The tragic events of January 6th 2010 in the small Upper Egyptian town of Naj‘ Hammādī cast a dark shadow over the Coptic Christmas celebrations and the start of the new year in Egypt, and have pushed debates around Muslim-Christian relations into both the local and international media spotlight. The murder of six young Christians as they left their Christmas Eve mass, along with one Muslim guard, has forced all levels of Egyptian society to think hard about the causes of the incident, and about ways to prevent its repetition.
Is the incident a sign of growing interreligious tensions in Egypt, or an isolated incident carried out by local criminals? Was the shooter avenging the alleged rape of a Muslim girl in a nearby town, or was he a hired gun in part of a more sinister plot? In the coming editions of AWR, you will read a full and in-depth round up of the analysis and discussion that has taken place in the state-run, independent, Christian and Muslim press, alongside reports written by AWR Editor-in-Chief Cornelius Hulsman and Jayson Casper, the head of CAWU’s ZIVIK peace-building project. Casper’s thoughtful discussion with Coptic Orthodox priest Fr. Yu’annis [article 3] is particularly moving and thought-provoking.
Another well-balanced article in this issue comes from the renowned novelist and opposition figure ‘Alā’ al-Aswānī [article 33]. In his article for Al-Shurūq al-Jadīd, Aswānī focuses on not only the sectarian background to the incident, but also the socio-economic causes, and moves to criticize both the Salafī reading of Islam which currently dominates Islamic thought in Egypt and the expatriate Coptic movements for their role in blurring the definition of citizenship. In a media where black and white arguments seem common – that there was no sectarian element to the attacks, or the converse, that the incident is the start of a war against Christians by fanatical Muslims – this piece offers a refreshing balance that attempts to analyze the complex and historical context of the incidents.
In terms of the media coverage of the incident, one interesting point was that leading the reporting of the incident was Al-Mīsrī al-Yawm English Edition journalist Pakinam ‘āĀmer. ‘Āmer did a commendable job providing live updates from Naj‘ Hammādī via social media website Twitter [@pakinamamer at http://www.twitter.com
] including mentioning whether her reports could be confirmed or not – an important distinction when covering such tense situations that is often lacking in reporting via Twitter. That it was an English-language edition first on the scene of such a major incident is significant, and their coverage of the incident since then has been, to my mind, considerably above the standard set by many international media outlets in terms of depth and background reporting.
AWR will continue to keep a close eye on events in and around Naj‘ Hammādī, particularly with the trials of both the Christian accused of the rape and the three men accused of carrying out the Christmas Eve attacks set to take place in the coming weeks.
This issue of AWR also features a host of fascinating articles written, compiled and edited by Jayson Casper as part of his work on CIDT's ZIVIK project. These include six extended papers on topics fuch as the role of faith in reconciliation, the status of tradidional reconciliation sessions in Egyptian law and an in-depth report on the incidents at Izbet Bushra last year. The 15 or so articles which accompany these papers vary from reflections on topics such as Naj‘ Hammādī to discussions with prominent religious figures. This represents a tremendous body of work carried out over the last year by Casper and those who have assisted him in this project, and the resulting texts will no doubt be of great interest to AWR readers.