#ELTM I Never Said #Sisi Was Perfect Or That His Christmas Visit Fixed Everything #Egypt #Copt

My thoughts to those who responded so negatively to my post yesterday.

I never argued President Sisi was perfect.  It didn’t happen.  I didn’t refer to him as some sort of Messianic figure, nor did I suggest that his one visit to our Christmas Mass suddenly erased the problems Copts face each day there.

In fact, I said I thought he was flawed.

What I did say is that, given how Copts are marginalized in their own country, his visit meant a great deal.

I lived in Egypt for a period while in law school.  In Cairo.  When I was a child, I spent much of my summer each year in the villages. I’ve vacationed in Alexandria and on the Red Sea.  I’m familiar with nearly the entire country.  I have learned about it over the course of decades.  I don’t engage it as some tourist.  I’m a citizen.  I speak Arabic.  I’ve shopped for my own groceries and cooked them in my own kitchen.  I’ve driven my own car there (a real triumph for anyone familiar with how traffic laws “work” in Egypt) and know exactly where to go when I’m craving some good koshari.

When there, even most recently, I often came across Muslims who refused to shake my hand (I’m soiled, after all); who refused to greet me in the morning when I’d greet them; who would spit on me as I walked right by them, crucifix visible for all to see.  As a child decades ago, both my mother and I nearly had our crosses ripped off of our necks right outside our home.  We were called Christians as though it was some kind of insult.  I’ve been followed by the Ikhwan on my way home from Mass and told simply the filthiest things you can imagine about how I’m a Christian whore who dared wear a T-shirt and show off her arms.

I have a taste of what life is like there.

I KNOW it’s bad.

Part of the problem is that the two communities don’t interact nearly as much as they should.  We may share the same office space with one another, but we don’t engage socially enough.  In my experience, the people you tended to have dinner with, go to the movies with, invite to tea, were almost always your own.

In other words, to engage is to integrate is to bring about positive social change.

What Sisi did was mix things up.  He extended his hand.  He is our Muslim president who was gracious enough to pay us a visit at our own spiritual home.  He wished us a Merry Christmas, and reminded us all that we were one. That’s a good thing. He set a good example.

And for those of you up in arms about his timing, the man didn’t interrupt the reading of the Holy Gospel for Pete’s sake. Be rational. This indignation of yours is uncalled for.  He had just arrived from a trip abroad, stopped in for a few moments, and did something warm and generous.  There are, in fact, decent Muslims.  When they do something good like this, accept it with a loving heart. Tell the whole world about it.  Give credit where it’s due.  If our Muslim brothers and sisters feel as though there is nothing they can do to make amends, they’ll give up entirely.  Is that what you want?  Though only a superminority of our community feels this way, the hostility is irrational and counterproductive, and should be condemned.

It’s a good thing to see a Muslim president embrace the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch inside of a Coptic Orthodox church.  It’s a good thing to see him wish his Christian brothers and sisters a happy Eid.  Does it put us on equal footing?  No.  That process will take a long time.

Instead of complaining, however, about how he hasn’t fixed everything with one act, think about what it will take to achieve equality and how best to start along its path.  Because President Sisi hasn’t immediately addressed each of our wounds, both legal and cultural, doesn’t mean he hasn’t made leaps and bounds.

Egyptians pay attention to what their leaders do.  When they see a deeply popular Muslim president behave this way, they are more likely to emulate him. With handshakes and well-wishes come dinner invitations.  With dinner invitations come discussions about how we are, in fact, all human beings who should be treated equally.  With discussions about equality come invitations to participate in marches demanding it.  With inclusive, popular marches come changes to the law.  With changes to the law come changes to the culture.  With changes to the culture come all sorts of glorious possibilities, such as a Coptic Orthodox head of state, and reformation of the Egyptian education system such that it teaches the truth about the Copts’ role in Egypt’s history.

Stop complaining.  If we all gave up after not getting exactly everything we wanted on the first try, we’d accomplish nothing.

Thank you, President Sisi.

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#ELTM #Sisi Becomes First President In #Egyptian History To Visit #Copts During #Christmas Celebrations #Egypt #ThankYouPresidentSisi

Um…so, this happened last week.

For those of you who don’t know, Copts celebrate Christmas on January 7th.

And for those of you who don’t know, our blood has flowed through Egypt’s streets since Mohammad’s brutal invasion well over 1,000 years ago. (Why do you think the Saudi flag features two swords?)

The discrimination Copts face is legal and cultural.  A Copt cannot legally become president, for example.  To cite another, Coptic Orthodox girls are abducted regularly.  They are raped, forced to convert to Islam (clinging to the hope such a conversion will preserve their lives), and murdered. Local authorities don’t give a damn. They stall (and sometimes don’t even begin) investigations. Why?  Such an outcome is better, after all, isn’t it?  I could go on and on.

There’s a reason why my parents left all those years ago.  They saw the writing on the wall.

As you can imagine, given the climate I’ve just described, no Egyptian president has bothered attending one of our feast celebrations.

Until now, that is.

In what was an historic moment, President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, a moderate who has called repeatedly for a religious revolution in Islam, surprised Copts around the globe in its entirely with his visit to our main cathedral last week during Midnight Mass.

In the monumental visit, he greeted (enthusiastically–not lethargically) our Patriarch, Tawadros II, as well as other prominent Copts. He even spoke for a few moments, reminding the world that, in this time of turmoil, we stand together as Egyptians.

What a man.

No one is perfect.  I’ve never argued Sisi is.

But this is unprecedented.

No Egyptian leader has acknowledged the Coptic Orthodox community this way.  No one has been this gracious, this unifying, this warm.  Describing just how meaningful a gesture of this nature was is difficult.  Copts both at home and abroad wept with gratitude and what was genuine shock.  Families separated by oceans (and sometimes politics) called one another in amazement to discuss the potentially game-changing development.

Assume, for a moment, which I don’t, that he was insincere. That he did this only as a political stunt.  (Quite hard to imagine, really.  We’re not a powerful minority; he stood to lose a great deal by this.)

Still, it matters.

It goes a long way to mending Copt-Muslim relations.

The images, alone, were something to behold. Pictures of Al-Sisi embracing Tawadros at the front of the cathedral, with such rich Coptic iconography in the background, stunned.  

Though hardly mentioned in the West, the story was on the front page of virtually every Arab newspaper.  Arab television shows in cities from Cairo to Baghdad to Damascus to Jerusalem analyzed the visit in wonder.

Remember, a little over a year ago, Copts were being slaughtered in the streets (again).  The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists blamed the Copts, who sometimes (not often, just sometimes) embrace Western values, for Morsi’s ouster (like it was a bad thing).  (Note: Most of the nearly 35 million protesters who flooded Cairo (Midan-Al-Tahrir), Alexandria, and beyond, were decent Muslims.)

I, for one, give Sisi the benefit of the doubt.  He is a thoughtful Muslim. Days before he did this, he spoke at no less than Al-Azhar, the premier Islamic institution, calling for deep self-reflection within the Muslim community.  He highlighted the need for pluralism, and encouraged Muslims to abandon violence.

He is different.  Better.  He is a better man.  Not perfect, no, but the best we’ve had.  If the Middle East had a greater number of leaders who agreed with him ideologically, the region would be far more stable and prosperous.

Take a look at the video and see how the congregants greeted him.  If you speak Arabic, you’ll understand even more the value of his commentary.

I’m thankful President Sisi paid us a visit.  He did both Christians, as well as Muslims, a great service.