Germany! Death to Europe!”
Iran summoned German ambassador Herbert Honsowitz to protest against the murder and urged Berlin to step up efforts to protect the rights of Muslims in Germany.
Coincidentally, on the morning of Dec 1, a woman was hanged in Iran, which is second only to China in its use of capital punishment. Last year it staged 388 executions, according to Amnesty International.
The Saudis are even more notorious when it comes to capital punishment. There beheadings are publicly staged on Fridays.
Meantime, Pakistan is yet again embroiled in the debate about blasphemy laws following the sentencing to death of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, by a lower court in Punjab.
Promulgated by Gen Zia, the sponsor of the anti-women Hudood Ordinance, the blasphemy laws were part of a “legislative package” to divide, brutalise and dehumanise Pakistani society.
But it is no mere coincidence that minorities and women were targeted by Gen Zia. There are far too many negative instances in the Muslim world regarding minorities and women.
This equally applies to oppression of nationalities. From Berbers in the Maghreb to Kurds in the Middle East and the Balochs in Pakistan, one finds a common thread. In many Muslim countries one cannot even debate these issues. In Pakistan’s vernacular press, for instance, Ahmadis are routinely maligned, without their being able to respond by expressing their own point of view. And this despite the fact that Pakistan now has a vibrant media.
True, this sorry state of human rights in the Muslim world should not be a justification in the West for denial to Muslims of the right to build mosques or to dress as they wish.
Also, the imperialist hypocrisies should be thoroughly laid bare when it comes to minorities’ rights and human rights. The building of a mosque close to Ground Zero in New York is a right of US Muslims, just as American Christians and Jews have the right to build their churches and synagogues.
By the same token, Coptic Christians should also be free to build a church in Cairo the way as Muslims are free to build mosques.
Yes, it was a despicable act of racist violence when Dr el-Sherbini was murdered inside the court. But it was an equally despicable act when Manzur Masih was gunned down outside the Lahore High Court. And the self-righteous noise of the Islamic fanatics and the gutter press across the Muslim world deserves to be exposed as well.
There is a difference, however. Despite Dr el-Sherbini’s murder and a host of other hate crimes across Western Europe, persecuted Muslims fleeing their homelands never seek asylum either in Tehran or Riyadh. Their preferred destinations, understandably, remain Paris, London, Berlin and Stockholm.
In Dresden, a monument with 18 arches is planned to honour Dr el-Sherbini (the mainstream German media avoided mentioning that she was a doctor). The 18 arches symbolise the fact that she was stabbed 18 times.
A million-dollar question is: can we place a monument outside the factory in Karachi where in April 2008 Jagdish Kumar was lynched by hundreds of his factory colleagues?
The International News, Pakistan