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.