In Selected Opinion


Following the expulsion by ISIS of Coptic families from their homes in north Sinai,[1] Egyptian journalist Fathia Al-Dakhakhni wrote an article in the daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm in which she harshly criticized the discrimination suffered by Copts in Egypt, saying that Egyptians are “raised on the concept of discrimination against the other” and need reeducation. While praising the efforts of President ‘Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi to combat sectarian and religious fanaticism in Egyptian society, she stressed that “the problem will not be solved by laws, declarations or presidential decrees.” Rather, efforts must begin with the education system, which inculcates racist ideas in pupils and teaches them that Christians are infidels destined for Hell. She also called to abolish religion studies in schools that separate Muslims from Christians and highlight the distinction between them from an early age, to punish fanatical teachers who poison children’s minds with extremist ideas, and remove the religion clause from Egyptian identity cards. According to her, the discrimination against Copts blackens the image of peace-loving and tolerant Egypt, keeps it from making progress and provides an excuse to interfere in its affairs and harm it.
The following are excerpts from her article:[2]

Fathia Al-Dakhakhni (image: Al-Masri Al-Yawm, Egypt)

“Luckily for me, or perhaps unluckily, I went to school outside Egypt and therefore never heard the question ‘Are you Muslim or Christian?’ or the [derogative names applied to Copts in Egypt, such as] ‘udhma zarqa [“blue bone”],[3] arba’a risha [“four feathers”][4] or Kufts [a distortion of “Copts”] until I came back to Egypt to complete my university studies. Although both my parents are Egyptian, neither of them spoke of these things at home, [so I never heard] these expressions until one day I happened to hear one of my younger brothers use them. He refused to eat the sweets that a Christian neighbor had sent us because she was a ‘blue-bone’ ‘four-feathers.’

“I pondered long, trying to understand how my little brother’s behavior could change this way although we had grown up in the same home. I realized that my parents’ closest friends were Christians, although this had never occurred to me before. I knew that I had grown up among Christian friends, and could not understand what had made my brother talk this way.

“The answer [turned out to be]: school. That’s where my brother heard these terms and learned that Christians are infidels destined for Hell. Worse than that, [he heard that] their food is disgusting and Muslims must not eat it. From that moment I started noticing the hidden signs of the fanaticism and sectarianism that exist in our society, whose leaders are always brandishing the slogan of unity and repeating the mantra ‘the Crescent lives alongside the Cross.’

“We often hear of a sectarian crisis erupting [in Egypt] because [a Muslim and a Copt] became romantically involved or because of some financial dispute [between a Muslim and a Copt]. [Then we hear] that the government announced it would settle [the dispute] by means of a customary-law mediation committee,[5] and that the committee ruled that the Christian families must be expelled from the Kashah area [in Sohag governorate in the south] to Al-Faiyum [governorate in the north] or elsewhere. And now we have [a sectarian crisis] in Sinai, although the situation there is different, because we are facing a terror organization [ISIS] that is trying to destroy the country and uses the Coptic issue as an excuse to heighten the [sectarian] conflict.

“President ‘Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi has called more than once to reform the religious discourse and strengthen values of tolerance. He has also stressed the need to build a church in every new city and he makes sure to visit the [Coptic] cathedral on Christmas. All these presidential moves are praiseworthy and indicate a desire to end fanaticism and sectarianism in society. But the problem will not be solved by laws, declarations or presidential decrees. Fanaticism in Egypt is a matter of education, so there is need to reform the education received by [the members of our] society, who are raised on the concept of discrimination against the other. [The change] must start in school – because fanaticism begins with religion classes that separate Muslims from Christians, so that the child discovers in his earliest formative years that there is an ‘other’ who is different and who must be shunned. The next stage arrives when some teachers secretly poison the children’s minds, [spreading] the racism and discrimination they [themselves] were raised on and treating the other as an infidel destined for Hell. The inculcation of racism continues in the mosque and [in interaction] with friends, until we arrive at the current situation.

“We must stop burying our heads in the sand like ostriches and acknowledge that there is a problem, that there is fanaticism and discrimination against Egypt’s Copts, who are excluded from holding [certain senior] positions. This blackens the image of peace-loving and tolerant Egypt and keeps it from making progress, and supplies an excuse for interference in our internal affairs and for harming us from within. We must reconsider the proposals to abolish religion studies in schools and remove the religion clause from identity cards, change the culture of [our] teachers and punish those of them who teach our kids to be fanatics. We must also act to make [the principle of] citizenship, enshrined in the constitution, a reality and not just words on paper. I charge the parliament to establish an anti-discrimination commission as soon as possible, as the constitution demands. I also urge Education Minister Dr. Tarek Shawki to give this issue as much attention as he devotes to the issue of leaking and falsifying exams.”

[1] On this see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis, Copts Flee Sinai Amid ISIS Campaign Of Murder, Threats, February 27, 2017.
[2] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 26, 2017.
[3] According to some, this epithet dates from the time of the sixth Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim (985-1021), who required Christians to wear a heavy cross around their necks. The chain, rubbing against the nape of their necks, painted it blue, hence the epithet.
[4] Apparently a reference to the cross that consists of four lines.
[5] The reference is to reconciliation committees comprising representatives of the Muslim and Coptic communities that meet to resolve conflicts between these communities in Egyptian villages, as an alternative to resolving them in court. This practice has come under fire from Egyptian Copts and others, who stated that these meetings are aimed at dropping the charges against Muslim aggressors while persuading the Coptic victims to give up their rights and even to leave their villages. For a 2015 incident in Beni Suef in which Coptic families were evicted from their village, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6097, Expulsion Of Coptic Families From Their Homes Sparks Uproar In Egypt, July 8, 2015.


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