Saturday, April 15, 2006

Copts

15 April

I went to school with many different girls. Some were Jews, others Greeks, many were French. The Egyptians were Muslims and Copts but I don't think I knew who was who. I belonged in the middle, partly Egyptian and partly other. I don't remember anyone caring about religion. The Egyptian girls often discussed politics and the ones whose parents belonged to the Wafd tended to band together. I was not one of them because my father belonged to a different party. Consequently I was never told at home that certain friendships were preferable to others. Vasso was Greek and we competed in math because we were the best in the class. Monique was a Copt and I loved going to her house because her father had a fabulous library. Soheir was Muslim and helped me with my Arabic homework and I also loved the old villa in which she lived with her mother and sister. Elsie was Jewish but what distinguished her was that she had lost her father in a plane crash and we showed her more consideration than to any other girl in the class.
It is only at the time of the Baccalaureat that I understood that we had different religions and nationalities because of all the forms we had to fill. I don't think that we had ever talked about it before, first because it was forbidden at the school and of no interest to our parents and second because French literature occupied us more than anything else. We defined ourselves by the books we read and how many we could finish in a week while keeping up our load of homework. It is only much later, when I fell in love with a Greek that I was told that a Muslim girl could not marry a Christian (or a Jew). I immediately dismissed the idea as stupid.
After all, my half sisters were dating men of different nationalities and religions and I had not heard that there was anything wrong with that.
Maybe because of my childhood, I always find it surprising when Copts and Muslims get into silly fights like the ones in Alexandria. What is the point? How different are the Copts from the Muslims? These days they are every bit as bigoted and oppressive to their women. Is it a matter of "my God is better than yours?" Are these incidents provoked by ignorant and narrow minded religious men who find a following in an even more ignorant and narrow minded public?
Is it a matter of inventing an enemy against whom we can unite? Clearly, this enmity between religions is confined to the lower classes where education is sorely lacking. In the Egyptian communities blessed with some knowledge of our history and the political role played by Copts during Egypt's struggle for independence they have always been highly considered. Let us remember that Egypt was their country and that the Muslims came later. We owe them much of our civilization.

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