1. Editorial

Publisher (s):
Article summary: 

This week’s editorial reviews the report

published by al-‘Utayfī in 1972 following the al-Khankah sectarian events and

comments on whether any of the report’s recommendations were carried out.

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Article 2 of this week’s issue is

a translation of the report by Dr. Jamāl al-‘Utayfī on the al-Khankah sectarian events.

Although the report was written shortly after the incidents in 1972 Dr. Tareq Heggy, member of the AWR board of

advisers, believed that translating the report into English would help non-Arabic readers to see that many of the

recommendations made in this report were in fact never carried out. The al-Khankah events took place in November

1972 and center around a primitive building that was used for performing prayers and church services but that did

not have an official permit. According to the report, on November 6, 1972 the building was partially burned but

no perpetrator was identified by the public prosecution. Following that incident, six days later, around 400

Christians in priests and deacons garbs headed for the burned building to hold a church service. Once there, the

group erected speakers and held a church service without any major disturbances. However that night when Muslims

found out about the service, they went to the streets and gathered at the Sultān al-Ashraf mosque, regarding

the church service of that morning as a provocation and a challenge. They headed for the local police station in

a procession. In the hours that followed, houses were set on fire and people were injured but thankfully no one

died, a number of people however, both Muslim and Christian, were detained by the police.
The report is

around twenty pages long and presents the findings of a fact-finding committee that President al-Sādāt

requested and was then headed by Dr. Jamāl al-‘Utayfī, the deputy speaker of the People’s

Assembly. The report deals with the background to the incidents as well as the facts themselves and then

supplies three reasons for the al-Khankah incidents along with recommendations for stopping such incidents from

occurring in the future.

The first reason for the events which is outlined by the report is the licensing

of church building. The report comments that a system should be devised for establishing churches and this would

help to stop the appearance of churches without permits which can then often lead to disputes and conflicts in

the local community. The report’s committee also proposed that a plan should be put in place for simplifying the

procedures for licensing churches.

Secondly, the report commented on proselytizing and missionary

activities that take place in Egypt and called for freedom of belief to be respected. It added that religious

education has become an essential subject in the school curriculum and that the opportunity should be given for Copts to

regularly receive religion lessons.

Finally, the report stated that the publication of religious books

that insult other faiths had become a problem in Egyptian society with both sides, Coptic and Muslim, complaining

about books that touch on each other's faiths. The report recommended that the Ministry of Culture and

Information develop a system for censuring religious books, without such censuring being used as a tool in the face of freedom of scientific research.

All of the recommendations included in the report are

sound ideas and the committee did a good job of presenting what appears to be a balanced and unbiased

portrayal of events. However, it is interesting to note with hindsight how many of the recommendations were not

carried out. For example, debate still rages on to this day about a unified law for houses of worship and it

continues to be one of the main issues that incites sectarian friction around the country. The three explanations

that the report puts forward as direct reasons for the incidents still play a role in sectarian incidents. Thus

it seems that while the report did a good job of putting ideas out into the public forum and discussing the root

causes of the tensions, many of the recommendations it proposed were not carried out and in fact could still be

written in reports today. The report now serves as an important historic document about one of the first major

famous sectarian incidents in Egypt, which in itself is not a bad thing however one has to wonder whether if the

recommendations suggested by the report had been further investigated or implemented it would have helped to stop

some of the sectarian events that have taken place since the al-Khankah incidents in 1972.

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