The Long Road of Change for Egypt (Part 1)

Luxor’s Bishop Zakaria on the Good and Bad of Revolution

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By Emil Ameen

LUXOR, Egypt, JULY 22, 2011 ( A new attitude of hope has taken root among Christians in Egypt, says the Catholic Coptic bishop of Luxor.

Bishop Youhannes Zakaria, 61, told ZENIT that since the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, «silence and negativity … characterized most Christian Egyptians.» But, since the revolution earlier this year, which deposed President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years of ruling the country, the presence of Christians in the country is «alive and effective.»

The bishop said this in a three-part interview on the current situation in Egypt after the Jan. 25 revolution that brought down the Mubarak regime.

In Part 1 Bishop Zakaria discusses the new attitude of Christians in Egypt, relations between Islam and Christianity and the prospect of a new Egypt.

Parts 2 and 3 of this interview will appear Sunday and Monday, respectively.

ZENIT: Your eminence, how would you generally describe the situation in Egypt after the Jan. 25 revolution? What is its influence especially on the Christian presence?

Bishop Zakaria: At first, I would like to express my thanks and deep appreciation to ZENIT’s editorial team for all its sacrifices and hard work in order to spread distinguished Christian information, especially through its daily edition in Arabic and other languages.

In my opinion, the situation in Egypt after the Jan. 25 revolution is obscure. The way is not totally clear, and the journey is still long to reach a period of stability and safety.

Yes, the youth revolution has excellently succeeded in Cairo’s Liberation Square. It overthrew the military regime that ruled Egypt since the July 23, 1952, revolution, liberated all Egyptians, destroyed the wall of fear and eliminated it from all Egyptians’ hearts. It encouraged them to abandon their negative attitudes and seek the participation in the political action.

But, the success of this youth revolution, thanks to their sacrifices and martyrs, offered the golden opportunity for some political forces and religious communities that were forbidden and persecuted under the former regime’s rule, to break their silence and work hard in taking this opportunity in order to achieve their goals, and their political and religious agenda.

In terms of the Christian Egyptian presence, I noticed lately the end of silence and negativity that characterized most Christian Egyptians, especially after the July 23, 1952, revolution. The Christian Egyptian presence in the Liberation Square was really honorable, active and constructive, especially among the Christian youth. Until now, the Christian Egyptians’ participation in the current events is still alive and effective, and their presence in the national conferences and popular committees reflects their concern for the nation’s affairs, and their readiness to cooperate to develop it.

I hope that the Christian Egyptian presence will be characterized by unity, will renounce all denominational disagreements, and won’t be isolated. But it has to dialogue and cooperate with all the political and religious forces present on the Egyptian scene.

ZENIT: The increase of radical movements from various parties is beyond doubt a reality… can Egypt’s Copts adapt themselves to the latest developments?

Bishop Zakaria: After January 25 revolution, and after the return of the political freedom to Egypt, and the fall of the wall of fear, the Egyptian scene witnessed the emergence of a lot of religious communities and political forces that were not recognized by the former regime which never cooperated with them and was trying instead to eliminate them.

I think that these religious communities and political forces need more time and work to reach a phase of national and political maturity, be able to accept who is different from them in terms of religion, creed, opinion, and thought, and therefore cooperate with all Egyptians without exception and work together for a better life and a new developed state.

If these religious communities and political forces were able to evolve and accept the other party which is different from them in terms of religion and thought, Egypt’s Copts will cooperate and live together in peace.

ZENIT: Everyone is calling for the inevitability of a secular state, but all the clouds in Egypt’s sky reflect that the religious state is the closest … your eminence, what is your opinion?

Bishop Zakaria: Peoples’ experience and nations’ history reflect that the experience of a religious state that believes in a certain religion or creed or doctrine has been doomed to failure in the West and the East.

In modern times, we see that, in all the states and cities of the world, in the East and the West, there are too many people who belong to different religions and believe in various beliefs and doctrines, but they seek to live together in peace and harmony. For the security of the nation in which they are living, they call everyone to respect the other’s religion and doctrine, and they invite all citizens to cooperate with each other for their society’s well being. Therefore, the creation of the religious state does not make internal peace, and it neglects the legitimate rights of the group that professes a religion different from the state’s religion.

In this regard, I remember what Lord Jesus said: «Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,» and the motto of 1919 Revolution when Muslims cried out and Copts repeated with them against the English colonizer: «the religion is for God, and the nation is for everyone,» and they asked for the creation of a civilian state that respects all its citizens’ rights.

Religious doctrine and thoughts of faith in which people believe are very important in close relationships between God and man, and between man and his human brother. They also have a strong influence on the daily human and social life. When the religious doctrine is far from the plague of hideous fanaticism, hatred and ignorance, it will be able to build the homeland and sow the seeds of love and peace. Therefore, all Egyptians have to maintain their Muslim or Christian faith, and build cordial relations based on mutual respect, and progress in dialogue and constructive cooperation to serve their society and country.

ZENIT: Sohag and Qena witnessed in the last two years an unprecedented increase of the denominational turmoil that led to the death of some Copts … in your opinion, what are the true reasons of this increase?

Bishop Zakaria: Yes, lately, these painful events between Muslims and Christians increased in all the provinces and the whole country, and Copts had to endure more pain and sacrifices and losses of lives and properties. I think that the reasons mainly lie in ignorance, poverty, physical and psychological illness from which most of the Muslim and Christian Egyptians suffer. In addition to all that, there are tensions and sectarian disagreements created by the former regime in some villages and some parts of the country. Also, I don’t exclude some conspiracies and external and internal reasons that seek to destabilize the internal situation and make sectarian and factional profits.

ZENIT: What do Copts think of those who talk about the inevitability of implementing the Islamic law or imposing the jizya tax [levied on non-Muslims] in new Egypt if an Islamic government was formed?

Bishop Zakaria: I cannot speak in the name of Copts, but I can give a personal opinion. If the Muslim brothers are convinced that the implementation of the Islamic law is inevitable, I do not mind its implementation, but only for them. For non-Muslims, there should be an application of their laws and their doctrines’ principles.

Concerning the imposition of the jizya tax system, there are a lot of interpretative judgments and studies made by Muslim scholars who refuse this system and affirm that the tax was imposed in the beginning of the Islamic era to defend the non-Musl
ims. The system of various taxes and governmental fees replaced the tax system. I think that this system won’t be imposed in Egypt in any form, and as a Christian Egyptian citizen, I categorically refuse being obliged by a government to pay the tax in order to preserve my religion.

[Sunday: Hope for Christians in the Middle East]
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