Thursday, February 16, 2012

Expulsion from Sharbat

The most recent prominent sectarian incident in Egypt began, as so many do, with allegations of an affair in which, given the patriarchal culture, the male is seen as dishonoring the female. Christians were attacked, some Muslims protected them, and property was destroyed. Then then this happened:
"A 'committee' of local figures — Muslim and Christian religious leaders, Mussolini and others — gathered in what is known as a 'reconciliation session' in an attempt to diffuse and resolve the situation. They decided that eight Christian families, including Abu Suleiman and his relatives, would be made to leave the area.

"These sessions are common practice in Upper Egypt, where state law is frequently superseded by tribal justice. But their use in sectarian crimes during the Mubarak years led to strong criticism. Critics say that these 'customary law' solutions failed to hold perpetrators to account and created an atmosphere of impunity that encouraged more violence.

"The use of a reconciliation committee, the involvement of Salafi figures and the decision it reached has proven particularly controversial as Egypt’s majority Freedom and Justice Party (the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood) holds a majority in Parliament with the Salafi Nour Party in second position. There is growing speculation, and on occasion concern, about the possibility of the Islamic conservatism that is the ethos of these two parties translating into law, and what this might mean for Egypt’s religious minorities."

The whole affair goes with what I've said before: that violent anti-Christian prejudice in Egypt is primarily found in rural areas and the poor neighborhoods in Cairo filled with recent rural migrants. Where Islam was invoked in these proceedings, it was far more cultural identity than belief system, and the expulsion was carried out by local tribal custom.

That said, Christians are clearly suffering as a community in post-Mubarak Egypt. As a religious minority, they are vulnerable when law and order is weak. I don't expect the Egyptian government to get a handle on this quickly, but imposing a standard of law and order that protects human rights throughout the country should become a priority as soon as government institutions are established, whenever that turns out to be.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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