All across the globe, the onset of a New Year is usually welcomed via fireworks, but in the Middle East, bombs are the alternative.
In the first hour of 2011, Egypt witnessed the worst act of sectarian violence in a decade. A fatal suicide bomb attack outside a church in the city of Alexandria killed 23, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Health, leaving at least 96 injured. It is still quite unclear who is responsible for this act of terrorism. However, what is very clear is that this can be seen as a manifestation of the failure of the modern Arab state to accommodate for the reality of the coexistence of different societies within one to form what we call: ‘a nation’.
The issue at hand here is not who is to blame for the atrocity, but rather the vulnerability of our societies to such acts. We need to look at the bigger picture. Hungry for instability, such acts are prevalent in a society whose skeleton is weak enough to break. The seeds of sectarianism have been planted long ago, and lay very deep.
Recently, religious sectarianism in Egypt has been increasing significantly, triggered by factors from discrimination in the work place to political under-representation. Over the past decade, Egypt’s Christian community has been struggling with the state to build new churches in multiple governorates, significantly increasing the number of riots across the country. The kidnapping of Camellia Shehata, a priest’s wife, last July in Egypt for her alleged conversion to Islam has undoubtedly augmented tensions between the Muslim and Christian communities of Egypt.
Furthermore, education – which can create divisions within society – may ironically also be the most effective solution with the longest lasting effect. Education, like most aspects of Egyptian life, is only reflective of the state and its failure to integrate the Christian faith into the education system. Its failure to do so makes one question the state’s ability to integrate the Christian community into other areas of society. This upsetting incident on New Year’s Day is a wakeup call for Egypt. Egypt, you have a problem! This time you may have been bruised, but next time, if nothing changes, you will bleed and fall into chaos.
Yet, it seems as though this deadly attack has united the Egyptian population. Across Egypt there are feelings of sadness and grief. All are mourning, together. The first week of this year has already witnessed multiple protests, protests against terrorism, against discrimination, against sectarianism. The public is calling for unity, for a united nation, a home to one people – Egyptians. Thousands of Muslims showed up for the Coptic Christmas Eve Mass on January 6th, not only in solidarity with their Coptic brothers, but as ‘human shields’ against the threat of Islamic militants, and for one Egypt, free of sectarian strife. Amongst these human shields were President Mubarak’s two sons, Egyptian movie stars, preachers, intellectuals and students.
It was a refreshing sight. A silver lining on a very dark cloud, that despite the public’s unified stance, will take a stronger state to fade, a state that is all-serving and all-including in its various aspects.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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