The Council of State decided on February 18 that the request of the Center for Arab-West Understanding to obtain NGO status should be honored. Finally! The board of advisors decided to apply for NGO status in July 2003. It took until August 2004 to get the founders together and prepare all necessary papers. We regret that Dr. Kamāl Abū al-Majd then apologized to become our first chairman (his letter is found among the letters of recommendation on our website). The application was made and rejected, claiming we violated art. 11 of the NGO law that stipulates that no NGO should be involved in political activities. Thanks, however, to that rejection we were able to develop excellent relations with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. First H.E. Ambassador Muná ‘Umar, then the Egyptian ambassador to Denmark, attended my lecture at Copenhagen University, in which I mentioned the rejection, and reported about our initiative to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Meetings at the Ministry followed, naturally resulting in questions about our work. We provided information and that in turn was followed in February 2005 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs providing the Ministry of Social Affairs a recommendation to provide us NGO status. By then however, our request had already been presented to the Council of State. Ambassador Muná ‘Umar, now the Egyptian ambassador to South Africa, wrote in May 2005 an excellent letter of recommendation for our work, referring to the minister of foreign affairs’ positive response to our work.
Relations with the Ministry further developed, culminating in the minister receiving former Dutch Prime Minister Prof. Andreas van Agt who visited Egypt in May 2006 to support our work.
Following the Council of State’s decision to accept the Center for Arab-West Understanding, we sent out an e-mail to over 3500 addresses to inform the friends of our center about this decision. We have received many congratulations coming from all over the world, but including in those were also officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The interest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in our work is only natural. Egyptian diplomats are exposed to contacts with non-Egyptians and non-Arabs and are therefore well aware of the many cultural misunderstandings that exist between Egypt, the Arab world and Western nations. They see the value of systematic summary translations of Arab media for a non-Arabic speaking public, showing them the variety in thoughts expressed in Arab media. They also see the value of a systematic search in our archive of summary translations, building the who-is-who of people mentioned in Arab media and writing biographies.
The Council of State’s decision is not related to the positive attitude of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but to the earlier request they had made for a State commissioner’s report that was presented in the council on January 22, 2006. In art. two of this issue you find our report on the Council’s decision, and in art. three in this issue you find the translation of the State commissioner’s report. Interestingly, it states that the decision to reject our request for NGO status was based on hearsay and rumors. We are, of course, pleased with this report, followed a year later by the decision we are now celebrating. We now have to wait until we have the decision of the Council of State on paper.
Other recent news concerns new problems in the Coptic Orthodox Church, this time surrounding Bishop Kyrillos of Naj‘ al-Hammādī, Upper Egypt. He was first said to have been deposed of by Pope Shenouda following complaints from his own priests in the diocese of Najc al-Hammādī and tensions between Bishop Kyrillos and Bishop Bishūy, the powerful secretary of the Holy Synod. The tensions turned ugly with stories starting to circulate that Bishop Bishūy’s sister had converted to Islām and demonstrations in favor of Bishop Kyrillos in both Naj‘ al-Hammādī and the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. Following the demonstrations different statements came out and it was said that there had never been intentions to remove Bishop Kyrillos. The probably justified fear for deposition (justified because of the earlier experiences of the bishops of Mahallah al-Kubrá, Abū Tisht and Luxor) shows unrest within the Coptic Orthodox Church. Unrest that is to a large extent related to:
1) a reducing loyalty to the decisions of the church leadership who, in line with the school of St. Antonius in the Sundayschool movement [Reisss, RNSAW, 2002, week 46, art. 23] believe that the younger generation should listen to the wisdom of the older generation, not just older in age but seniority in church leadership and those who dogmatically adhere to traditions despite the problems that some of these are causing, such as the rigid opposition to divorce, even in cases of serious maltreatment of the woman, and,
2) related discussions about the succession of Pope Shenouda.
The problems as witnessed are this time not between laymen and clergy as was the case with Kamāl Zākhir Mūsá, but between bishops.
Sāmih Fawzī of Watanī correctly states that "the danger [of this crisis] lies in the fact that street protests are used against church authorities, which is likely to wreak havoc in the future." Worse is, says Jamāl As‘ad in the al-Ahrām Weekly of February 22-28, 2007, that the church bows to such public pressure and retracts earlier made decisions, a sign of internal division and weakness, encouraging others to use similar means in conflict situations.
Demonstrations are not just used to exert pressure on church authorities but also on civil authorities when organizers, who often try to stay out of the limelight and want to give the impression that the demonstration was ’spontaneous,’ deem that necessary.
Rā’id al- Sharqāwī, a Coptic human rights activist, usually mingles in such demonstrations to pick up sentiments and report on them, informed Arab-West Report following several of such demonstrations that many of these demonstrators (as well as other demonstrators for other issues in Egypt) are primarily moved by emotions, not by a good understanding of the facts of a situation for which the are demonstrating. Demonstrators can thus easily fall a prey to particular interest groups or leading personalities in society which is, because emotion replaced understanding, hardly a healthy phenomenon and creating unrest and insecurity among people who are not as well informed. The people behind such organizations tend to play on rumors, stereotypes and anything else that may get a crowd moving in the direction they want.
In this issue of AWR you find an interesting discussion about the Takfīr PhD thesis of an Azhar scholar against Rose al-Yūsuf. The discussion shows a great divide between liberal minded journalists and traditionalist Islamic scholars, showing a deep divide in society.
We regret that Kerkinactie decided after five years of sponsoring our work and helping Arab-West Report to get started (we would have never been able to do this with subscriber income only) to move on to other projects. We are grateful for the support they have given us in the initial difficult years and we are grateful for the recommendation letter they have sent us for our work (art. 4).