The cathedral incidents are a result of a heated sectarian climate and the [Muslim] Brotherhood is settling their accounts with Sawaris family.
During the past few days, the incidents of sectarian strife between Muslims and Copts were reignited in front of Al Khosous church and cathedral. The church, along with Coptic leaders, blamed the president and minister of interior for not providing enough protection for Copts. Meanwhile, dozens of Christian families filled out immigration forms to Israel for the first time. Amidst this renewed sectarian strife, the Coptic thinker Gamal Assaad Abdel Malak gave a special interview to Azzaman and expressed his point of view regarding the current developments on the Egyptian political scene.
Azzaman: The cathedral has witnessed violent attacks in the past few days. Would you say these are the result of political or sectarian tensions?
Malak: I believe the acts of violence that the cathedral has witnessed are the result of a sectarian environment that had emerged by the end of the Sadat era. Then, there came the tension in the current political scene due to the acts of violence in Egypt and the way of dealing with the country from a tribal perspective. Unfortunately, the ruler behaves like he is the president of the Brotherhood and not the president of an entire people. He also panders to the pro-Brotherhood movements and works on toppling the state of law. However, the latest development in this regard was the attack on the cathedral amid a religious blockade devoid of acceptance for others. Consequently, extremist groups were encouraged to use violence, and their acts were justified.
Azzaman: What do you make of the way the government, especially the Ministry of Interior, dealt with the incidents of Al Khosous and the cathedral?
Malak: Since Jan. 28, 2011, the country has undergone a collapse in its security situation. Until this moment, it has not regained its powers. Unfortunately, everybody contributed to this. Some Islamist movements are settling their personal accounts with the security system because it acted as a tool for the oppression of Islamists under the former regime. Consequently, the issue became personal between both parties to the extent that a member of the local national council asked to incarcerate the officer who tortured him in the same cell where he was locked up. So, they have made matters personal and the “retribution” process began and culminated in people asking for an equivalent Ministry of Interior and for substitute public committees and militias. This, in fact, is the biggest danger that the country is facing.
Azzaman: What can you say about the statements of presidential adviser Essam al-Haddad in which he blamed the Copts for the incidents?
Malak: Essam al-Haddad’s situation in the presidential institution is out of place and reflects the image of the Brothers’ control over the government and presidency, which has become an unprofessional institution taken over by this party. Unfortunately, Haddad turned the minister of foreign affairs into a mere piece of decoration, giving out speeches, occasionally, that have nothing to do with politics.
Azzaman: But, some people think that what is happening currently is a result of a foreign conspiracy to spark internal strife and divide Egypt. What do you think?
Malak: Undoubtedly, there is a foreign conspiracy that was not fermented overnight, but that has extended over long years to weaken Egypt. However, this conspiracy does not give rise to problems. Instead, it exploits them. If political will were present, it could deal with those conspiracies and revoke them.
Azzaman: What can you tell Copts who are asking for foreign intervention?
Malak: Copts who are demanding foreign intervention are the ones exploiting the Coptic problem and benefitting from it financially and in the media. In their minds, they are heroes, and they claim that they are leaders in the eyes of Copts. They are not dealing with the problem politically from a national perspective, but with more sectarianism, thus aggravating it. Solving the problem does not necessitate foreign intervention, internationalization of the cause or demand for international protection. Those people are only exaggerating for the sake of profit. At the same time, they are connected to the foreign circles that want to make the case international to pave the way for a foreign presence in Egypt, under the tough circumstances the country is experiencing.
Azzaman: What can you tell Ashton who is calling for the intervention of the UN peacekeeping forces?
Malak: I can tell Ashton that I am against this call because history and reality both stand witness to the fact that foreign intervention to solve the Coptic problem in Egypt will only complicate matters further and ignite them. The problem cannot be solved except with the participation of all Egyptians on national and political grounds, not sectarian ones. If the Muslim citizen, first and foremost, is not convinced that there is a problem that he should contribute in solving, the status quo will persist. Neither the law alone nor the republic’s decisions can help in this regard. It is the political and public determination that will contribute to the solution, not a foreign intervention that will only deter it. Therefore, the solution must take a national and political aspect. Unity between Christian and Muslim Egyptian citizens who must reach an understanding is the key to all the Egyptians’ problems, topped by the sectarian issue of Copts.
Azzaman: How can you explain the phenomenon of political asylum of dozens of Coptic families to Israel?
Malak: Political asylum is part of a political game that is attempting to take advantage of the Coptic problem, as some people are exploiting it. Meanwhile, Israel is trying to toy with the suffering of Copts to stir feelings of strife between them and the Muslims through declaring its readiness to welcome Copts. We should not mix the cards. Copts leaving for Israel do not have political motives, but are seeking to improve their financial situation.
Azzaman: Why did the Copts disobey Pope Shenouda’s decision and travel on a pilgrimage trip to Jerusalem?
Malak: Copts were traveling to Jerusalem during the days of Pope Shenouda for religious, not political motives.
Azzaman: What do you think of Naguib Sawaris’ departure from Egypt recently?
Malak: Although Naguib Sawaris and I do not see eye to eye in politics, we agree on some points regarding the Brotherhood’s attempt to settle political, economic and religious accounts with Sawaris. This indicates political and economic idiocy and a sectarian behavior that does not serve the best interests of the country.
Azzaman: What is your take on some political forces’ demand for the army to return to political life?
Malak: When there is political chaos, it is dangerous for the army to return to political life because the period following the January revolution witnessed a severe attack against the military institution. This made it think a thousand times before returning to the political scene. However, I believe that the army will not hesitate in interfering in case a Hunger Revolution or civil war occurs.
Azzaman: What do you think of the opposition’s role?
Malak: The opposition’s role until now is still weak. It must form a real alliance and possess a complete political vision to get out of this stalemate. Yet, most importantly, it must take to the streets to gain the citizens’ trust.
Azzaman: What are the possible scenarios in the coming stage?
Malak: Political change is possible any minute due to the negative accumulations of the Brotherhood’s regime in the past stage. The elections might bring about such change, but it definitely needs time.
The solution to this dilemma that is worrying the people and threatening their future can be summarized by two scenarios.
The first scenario consists of holding early presidential elections for things to take a new path. However, the question here is the following: Does the opposition have the capabilities and the ability to market this scenario and convince everyone with it as the process of early elections means consensus and unanimity regarding the conduct? The second question is whether all the factions of the Islamist movement agree to conduct these elections, especially with the strategic consensus between all Islamist movements regarding the preservation of this historical circumstance that led them to power in Egypt? Even if there were legal disagreements with the Muslim Brotherhood, we can notice that power has become a target for everyone. If the Brotherhood took over today, nothing prevents the Salafists from ruling tomorrow and the Islamist groups later. For this reason, the movement is defending Morsi and supporting the completion of his term.
The second scenario consists of holding national dialogue preceded by the political will, which prioritizes national interest over self-interest. Consequently, the neighboring powers, led by the government, are well aware that Egypt is larger than any individual faction and that all parties are part of the revolution. Therefore, there must be an understanding to join the parties together during this transitional phase so as to materialize the principles of the revolution, especially since the government’s party has failed so far in governing the country and solving its problems. It pains me to say that this scenario is difficult to achieve since the Brotherhood is too self-absorbed and has only its own interest at heart. It looks down on everyone and declares national dialogue from time to time in an attempt to distract the people and implement the principle of piety.
By Mustafa Amara
Translated from Azzaman (Iraq).