we’re all egyptians

Last Friday brought an incredible story among all of the other incredible stories from Cairo. In the middle of the massive protests that have rocked the nation of Egypt, Muslim protesters took time on their holy day to pray – and in many instances Coptic Christians (who make up 15% of the population) stood close by, protecting them from the police. The breathtaking images of these incidents have been circulated around the world ever since.

I also saw a couple of accounts of Muslim youth helping to guard an Anglican church when the police stopped their patrols and looting began. And I read more than once that during the protests a Muslim Brotherhood chant of “Allahu Akbar!” was overwhelmed by a larger crowd chanting, “Muslameen Mesiheen Kolina Masreen!” which means “Muslims, Christians, we’re all Egyptians!” (I love the way it rhymes in both Arabic and English.)

A lot of people are experiencing uncertainty about this turn of the tide in Egypt. I admit it, so am I. The agenda has shifted so fast. For a long time our main concern about Egypt was the possibility of sectarian violence, especially after the bombing of a church on New Year’s Day. But sudddenly, before we knew what was really happening, there was a mass uprising of Egyptians of every faith and economic class demanding justice and basic human rights. We aren’t sure what to make of it. We need Jon Stewart or Banksy to come along and clarify things for us, give us a reassuring summary of the situation so that we can go back to having an opinion.

Are we afraid this turmoil is going to permanently de-stabilize Egypt? Or even the whole region, especially if the aftershocks continue spreading (as they did from Tunisia to Egypt)? Or are we just afraid on general principle? It’s an unfortunate human tendency to value order above freedom most of the time. That’s what repressive governments count on. Revolution is a scary thing.

We’re used to thinking of the Middle East as a battleground in a quasi-medieval religious war, a divisive and hopeless place. Did anyone ever think we’d see anything like these Muslims and Christians struggling together and looking after each other any time soon?

First of all, we might want to question where we get our ideas from in the first place. We hear all about terror, everyone’s favorite flavor of bad news, but we haven’t heard much about the Mubarek regime’s human rights abuses, have we? And beyond that, how do we let ourselves get convinced that there’s no hope for reconciliation between faiths, that no change will ever come? What takes away our hope?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Bob Marley lately. His music always resonates during a crisis. (It’s all I could listen to for weeks after 9/11.) The lyric that spoke to me when I saw these pictures is this one from “Coming in from the Cold”:

Would you let the system get inside your head again?
Would you let the system make you kill your brotherman?
No, dread, no!

If these images, which almost bring tears to my eyes even as I look at them now, prove one thing, it’s that new paradigms are possible, and can spring to life after decades – centuries – of hate and despair. Indeed, I think the potential for unity, peace and goodwill is always present, always just around the corner, even – or especially – in the most dire circumstances. Love is always stronger than hate.

All of our highest spiritual wisdom demands that we love one another. Maybe in the middle of this emergency in Egypt, we see here a glimpse of a new kind of interfaith connection, arising exactly when it’s needed most.

I think this should be one of our keys to understanding this situation. I don’t know what to think, I don’t know where these events will lead Egypt, or where they will lead us, which is probably how we should look at it. But I trust what I see here.


2 comments so far

  1. Lynn Massey on

    Inspiring post, Jim. I too have been watching the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt with tears in my eyes. So many things could go so horribly wrong, the image of all those defenseless backs bowed in prayer, so many people, women too, finally standing up and speaking out against what previously seemed unchangeable. But as the French say, “Fear has changed sides.” I can only hope that Egypt moves the same was as Tunisia. And I can only hope that these populations will be supported in their efforts to gain justice and equality.

  2. […] a piece about Martin Luther King Jr’s global legacy, and later a separate one about the religious unity during the protests in Egypt. Those two strands are tied together in this story on Comics Alliance (thanks to my friend Steven, […]

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