During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Egyptian papers-both State-owned and independent-increase the space they allocate for religious material. It was noticed that a number of sections devoted to news or issues which pertain to Christians or to the Christian community were taken out of print during Ramadan. This applies for instance to the weekly page of Qassawsa wa Ruhban, literally "priests and monks"-a term used in the Qur’an to describe Christians, printed by the daily Rose al-Youssef and the Min al-Katedra’iya (From the Cathedral) printed by the daily independent al-Youm. The reason defies logic. Is it un-Islamic to print material on non-Muslims or non-Muslim issues in the holy Muslim month?
Is it also a Ramadan tradition to deride Christianity?
The name of the weekly al-Naba’ invokes the 2001 infamous incident of printing a lewd story of alleged sexual misconduct at the holy Virgin’s al-Muharraq monastery in Assiut, following which its editor Mamdouh Mahran was tried, imprisoned, and died in prison. Ever since, Mahran’s sons Hatem and Khaled, who assumed the editing responsibility of al-Naba’ have adopted what appears to be a revenge policy against Copts. This Ramadan, the paper printed an interview with Sheikh Omar al-Deeb, deputy to the dean of al-Azhar, in which the interviewer, instead of focusing on Islamic issues insisted on badmouthing Christians and their institutions.
The interviewer asked the Sheikh; "When a Christian converts to Islam the Church ’turns the world upside down’. But when a Muslim converts, al-Azhar does not move. What do you say about that?" Sheikh Deeb said that al-Azhar’s role was to spread awareness among youth, but not to take up arms, detain people or torture converts. We try to move pragmatically so as not to cause public unrest as the other side [Christians] does." Sheikh Deeb appears to have forgotten that it is the Copts who are the non-violent side, and that freedom of belief is absolutely granted in Christianity; it is the Muslims who stipulate the death sentence ridda for those who ’desert’ Islam.
Another question guaranteed to raise enmity against Copts and portray them as joining forces with foreigners against their Muslim fellow citizens was: "What do you say about the proselytising Christian Egyptian groups who operate in Egypt?" The answer was: "There are proselytising groups in Egypt but they operate with foreign funds and obey orders coming from abroad."
Celebrating the fanatic
And along the same tradition of hostility against Christians, the weekly State-owned Akhbar al-Youm announced that the Islamist writer Muhammad Emara was contributing a column to the paper. Mr Emara is known for his writings against Christians and Christianity, and his material in the sister publication al-Akhbar two years ago earned him a complaint to the prosecutor-general by a group of Copts, following which his column was discontinued. Mr Emara’s column this Ramadan predictably included material in which he managed to insert undue comparison between Islam and Christianity, which he used to discredit Christianity. A mild example is his allegation that Islam was a moderate religion which did not condone such "extreme, unnatural practices as Christian monasticism". Why many Islamists behave as though discrediting Christianity was prerequisite to Islamic belief defies an answer. Mr Emara’s comeback was highly trumpeted by Akhbar al-Youm; the only thing missing in this jubilation were the shots in the air gleefully used in popular festivities.
No Coptic poets
The weekly al-Qahira, published by the Culture Ministry, printed an article by Mukhtar Sidhom in which he raised a very important issue, that of the almost complete non-existence of young Coptic poets’ works within the Culture Ministry’s publishing programme. Mr Sidhom wrote that many young Copts would approach him for an assessment of their poetry. When he would ask them why they did not present it to such venues as the poetry clubs or the cultural palaces, the usual answer was that these venues gave them no encouragement and treated them off-handedly, which they found frustrating. Just in case anyone doubts this or thinks it an exaggeration, Mr Sidhom wrote, the testimony of Qurashi Abbas Dandrawi who is himself one of the over-viewers of the literary scene in Upper Egypt, should put to rest these doubts. Dr Dandrawi said that, during research he conducted for a paper he presented to the eighth literary convention for Upper Egypt held last March under the title "Upper Egypt’s literary heritage", he found not one publication by the Culture Ministry for Coptic poets. Dr Dandrawi insisted on drawing the convention’s attention to the fact. Mr Sidhom commented that it is obvious the cultural institution has been infected with the virus of fanaticism which has already infected the entire community. This considering that the cultural elite should have been the instrument of pulling the community out of the swamp of fanaticism.
Most amazing, however, was that Mr Sidhom’s article induced no reaction from any reader. At least, so far.