Religion


Italy: Copts the victims of Islamisation says prize-winning Egyptian author




Otranto, 10 Nov. (AKI) – Coptic Christians, women and other minorities are paying the price of increasing Islamisation in Egyptian society, leading author and intellectual, Tarek Heggy, has told Adnkronos International (AKI). The fundamentalist opposition Muslim Brotherhood was one of the groups responsible and was indoctrinating young people through its welfare work, Heggy said.

“I believe the major problem for the Copts in Egypt is related to the overall cultural environment. The more radical society becomes, the worse the situation gets. This is also true for Bahaiis,” Heggy said, referring to a smaller religious minority in Egypt which now numbers only a few hundred people.

Heggy was speaking in the southern Italian coastal town of Otranto where he was awarded the prestigious 2008 Grinzane Terra D’Otranto prize for dialogue, tolerance, solidarity and integration.

Copts - who form some 10 percent of Egypt's population and the largest Christian community in the Middle East - have been the target of periodic attacks by Muslim hardliners in recent years.

The Islamisation of education in recent decades is a major cause of an intolerant mindset that has developed in Egypt, which the Muslim Brotherhood has helped create under the guise of aid to local communities, Heggy argued.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is well regarded by the average Egyptian, who equates the government with autocracy, corruption and repression,” Heggy said.

”The group is seen as less corrupt and more supportive of people, and serving them in the real arena of need – health and education. ”

The Muslim Brotherhood gives extensive aid to local communities, including medical assistance and private lessons for school children for a symbolic fee - a major draw for poor Egyptians, many of whom view the group positively.

A trip to a regular dentist costs 12 euros – half a teacher’s monthly wage – while there are 80 children in an average class in state schools, Heggy said.

"The Egyptian government is handling the Muslim Brotherhood as a security issue alone," he said.

"But it is a cultural, social, political, educational, religious and economic problem."

A leading oil industry strategist and former CEO of petroleum giant Shell, Heggy has written more than 20 books including five in English. Democracy, tolerance, and women’s rights feature in his works on Egypt and the Middle East .

He advocates self-criticism and sweeping reforms in the region, including the reform of school curricula.

The fundamentalist Wahabi influence has penetrated education in Egypt, where Arab literature, poetry and plays have been replaced with sacred Islamic texts in schools, Heggy said.

Up until the 1960s, Egypt was a truly Mediterranean society, but this has been gradually replaced by an Arab/Bedouin culture.

Besides schools, mosques and the country’s media – radio and TV – have also been Islamised, he said.

“The four entities that have most influence on people have also been influenced by anti-secular cultures,” Heggy stated.

Egypt’s 1971 Constitution defines Islam as the state religion and Islam as the main source of law.

“The Coptic problem is that of pressure on a minority, intolerance towards others and a lack of acceptance of pluralism. The more Egypt is influenced by the Wahabi interpretation of Islam, the worse it is for the Copts, ” said Heggy.

Heggy last year published a controversial essay ‘If I were a Copt’ which highlighted the injustices Copts face in Egypt.

Copts have for over 50 years been barred from holding key administrative and political posts in Egypt. The Al-Azhar University in Cairo does not admit Copts to any of its faculties.

Apart from a donation made by Egypt’s former president Gamal Abdel Nasser to the Cathedral of San Marco in Abbaseya, the Egyptian state has not financed any church since 1952. Copts also have difficulty in obtaining licences to build churches.

“There can be no solution to the problem in isolation from Egyptian society. When there is a reasonable degree of freedom in Egyptian society, there will be a reasonable degree of freedom for Copts.”

President Hosni Mubarak’s successor will be the key to Egypt’s future, according to Heggy. "It needs a competent leader who can bring about economic and social progress and improve the living conditions of women and men. "

He said the country's gross domestic product per capita is 1,200 dollars and 25 percent of the population is unemployed with joblessness concentrated in the 20-40 age group.

The high unemployment and low living standards of ordinary Egyptians is in stark contrast to the wealth of Egypt’s cabinet ministers, seven of whom are on the Forbes rich list, Heggy said. “There is a conflict of interest between these people and the long-term interests of Egypt,” he stressed.

Heggy has lectured at many universities and research centres including University of California in Berkley and The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is also a board member or trustee of numerous institutions including the Egypt Bar Association, Egypt Writers Association, the MSA University and Girls College Ain Shams University in Cairo, and the Council for Supreme Education in Abu Dhabi.




 

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