My Take: Egypt’s Christian-Muslim violence threatens its future
Egyptian Christians remove objects from a Cairo church burnt in clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims.
May 10th, 2011
01:48 PM ET

My Take: Egypt’s Christian-Muslim violence threatens its future

Editor’s Note: Michael Wahid Hanna is a fellow and program officer at The Century Foundation and a former Fulbright scholar in Cairo, Egypt.

By Michael Wahid Hanna, Special to CNN

Egypt’s ongoing transition toward multiparty elections and the establishment of a democratic order is again being threatened by sectarian tension and violence.

Over the weekend, Cairo was the scene of clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims after an angry mob massed in front of a Coptic church in a working-class neighborhood.

These crowds had gathered, as is often the case, under a false belief that a convert to Islam was being held against her will in the church – a common and recurring motif and flash point for inciting sectarian sentiments. The end result: 12 dead, over 200 hundred wounded and two churches torched.

The attacks were a reminder of Egypt’s very real sectarian divide. How Egypt’s emerging political forces and its transitional leadership deal with this ongoing crisis will go a long way in clarifying how different Egypt really is after the topping of the Mubarak regime.

What is clear is that much more needs to be done to combat Egypt’s corrosive sectarian discourse and the increasing calls for intolerance in the nation.

Sectarian tensions are not new in Egypt. The nation’s Copts, most of them adherents to the Coptic Orthodox Church, represent the Arab world’s largest non-Muslim minority and make up approximately 10% of the country’s population. They are geographically dispersed throughout the country and are not ethnically distinct from other Egyptians.

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Nonetheless, the 20th century has witnessed the gradual receding of Christian participation in Egyptian public life.

During and after the national revolt against the British and the ineffectual King Farouk in 1919, Copts had played a prominent role in Egyptian politics.

This began to recede following the Free Officers Revolt of 1952 that finally deposed the King and brought President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his fellow military officers to power.

Ostensibly a secularist, Nasser’s period of rule nonetheless witnessed the beginnings of Christian alienation and exclusion and ushered in a period of decline in communal relations. Nasser’s tightly-controlled military regime concentrated power in the hands of the Free Officers and excluded Copts, save for a few token appointments.

These trends accelerated under Nasser’s successors, as the Middle East region underwent a religious revival that saw the emergence of Islamist thought as a force within Arab societies.

The Mubarak regime, itself threatened by rising Islamist sentiment, was keen to employ the politics of sectarianism in its efforts to divide and rule Egypt. While posing as the protector of Christians, the regime oversaw the further marginalization of Copts and engaged in the politics of co-option in an effort to stem the threat from Islamist opposition forces. The result was  the further Islamization of Egyptian public life.

As an ignominious coda to his rule, Mubarak’s former Minister of the Interior, Habib al-Adly, now stands accused of having orchestrated a deadly bombing of an Alexandria church last New Year’s Eve.

In distinction to these disturbing trends, the recent Egyptian uprising was marked by serious and self-conscious efforts to once again construct a national politics based on communal solidarity and citizenship. The many iconic scenes from those 18 days of protest included images of Christians and Muslims protecting each other during times of prayer.

With chants and slogans emphasizing the unity of Egypt’s Muslims and Christians, the uprising and the toppling of the Mubarak regime raised expectations of an incoming era of inclusive politics within a civil state.

But there have been multiple episodes of Christian-Muslim violence since then, which means the country’s emerging political forces now have the added responsibility of taking on religious bigotry before this strife destroys the country’s social fabric.

Solutions for these issues can emerge only from within Egyptian society.

At this juncture, much should be expected of Egypt’s newly-empowered Muslim Brotherhood. Repressed and officially banned under Mubarak, the Brotherhood is now the most coherent opposition force in the country and is calling for the emphasis of Islam in Egypt’s politics.

As such, there is a heightened responsibility for the group and for the country’s religious authorities to be more proactive in tamping down tensions before they spill over into violence. They should make clear that the corrosive rhetoric of sectarianism will not be an acceptable form of politicking.

This is particularly relevant at a time when the Brotherhood’s ultimate intentions have been questioned by many of its fellow citizens and other observers in the international community. Now is the time for drawing of bright red lines against intolerance, particularly with respect to Islamist forces to the right of the Brotherhood.

At the same time, Egyptian Christians and their brethren in the international Coptic diaspora should refrain from launching incendiary calls for international protection. Such calls only further inflame communal tensions and fuel warped narratives about Copts as a lurking fifth column within the body politic.

Much rides on Egypt’s success, and the ability of the country to sustain an inclusive democracy respecting the rights of minorities will have a profound impact on the possibility for peaceful transition there. It would also provide a powerful model for the rest of the region as the Arab Spring continues to reverberate, with all of its prospects for change.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Wahid Hanna.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Egypt • Interfaith issues • Islam • Opinion

soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Travel Destinations

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    September 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  2. David

    Just dont call it Christian-Muslim violence, it's Muslim Violence everywhere in the world

    January 30, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  3. Muneef

    Dear Arabian Brothers Muslims and Christians or Jews or what ever living together in the Egyptian lands as an Arabian from the land of Yemen beg of you to keep and develop your unity breaking the walls standing between you to stand together living with each other as one body...in the love of God, Land and nationality...your unity will stand as an example for our Arabian Unity whether on Different Religions or Different Doctrines or Tribes or even Political Parties....otherwise what breaks once keeps on breaking further every time for different reasons....Egypt and Egyptions were our revolution example and their soldiers have fought with us for the Republic of Yemen 1962 and many lost their life with us fighting Royalists...Your unity against all odds will be inspiration for the unity of all Yemenies....Infact Egypt has more rights to resolve the existing problems in Yemen for bringing Republicans more than the existing intervention by the GCC countries since being Royalists....!!! Unless it was meant for us as a new system to drop Republican systems for the Royalist systems that are taking place now that Jordan and Morocco both Royelists are planed to join GCC as one with a change to the name of the GCC since the Royalist empire will be extending to countries outer of the Arabian Gulf Countries...
    What ever it is all we need is freedom of rights,justice,peace,equality and to live in prosperity...Egypt is not in the heart of Egyptions only but as well in the heart of every Arabic nation, Egyptions were our teachers in our schools and Egypt was the university of our Yemeni students....Egypt was the source of islamic educations, Egypt was the face of all arts,books,papers, TV plays and movies to all of Arabian speaking countries...Egypt is our Arabian Icon so please please other nations are becoming larger and stronger in the area on your account as a living icon for the Arabian Unity what ever our faiths or beliefs are we are brothers in blood,culture and language, God Bless to All.Amen. My love and regards to all of my Arabian Brothers where ever they are and what ever their faith is and say please please do not fall into "Fitnah" that they few bad ones try to sow bad seeds among you to weaken you and your unity and Arabian Leadership in the Area which all three players within the area is seeking to take it. Wal Salam.

    May 13, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  4. Chris

    I can't comment on much of what has been said. I admit my ignormace. I just want to ask two questions.

    In what ways does the US support (overtly or otherwise) Muslim Brotherhood or violence against the Christian minority?

    How can US citizens help those being victimized?

    May 13, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  5. scott

    Why have I not heard Anderson Cooper say one word about Christians getting attaked in Egypt?... Is he in bed with "Rebels" he always refers to? Come on Anderson I thought CNN was un biased reporting. Im pretty disappointed!

    May 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  6. Muneef

    Logically do you believe in the Unseen....? Do you believe that there are unseen unfelt creations that could be of different time dimensions ? Do you believe in UFO's although not seen? Do you believe that since we are mankind or apes were created from the element of Water, that then there are possibilities other creations were created from the other Elments that we know or do not know, see or not see ...?
    Do we here on the blog have that logic to think deep whether we are Religious or Non Religious? After all we all believe that Life only had become to be created taking course of evolution from the date of the Big Bang took place, out of this huge universe we are and creatures of the physical earth are from water (Water &earth Animal)....? Can you prove that there are no other creations on Earth,In Universe other than this (Water&Earth) Creature and there are no other that are seen or not seen??! Let us just chose elements that were mentioned in the Quran about creations in Universe;
    -Angels are from Light&Spirit.
    -Jinns are from Fire&Gases.
    -Humans are from Water&Earth.
    All they unbelievers do is disbelieve but can not explain the phenomenons that are found and attribute it to mind while both Mind and the Existance of such creations can play one role..to make of any one look as a metal case to other normal ones.!?

    just to add to that the only time where the vail that cover our eyes from seeing is unveiled upon the death of the physical body....!
    How many were physically declared dead but suddenly returned to life with so many things to tell having seen and some even returned with certain powers or capabilities that they had not before...!!?
    Can they explain such phenomenas that they reject to acknowledge as spiritual unseen powers or just ending them up to X files..
    50:22] You used to be oblivious to this. We now remove your veil; today, your vision is (as strong as) steel.

    May 12, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  7. Reality

    Putting an end to all the foolishness on both sides:

    All followers of religion to include Michael Wahid Hannaare are actually "Mythians" considering the mythical foundations of the major religions i.e. there was no Abraham, no Moses, no Noah, no Easter, no virgin birth and no Gabriel and therefore no angelic revelations to Mary or Mohammed.

    May 11, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Muneef

      Islam no Killer...Islam is not the Work of the devil or evil.

      Islam will not die by the death of any body, Islam did not die by the death of Muhammed (S.A.W)...(Submission) will Domin Earth by time to come.... Islam starts with (Taking refuge of God from the work of devil & evil);
      [7:196] "GOD is my only Lord and Master; the One who revealed this scripture. He protects the righteous.

      [7:197] "As for the idols you set up beside Him, they cannot help you, nor can they help themselves."

      [7:198] When you invite them to the guidance, they do not hear. And you see them looking at you, but they do not see.

      [7:199] You shall resort to pardon, advocate tolerance, and disregard the ignorant.

      [7:200] When the devil whispers to you any whisper, seek refuge in GOD; He is Hearer, Omniscient.

      [7:201] Those who are righteous, whenever the devil approaches them with an idea, they remember, whereupon they become seers.

      [7:202] Their brethren ceaselessly entice them to go astray.

      [7:203] If you do not produce a miracle that they demand, they say, "Why not ask for it?" Say, "I simply follow what is revealed to me from my Lord." These are enlightenments from your Lord, and guidance, and mercy for people who believe.

      [7:204] When the Quran is recited, you shall listen to it and take heed, that you may attain mercy.

      [7:205] You shall remember your Lord within yourself, publicly, privately, and quietly, day and night; do not be unaware.

      [7:206] Those at your Lord are never too proud to worship Him; they glorify Him and fall prostrate before Him.
      God the Creator is One and the Only One but men of Faiths & Doctrines have each made their God the way they want it to be and they want to believe even if was against logic they will manufacture a logic for it to suit it....just as does the scientists do to beautify a concept that they are not firm with yet... 

      May 12, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  8. samantha

    Dear CNN please do your homework.although america seems to think that it it is better for it that the muslim brotherhood take over as they "promised"you to be less violent and to combat the Muslim gehadist we Egyptians DO NOT WANT THEM.do not impose the muslim brotherhood on us .egypt is different why are you trYing to kill its spirit..?WE DO NOT WANT THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN EGYPT.PLEASE STOP SUPPORTING THEM........

    May 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Catherine


      May 12, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  9. Matthew

    Let's also not forget the French Revolution where secularists murdered members of the clergy, royalists, etc. and invented the great gulliotine to carry out their reign of terror.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  10. sadiesadie

    After going through the new posts here I have to say I am disgusted by the glee people are exhibiting about this situation. All you seem to see are Christians and Muslims fighting and you think it is great that there will be less Christians in the world after they have all be persecuted and murdered in Egypt. In your biggotry you have failed to look beyond the label of Christian and Muslim and see that these are real men, women and children being persecuted. Where is your humanity and love?
    I suppose it isn't pc to protest against the persecution of Christians, is it? You can bet your bottom dollar that if this were straight on gay crime, white on black or pro life on pro choice you all would be shouting for justice and the prosecution of the criminals.
    I wonder what you all see when you look in the mirror that you are able to pick and chose which people are worthy of life and liberty while joyfully condemning the rest.
    It breaks my heart when any group of people are being attacked and I would think everyone would feel the same.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  11. Carlton

    Islam is pure and simple the hatred of anyone who is not Islam. People, particularly American politicians won't come to this conclusion because they are getting paid by the Islamic oil kings!!!

    May 11, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Catherine


      " In a.d. 632, EGYPT, PALESTINE, SYRIA, ASIA MINOR, NORTH AFRICA, SPAIN, FRANCE, ITALY, and THE ISLANDS OF SICILY, SARDINIA, AND CORSICA WERE ALL CHRISTIAN TERRITORIES. Inside the boundaries of the Roman Empire, which was still fully functional in the eastern Mediterranean, orthodox Christianity was the official, and overwhelmingly majority, religion.

      Outside those boundaries were other large Christian communities — not necessarily orthodox and Catholic, but still Christian. Most of the Christian population of Persia, for example, was Nestorian. Certainly there were many Christian communities in Arabia.

      By a.d. 732, a century later, Christians had lost Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa, Spain, most of Asia Minor, and southern France. Italy and her associated islands were under threat, and the islands would come under Muslim rule in the next century. The Christian communities of Arabia were entirely destroyed in or shortly after 633, when Jews and Christians alike were expelled from the peninsula.(6) Those in Persia were under severe pressure. Two-thirds of the formerly Roman Christian world was now ruled by Muslims.

      What had happened? Most people actually know the answer, if pressed — though for some reason they do not usually connect the answer with the crusades. The answer is the rise of Islam.

      Every one of the listed regions was taken, within the space of a hundred years, from Christian control by violence, in the course of military campaigns deliberately designed to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Islam’s neighbours. Nor did this conclude Islam’s program of conquest.

      The attacks continued, punctuated from time to time by Christian attempts to push back. Charlemagne blocked the Muslim advance in far western Europe in about a.d. 800, but Islamic forces simply shifted their focus and began to island-hop across from North Africa toward Italy and the French coast, attacking the Italian mainland by 837. A confused struggle for control of southern and central Italy continued for the rest of the ninth century and into the tenth.

      In the hundred years between 850 and 950, Benedictine monks were driven out of ancient monasteries, the Papal States were overrun, and Muslim pirate bases were established along the coast of northern Italy and southern France, from which attacks on the deep inland were launched. Desperate to protect victimized Christians, popes became involved in the tenth and early eleventh centuries in directing the defence of the territory around them.

      Read the rest of history…

      Also remember almost from the very beginning of Islam, there were wars upon wars between Christians and Moslems. We remember the Crusade wars, seven major and several minor, which lasted for centuries. This is the story of the Battle of Lepanto, which marked the end of the Crusades and was a turning point in the history of Christianity cult.

      I was ordered to fight the people until they say ‘there is no god but Allah, and his prophet is Muhammad'." Muhammad 632,
      Osama bin Laden said this in 2001.

      He followed through what Mohammad wrote in the Quran. All Muslims who calls themselves good Muslims follow these teachings. This is traditional Islam. There is no such thing as moderate Islam. Please do not say it is a misinterpretation. Kill means kill in any language. To lie means to tell lies. Below are quotes with references from the Quran.

      You will see Osama and good Muslims shouting Allah, Akbha as they go on rampages of destruction and murder just repeating Quranic verses.

      "Mohammed is God's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another" Quran 48:29

      Muslim (1:33) – the Messenger of Allah said: I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah

      Bukhari (8:387) – Allah's Apostle said, "I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah

      Quran (2:191-193) – "And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, and fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah."

      In the world where ever there is murder, unrest, unjust wars, religious persecution, kidnapping, beheading, good Muslims commit these crimes. After they kill Infidels they then turn on one another as they have done for the past 1400 years.

      Look at Iraq, Pakistan, Malaysia, Sudan, areas of African, areas of the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Philippines and (Saudi Arabia – only Muslims allowed). etc. etc. etc. There never will be peace as long as there is Islam. Soon they will be crying for Sharia law to be imposed on all non Muslim citizens in Egypt.

      We in the West need to learn their language and the language of the qurqn in its purest form.

      Islam is not only a religion; it is an ideology, a way of life a political agenda of conquest and subjugation. Let’s not play games of denial for political gain. Let’s not fool/blind ourselves and others with our ignorant and misguided political correctness, phony niceness and ignorant sophistry. To cure cancer one has to get to the root and cut it out otherwise the patient will die.

      Also note: anyone who tells the truth about Islam has to go into hiding under threat if death...

      WAKE UP!!!!

      May 12, 2011 at 10:11 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.