By Dr. William Weessa –
Presented at Coptic Solidarity’s 8th Annual Conference
Washington DC June June 16, 2017
Many philosophers dealt with Public Space definition, starting from Aristotle to the German philosopher Habermas, and others. but there is no room here to review all definitions.
What I prefer the most is Habermas’ idea which links the Public Space to the emergence and development of the democracy.
Public Space is the touchstone of democracy. It is the social space that is generally open and accessible to all, where all citizen should have equal rights , like streets, markets, malls and public forums. We could extend Public Space to the media.
Radical Islam currents in Egypt, Islamized not only the Space but also the Time, by trying to recall lifestyle prevailing in the Arabian Peninsula, fourteen centuries ago and trying to impose it on your presence, your future, in all aspects of life, starting with the public discourse to the urban geography, through the dress code for women and men. At the same time, they try to eliminate all non-Muslim religious forms in the Public Space.
I would like first to refer briefly to the jurisprudential foundations on which the process of Islamization of public Space is based.
In Islam belief that God made the Muslim man as his successor on the Earth, that he has a God-Given right to dominate public space, in order to establish “God’s religion”, which is Islam. He has to convert the land into Dar Al-Islam ( into a Muslim land), even if it is in a non-Islamic majority country. There are many Quranic verses which state that.
Islamizing public space began in Egypt after the 1952 coup led by Nasser.
It is noteworthy that Nasser addressed, what he called, three circles: the Arab, African, and Islamic circles. He was the first to introduce Medical, engineering and scientific faculties within Al-Azhar Muslim University, in an attempt to graduate Muslim doctors, Muslim engineers etc. He established Radio Quran.
When Sadat took power in 1970, Islamization of public Space became blatant. He released Muslim Brotherhood leaders from prisons. In 1971, he had pushed forward a constitutional amendment declaring Islamic Sharia law the main source of legislation, That was the source of Islamizing the laws in Egypt which had been inspired by the French Napoleon Code.
He established the Muslim Group, which was a major factor in Islamizing the public sphere. We all remember his famous declaration “I am a Muslim president of a Muslim country”. He called himself the “president believer.
In Mubarak era, Islamization covered all field of public sphere, official and non-official Tvs channels , most of professional unions and education curricula. He gave Muslim Brotherhood full freedom to Islamize Egypt under one condition: let him stay in office.
I will now talk about the forms of Islamization of the Public Space in the fields of public discourse , media, urban geography, public transport, dress code style and even oral speaking language between citizens, over the last 6 decades in Egypt.
Public space is not only spatial, it is mainly public discourse. We have seen for centuries that radical Islam currents try to prohibit critical reflection on Islam in public sphere.
While they give themselves the right to discuss all religions in public discourse, mainly in a defaming way , they succeeded to codify blasphemy law to prevent others to exercise their right to discuss their religion.
They succeeded, to codify blasphemy law to justify attacks against religious minorities and Muslim tinkers who try to renew Islamic discourse. This a violation of a fundamental right, the freedom of religion, the freedom of expression.
Egyptian media played and still plays a crucial role in Islamizing the public space.
The number of religious programs in eight states running channels of Egyptian official television, reached 36 programs a week due to statistics in published 2010.
In the same year 2010 , the number of Islamic channels in the Middle East reached 96 channels, of which 18 channels are on the Egyptian Nile Sat, including 15 Sunni channels and three Shiite channels.
These Islamic Channels and programs are also targeting non-Muslims minorities through its constant attempt to attack the essence of their religion and trying to Islamize them. In addition you do not have the right to reply to their allegations.
In addition Media reporting on events has an Islamic flavor, always aligns with Muslin percepts, advocating Muslim culture through good deeds and often incorporating Muslim Values where there is no need.
They have extensive reporting on Muslim minorities in Europe Asia for example, and they always overstate their problems. They do not give similar opportunity when covering other minorities especially inside Egypt. They are deliberately biased, not telling the truth about discrimination against non-Muslims.
Islamic domination of public space in urban geography took many forms: giving Islamic names to the new cities, new neighborhoods, new streets, new towers, public stores and schools.
Such as Badr city مدينة بدر located north east of Cairo. Built in 1982 , Badr refers to the first battle fought by the prophet of Islam in 624, second year in Islamic calendar, or Quibaa city قباء مدينة written QUBA in English, near the Suez bridge refers to the first mosque built by the prophet of Islam.
As for streets, building ,shops, foods market, you find in Nasr city, which is relatively recent Cairo neighborhood, you find Mecca Mall, Mecca towers, مدينة جبل الكعبة Mecca mountain compound.
In Assyut in Upper Egypt, you find also Mecca Tower, Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq tower the first calif, Mecca tower at Bahtim city north of Cairo. You would find Al-Tawheed Wal-Nour shops, “Oneness and Light”, in comparison with Polytheists and unbelievers who adore three Gods, you will find it everywhere in Egypt.
A lot of new public and private schools were given the names of companions of the prophet of Islam and his successor califs, such as Abu Bakr al-Siddiq school, Omar ibn al-Khattab school and Uthman ibn Affan schools. We could find hundreds of these schools all over Egypt.
In addition to giving Islamic names to the new streets, they try to change the names of those who have Christian, Pharaonic or non-Islamic name, especially where you find a concentration of Christian population like in Shubra district in Cairo. Victoria square was changed to (the Victory of Islam Square), Tosson St, in the name of grandson of Mohamed Ali founder of liberal and modern Egypt before the Coup of 1952, changed to Mohammed bin Fadlullah Al-Amri., we don’t know who this person is and he had done nothing for the district.
They also changed Khufu St (Cheops St) near the Pyramid to سيد المرسلين Sayed Almorsaleen “The Mater of messengers”, the Prophet of Islam.
To impose Islam visibility in the public space, they do their best to prevent building churches. If they know that you bought a parcel of land and you have a presidential decree to build a church, they hurry up to build a mosque adjacent, thus you wouldn’t be able to build your church, as its forbidden to build a church beside a mosque. While a mosque could be built adjacent to any church.
In September 2011 under Military Council rule, we noticed something new. When Copts started rebuilding the old St George Church built in 1940 on 60 square meter in Aswan known as Almarinab church, after having a presidential decree, the Salafists destroyed the new structure and succeeded, with the complicity of security apparatus offices, to change the presidential decree from building a church to a license for a regular building like a house. Then they changed it again to rebuild only a hostess hall, with no steeple, no cross, not even a sign indicating it as a church.
Under Prsident SISI, they did the same thing when Copts tried to rebuild the St Mary church in Algalaa village in Almenia governorate.
They were even able to force the government to change the place dedicated to build the church named “Faith & Martyrs” ordered by President Al-SISI after ISIS had behedged 21 Copts in Libya. The place was chosen by the government at the entrance of Al-Aour village العور in Almenia, but Salafists refused that location, because that would change the general view of the village entrance, and the government was forced to choose another parcel of land, away from the entrance.
In the the same governorate of Almenia, which we could consider as an Islamic emirate, Abu Hennis village County attempted to change the name of the village. That village bear the name of “Abu Hennis the Short”, a Coptic saint for more than 16 centuries. In addition it has Abu Hennis church built in 413 and the monastery of Abu Hennis. They wanted to change the name to the “Valley of mint”, But they failed due to the strong Copts protests.
But they were able in 1984 to change the name of Morcos village in Albihera governorate to Almagd village (Glory village).
In addition to islamization of the public space, we observe a parallel phenomenon, a Saudization of cities’ names, street’s like Al-Riyadh St in Maadi district, Al-Riyadh Street, Hijaz Square in Heliopolis district, Riyadh St, Jeddah St, Madinah St, Mecca St in Almohandiseen district, King Abdul Aziz St in Manial district, etc.
There is even a village in Giza governorate bearing the name ” Saudi” as well as the village Al-Riyadh in Dakahlia الدقهلية. Under SISI. the City of king Salman to be built near 6 of October city, and University of King Salman in Sinai.
There is also a heavy Muslim dominance in public transport in Egypt, where Salafis are present in all subways, they recite the Koran loudly. Audiocassette sermons by prominent Islamist preachers echoed across Egypt’s urban landscapes in Taxis and microbus.
Al-Azhar held an agreement with the Metro Authority to broadcast Islamic programs during the current month of Ramadan, via microphone networks in the stations and inside the Metro cars, as if all passengers in the public transport in Egypt are only Muslims.
During the last three decades, we witnessed a rise in the phenomenon of wearing not only hijab but also Niqab.
These phenomena was proceeded by a campaign to veil artists. Thus famous singers Shadia, Yasmin al-Khayyam, film stars Shams Al-Baroudi, Suheir al-Babli and Suheir Ramzi were among those who were convinced by Sheikh Al-Shaarawi in the late 1980s, to wear hijab and retiring under the slogan “Repentance of an artist”. But Fatten Hamama, a famous Arab screenwriter refused ten million to wear hijab.
We also have seen Islamization of the oral language in regards to greeting. Instead of “Good morning or good evening”, it turned to Al-Salam alaikum.” We have even seen radical Islamists recommend that Muslims must not greet Christians on Christmas and Easter.
The process of Islamization of public space also eliminates Copts’ presence in high official positions, in the government, in the army, in intelligence and security services and in public institutions like universities, thus they wouldn’t be visible in the public space. Under Pr. Sisi we have seen the smallest representation of Copts in the modern history, no single Coptic minister, only a single State minister for Migration, a post equivalent to a deputy minister.
Finally public space is not only spatial, it affects your psychology, your feeling and finally your well-being. Non -Muslim citizen feel frustration with this Islamic mainstream in public space. It is severely restrictive and does not offer free spaces of expression for non-Muslims.
If a dominant group confiscates the Public Space for his own ideology, citizens cannot come together and interact, diversity disappears and you create segregation in the public space which should be neutral and for all.
The radical Islamic currents aim to create an Islamic public sphere in which our personality, our minds and our vision will be built according to the Islamic way of life. Essentially they aim to establish what they call “ Dar Al-Islam, the “ Home of Islam.”
Dr. William Weessa is a journalist and member of EuroNews NBC Editorial Board.