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Coptic Researcher Explains Copt’s Concerns to MB Political Rise
Coptic Researcher Explains Copt’s Concerns to MB Political Rise
Prominent Researcher and Writer Samir Morkos is one of a few specialists concerned with the issues of citizenship and dialogue. He has contributions welcomed by prominent Muslim
Sunday, July 8,2007 08:52

Prominent Researcher and Writer Samir Morkos is one of a few specialists concerned with the issues of citizenship and dialogue. He has contributions welcomed by prominent Muslim intellects such as Tarek Al-Bishri, who wrote the introduction of his important book about protection and punishment, a book considered by Dr. Seif Abdel Fattah, Professor of Political Theory at Cairo University as a must read book for everyone keen on citizenship affairs.
He is, by nature, biased to the general nationalistic trend in Egypt. That is why his writings are prominent in different cultural and media platforms. He occupies many positions: a consultant at Al Fostat Social Studies Center, a member of the advisory panel of cultural dialogue program and a member of the Arab team at the Islamic-Coptic dialogue.

He was recently honored internationally for his role in spreading tolerance in Egypt. In this interview, he is speaking his mind loudly with his Islamic fellow citizens, conveying concerns and inquiries of a large sector of Copts. He also maintains critical views as to some Islamic thoughts relevant to citizenship. Although we disagree with some of the views surveyed in this interview, still it is necessary to pay attention to them and refute them if proved to be wrong, particularly as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is in the process of issuing a citizenship document. 

Q: How do you perceive the significance of the MB’s victory in 2005 parliamentary elections? Does this victory have any repercussions on the Coptic presence in Egypt?


Morkos: First of all, there no doubt that the MB’s winning of a large number of seats at the People’s Assembly was no a surprise. While monitoring this movement, I could say that the rise has started in since 1984 elections and the subsequent movement inside professional syndicates and the alliance with the Labor Party. All these were the introduction that led to this conclusion and winning of this number of seats.
As for the Copts, the MB’s victory triggered some kind of apprehension for some complicated reasons, some of them are historic and related to the movement’s stance and address as to the other religious counterpart and citizenship rights in particular. In other words, does the MB perceives Copts as citizens or Zemmi?(A non-Muslim living in and under the protection of a Muslim state) The issue turns to be more significant when we recall the views of some Islamic intellectuals who took many steps forward in the issue of Copts; considering Zemma (Protection) contract as belonging to history and should be replaced by the constitution treats the component of the nation as equal without discrimination.

In this context, the MB’s diligent views concerning this issue were almost none. So far, they have not issued any clear document that may ease such concerns. One should also keep in mind the repercussions of violence against the Copts by some religiously extremist groups. That is why the Copts have been under pressure since the seventies which have been mounted up by rise of MB who disregarded settling their stance as to the Copts for many considerations that I , as a researcher, can understand; such as their battle with the regime in addition to other issues deemed as having more priority. Yet, as a citizen I could say: We are still waiting for the MB word and revision of their historic documents.


Q: Is there anything wrong in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood regarding Copts?


Morkos: As a researcher, I concentrate on official documents of the MB that are still circulated and some are published in their media (such as Ikhwanonline) including the views of Hassan Al Banna (MB founder) concerning the creation of an Islamic government as mentioned in his Teaching Messsage p.394: “ There is no objection that an Islamic government recruits non-Muslims whenever it deems necessary but not in key public positions.

Q: Hassan Al Banna wrote these words within a certain historical context which matched most of the views of that time. He did not give more or less than those expressed by Muslim scholars of his age… Thus you are talking about a certain period with all its events not about a person or his vision?


Morkos: This is your point of view of course and at the same time it confirms that practice and daily interaction between Muslims and Copts came ahead of all these views. The ideal model was struggle against British occupation and national independence issue. We are one nation unified by struggle against foreign threat and burdens of life. Ijtihad (independent judgment in a legal or theological question, based on the interpretation and application of the four fundamentals) could not keep up with those situations and lagged behind.


Copts and Muslim Brotherhood


Q: According to Coptic testimonies, the MB call was open and Hassan Al Banna had friendships with many Coptic personalities and he even granted some of them honorary membership of the Brotherhood?


Morkos: This is good, but this does not belittle the importance of MB documents particularly as they are still valid and effective and the MB has not reviewed them. Meanwhile, Ijtihad ceiling has already surpassed those documents.


Q: Do you want them to accept a non-Muslim president?


Morkos:I understand that there is a Muslim majority and this is another story. Yet, Muslim thinkers came up with important readings in this respect. They were more realistic and coping with the reality of partnership and daily life. If Islamic groups tried to review their stances, despite our reservation as to them, why should MB accept a certain vision for 60 years while Ijtihad and renovation are on the rise? I herein speak about simple citizens who anticipate, compare and wait for clear-cut answers from the MB.


Q: Suppose that the MB adopted a draft constitutional amendment that open the door for top key post, including that of the President, regardless of religion; Do not you see that the majority would render this step useless?


Morkos: Let reality speak for itself. Put down your vision and let life react freely. It is important to impose no constraints as this manifests your tolerance, the extend of your vision as to national movement development and your assimilation of the notion of a modern state based on a network of institutions. The individual’s religion melts away under collective rule and that is exactly what new Mujtahideen “innovators” has already perceived. They consider a totalitarian ruler who grasps all powers into his hand as belonging to the past and do not mind having a Copt as a president or holding different judicial posts as being part of the system. An announcement of principles would be deemed a qualitative move from the part of the MB.


Caliphate is Danger


Q: If we overtake the idea of (revision) second thought, what else in the Muslim Brotherhood call and practice could be considered a threat or a concern to Copts?

Morkos: When I see, as a normal citizen, in my constituency in Helioplis slogans calling for the return of Caliphate that would be serious.


Q: Why is it serious?


Morkos: Because you are taking about a theological state
Q: But Muslim Brotherhood asserted it would be a civil state!


Morkos: I heard a lot about that but so far I do not understand how it could happen. There are no detailed documents explaining that very accurately and scientifically. What the Muslim Brotherhood meant by a civil state with a religious reference particularly as history tells us that there is either a civil or theological state?


Q: No third option?


Morkos: Another state or a third option needs reconsideration. It could be said that Egypt is a case where there is a civil state and religious atmosphere. Thus, we could not claim that Egypt is not a religious pious society but there is a difference between religious reference in its general values and ethics and getting religion to run daily life


Q: Why religion should not run daily life?


Morkos: Monopoly, housing problem, tell me how religion could tackle them? Islam has general stances and vision as to such issues. Nobody can deny that religion is a culture and ideas that continued throughout the history of our civilization formulating the ingredient of our life, setting our priorities, choices and dominant values as well as creating pious people who could make laws and regulations.

What I mean exactly is to separate between religion and governing or getting religion to run our daily life in terms of politics. This does not mean that I ignore the presence of Christian and Islamic legacy and general ethical values affecting personal inclinations and directions, but the problem is that that there is a fine line between the role of religion in daily life and proportional issues of changing nature, because religion as defined is constant and absolute.


Religion and Citizenship


Q: Do think that getting religion into rule would affect citizenship?


Morkos: I think so, and this could be easily proven during the latest elections, because when you use religious slogans in political propaganda and election campaign, you would divide the society or the public arena based on religion rather than intellectual or political difference or based on religious affiliation: Muslims or non-Muslim.


Q: Do not you think that a citizenship based on religion would be more stable and stronger?


Morkos: In the Egyptian case, citizenship was not in conflict with religion, Egyptians: Muslims and Copts revolted during the 1919 Revolution. Ordinary farmers and workers, the most religious categories of the society, were the driving force behind the revolution. The religious dilemma was not there because the issue of national independence and combating colonialism was the leading issue. Collective action has not differentiated between a Muslim and a Non-Muslim. This is unique about citizenship in Egypt because it was not at the expense of religion as was the case in Europe


Q: So what is the problem now?


Morkos: It is in the question “What is the stance of religion as to citizenship?” because when it comes to practice on the ground, we will find that equality among Egyptian surpassed theoretical Ijtihad as Egyptians accepted in reality the participation of Muslims and Copts in wars and struggle against colonialists till they achieved independence together and thus it was supposed that that would be coincided with theoretical Ijtihad.

General Guardianship


Q: Do you mean that theory lagged behind practice?


Morkos: I think so, we will find that there was Islamic openness on the practical level and equality has become acceptable. This has recently taken place with some Islamic symbols such as Tarek Al-Beshri (the former head of the Egyptian State Council), Dr. Selim Al-Aawa (Islamic intellectual). The Islamic current, which turned to be a real player in political life, has no option but to probe this issue. I do not expect them to come up with general slogans while others have contemplated the details. They (Islamic current) should have a detailed contribution. It is not acceptable to delay me and ask me to be a delayed project.


Q: Despite all this and the contributions they made, yet many Coptic intellectuals are fully attracted to fanatic secular currents. Is not it surprising that Refaat Al-Said is closer to many Copts than Selim Al-Aawa?


Morkos: Let me assure you, based on my experience with this file which extending to more than twenty years, that I am now convinced of the necessity of deal with this issue within the historic context.  I mean that at certain moment in the seventies till the beginning of the eighties- I hoped that the Islamic partner would understand that- Copts came under doses of sectarian violence which were growing under Islamic slogans and anticipation of an Islamic state although I know that Islam is innocent of all that and many Muslims also suffered from that violence.


Subsequently, such alliances and attractions were spontaneous as they were triggered by the historic moment regardless of what is right and what is wrong. For instance, the admiration of some Copts with Farag Fouda – despite my resentment of what he used to say about his religion – if it was perceived within its historic context we would find that those who suffer from violent religious groups would automatically take the side of whoever defended them.


Q: Even it this inclination is exploited as part of political and intellectual vendetta against other currents?


Morkos: Ok! But what matter is that the motive was fear of violence. No one could blame me for resorting to the one who opposes or resists you or seeking refuge in a counter project. When you evaluate this conduct you must do that within the framework of action and counter reaction.


Q: Instead of taking sides, why did not Coptic civil elite put forward a project that may grasp all parties?


Morkos: Historically, Copts did not practice their civil conduct as one bloc while political Islamic groups have considered them a counter party over the past thirty years. The church religiously represented the Copts even under the Ottman and Mamalik states when roles were shared by civilians and the clergy. It is wrong to think that a political project could gather all Copts together in one bloc or that the church has a political project of its own.


The Church and Politics


Q: Since the seventies till date, the church is playing undeniable political roles. . .


Morkos (interrupting): Scientifically, this is wrong.


Q: . . . How do you explain the expansion in the church’s social care for the Copts who sought isolated themselves behind its walls?


Morkos: Once again lets go back to events and activities of that period and let me wonder: Did the church seek a political role out of its own or we were getting into the seventies with the tension associated with it and the division of the nation based on their religious affiliations: Muslims and non-Muslims.

Why the Copts-Islamic Current relations were not tackled within the framework of general objectives: justice, equality, freedom without denying any party the right to have its own choices that realize its goals.

Do you want me to rule against something, which I have not find till date. The group has not separated between politics and religious call particularly as there is a difference between the two fields. As for religious call, the group has the freedom to call for Islam but as soon as it moves on to play a political role it would get in proportionality. Hence, I have the right to differ and go back to the documents produced in the thirties of last century which I have already mentioned.


Q: As of the Islamic civilization project, are the doubts still there?


Morkos: There is confusion between what you have said and the civilization project in its wide meaning, which is a complex issue. We all contributed to that project i.e. Christian and Muslims. We have to distinguish between this historic achievement and the performance of political Islam. We should differentiate between the project with its culture and values and Muslim Brotherhood output, which in many cases, would not lead to this project.

Let me refer to the reform document, which Muslim brotherhood considered the most tolerant and up-to-date document issued two years ago. Most of its content was general with no details such as stance as to women, Copts and Hesba. When you read it carefully, you would find a methodological problem with the formulation of the document itself and it is my duty to draw attention to it and highlight the necessity of reconsidering its content.


Q: How do you regard Islamic Sharia (Islamic law) as being an essential demand of the Islamic movement?


Morkos: First of all Sharia is applied in Egypt except Islamic penalties.
It is a comprehensive ethical system rather than punishment code.
Responding to this problem is not my concern because among Islamic trends there were many differences in application and I am not responsible also for solving this dilemma.


Q: You (Copts) are part of a card always raised to block a comprehensive application of Sharia!


Morkos: Copts might seem so but do not forget that you did not do your duty as to me and did nothing to explain your viewpoint. Today Hassan Al-Turabi is reviewing his own concept as to Sharia application and criticizing Muslim Brotherhood and his ruling experiment in Sudan. Tell me whom should I accept and whom should I refuse?

I always say that such efforts that translated Sharia into a clear civil project should be made within the Islamic sphere and should be settled internally and that an agreement should be made as to such points.
Islamic economy, for instance, has several visions and schools particularly with regard to interest and usury. In my assessment, this is an Islamic mission that should be accomplished internally.


Q: What else?


Morkos: Let us then have dialogue about it. We are partners in the first place unless you consider me a guest! or under your guardianship and so I should not express my opinion!


Q: Why there is such fear of Islamic Sharia although it established the principle of legal pluralism for non-Muslim throughout its history? It is an advanced Sharia position even in relation to modern legislations particularly civil rights.


Morkos: Let us talk about the practical application with regard to the daily life of Egyptian citizen and normal Copts who find the modern state, which made every one equal. At the same time we find documents talking about preventing some from top posts. Some Islamic movements and currents reiterated such views and thus Sharia seems in the position of giving less than modern state. This is the criterion.


Q: The restrictions we are talking about are there in the oldest democracies and several states resort to them both culturally and legislatively. The Queen of England pledges to protect the Anglican church.


Morkos: Do you see this a justification, did not we criticize the American and British case when idealizing the idea of Anglo-Saxon. Is this positive for imitation?

Interests First


Q: How do Copts regard Muslim Brotherhood?


Morkos: If we talk about Copts, it is important to make the discussion within the framework of interests rather than collectiveness. Muslim Brotherhood is a religious group with a reference.


I wonder what are the social, political and cultural sides it picks. There are interests which emerge and which are more present in practice. If we recall the Turkish experiment we will find that there are Islamic parties that defend workers.


If Muslim Brotherhood wants to play politics it should set its choices and the sides it would pick. Is it in favor of the rich or the poor?

If we discuss qualitative choices, there is no objection to have Islamic parties of different inclinations. This experiment took place in Latin America in the experiment of Liberation theology. I studied and monitored its support of the poor and simple people.

If we suppose that the Coptic Minister of Finance took decision against my interest and the homeland, Should I defend him because he is a Coptic? No.

Today, Butrus Ghali is ordering taxation facilities and exemptions similar to those enforced in the US in 2001 where the rich are enjoying privileges and the poor getting more suffocated. Should I agree and support this law because the minister is Coptic? This is not the issue. I was happy of the performance of the former Environment Minister Mona Makram Ebeid not because she is Coptic but rather her devotion to her work.  I shared this happiness with many of the sons of this nation who see devotion a religious conduct.

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1- The Emergence of a "Coptic Question" in Egypt

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