Egyptian Activists: Our Religion Is None Of Your Business

mideast_egypt_15877123Since Egypt’s revolution began, tensions among Egypt’s Muslims and Christians have only increased. Earlier this month, it once again turned deadly. Tit-for-tat killings left three Muslims and at least six Christians dead.

That and other religious violence is prompting a public debate about religious identity in Egypt. One group of young Egyptians wants to remove religious labels from national ID cards.

‘Where The Trouble Starts’

Aalam Wassef, one of those advocates, will gladly tell you he’s a video artist, a musician and a publisher. When it comes to his religion, though, he says it’s none of your business.

That’s the motto of his new campaign, too. Wassef, along with two other Egyptians, is calling on others to cover up their religion on their national ID card and start identifying as human first. They’re spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

One of their videos plays images of a particularly bloody day for Christians last year, when the military — in power at the time — drove over Christian protesters, and state television called on “honorable” Muslims to come out and defend the troops from the Christians. Twenty-seven people were dead by the end of that day.

The lyrics sung to these images are just as chilling: “The racist republic of Egypt, the sectarian republic of Egypt. It’s ingrained on your ID, and this is where the trouble starts.”

“Egypt has a long history of sectarian violence and sectarian issues, which have always been covered up with this narrative of national unity,” Wassef says. “And so it’s a big lie, actually, because there’s a lot of embedded discrimination in the society.”



Hezbollah Media Outlets Warm To Christians in Lebanon

Residents stand near a Christmas tree in front of the Al-Amin mosque in downtown BeirutThis year, more than any other year, media sources controlled by Hezbollah have broadcast displays of Christmas celebration. On Christmas Day, the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Nour radio station took the occasion to praise Jesus Christ’s birth, and chose to broadcast religious songs following a political decision made by Hezbollah.

The party’s main TV channel (Al Manar) did the same. It dedicated a share of its programming to wishing Christians well on the day celebrating of the birth of Christ. Moreover, its news bulletins included positive media coverage of Christmas celebrations. They highlighted Hezbollah’s participation in these celebrations through talks on the place of Jesus, the son of Mary, in Islam.

It is true that these programs emphasized the use of the terms “Prophet Jesus” or “God’s spirit,” in a display of their  conservatism vis-a-vis the Christian consideration of Jesus as God or the son of God. However, Hezbollah’s media intended to downplay this “ideological and religious controversy,” and instead focus on the party’s participation in the celebration of this important holiday with Christians in the East.

Even the Iranian embassy in Beirut distributed congratulation letters on the birth of “Prophet Jesus son of Mary.”


Palestinian Muslims and Christians Work Together in Gaza

GAZA, Nov 1 (KUNA) — The Prime Minister of the Hamas-led Palestinian Government in Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh said Thursday the Palestinian Muslims and Christians are partners in struggle for liberation and reconstruction.
The close partnership between the two Muslim and Christian communities in Palestine continues to be the mainstay of our citizenship based on our Quranic creed,” he said. Haniyeh made the comments during the funeral of Hosam Al-Taweel, a Christian member of the Palestinian .Legislative Council (PLC), at Saint Porphyrius Church here. Citizenship is a sacred right for everybody whatever their beliefs and creeds might be. We work together as one family for the one and the same aim that is to get liberated from the (Israeli) occupation and establish the state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.
Paying tribute to the deceased MP, the Hamas leader said: “Brother Al-Taweel used to be a staunch supporter of the resistance against the Israeli occupation in the political sense of the word. Al-Taweel proved allegiance to our national fundamentals during his work at the PLC committee for the right of the .Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.


Catholics on Both Sides of the Gaza Border Pray for Peace

By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM (CNS) — As diplomatic efforts were underway to reach a ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel Nov. 20, Catholics on both sides of the Gaza border prayed for peace.

“When we pray for peace, we pray for peace for everyone,” said Father Yoel Salvaterra, who serves the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, after a morning in which more than 20 rockets landed in the city. “Our prayers have no borders. We know we are suffering here and they are suffering there. It is just suffering.”

Egypt was reported to have been brokering a cease fire agreement between Hamas and the Israeli government late Nov. 20, according to news reports.

The parish celebrated Mass Nov. 18 in the church bomb shelter, Father Salvaterra said, and only 15 people came to pray, about half the normal number. The community has about 150 members.


In troubled Egypt, Copts turn to beloved saint

MAR GIRGIS MONASTERY, Egypt — There was no mention of churches torched or Christians killed, but the prayer neatly written on a tiny piece of paper and placed atop an icon of St. George in the chapel of a desert monastery left no doubt about the growing fear and despair of Egypt’s Coptic Christians.

“Oh Lord, for the sake of all the saints of the church, raise high the banner of the cross and vanquish our enemies, the enemies of the church,” it read. “Make our enemies realize their weakness, foil their actions against us, bring joy to our hearts, increase our profit and make us victorious.”

There were folded slips of paper all over the icon of the Christian knight rearing on his steed and skewering a dragon with his spear. Tucked into its frame, piled on a small table below it, spilling on the floor around it, all pleas to God for health, fertility, wealth, happiness – and protection. Copts stood motionless in prayer before the image. Others broke into hymns praising his valor. Wanting to linger in the saint’s presence, families picnicked on the chapel floor, gossiping and eating sandwiches.

The past week, hundreds of thousands of Copts from across the country flocked to the monastery of Mar Girgis, as St. George is known in Arabic, in one of the biggest and most exuberant events of the year for Egypt’s Christians. The annual pilgrimage at the walled monastery in the deserts of southern Egypt overlooking the Nile is a festival of faith, a time to pay homage to the 3rd Century saint who is one of the most revered figures of Christianity’s oldest Church.


Protests over anti-Islam film and Muhammad cartoons – as it happened


We’re going to conclude our live blog coverage for the day. Here’s a summary of where things stand:

• At least 19 were killed in Pakistan and 160 wounded in clashes during protests over an anti-Islam web video. Smaller such protests played out across the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.

• An estimated ten thousand demonstrators rallied in Benghazi, Libya to call for peace and the disbandment of extremist groups.As midnight local time approaches the demonstrators had moved into multiple compounds associated with Ansar al-Sharia and other radical groups. No violence has been reported.

• A rights group said Syrian forces had targeted and killed an opposition videographer in Hama. Sixteen others were reportedly killed in the assault. The Local Coordination Committees put the number killed in Syria Friday at 117.

• An Israeli soldier and three reported assailants were killed in clashes at the border in the mid-Sinai region. One of the assailants may have detonated a suicide belt.


Plan for Catholic Church Makes Waves in Bahrain

 By REEM KHALIFA Associated Press

MANAMA, Bahrain September 3, 2012 (AP)

The building of the largest Roman Catholic church in the Gulf was supposed to be a chance for the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain to showcase its traditions of religious tolerance in a conservative Muslim region where churches largely operate under heavy limitations.

Instead, the planned church — intended to be the main center for Catholics in the region — has turned into another point of tension in a country already being pulled apart by sectarian battles between its Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities.

Hardline Sunni clerics have strongly opposed the construction of the church complex, in a rare open challenge of the country’s Sunni king. More than 70 clerics signed a petition last week saying it was forbidden to build churches in the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

One prominent cleric, Sheik Adel Hassan al-Hamad, proclaimed in a sermon during Friday prayers last month, that there was no justification for building further churches in Bahrain, adding, “anyone who believes that a church is a true place of worship is someone who has broken in their faith in God.”