Category Archives: Editorial

Is Egypt Really Putting a Price Tag on Women?

child bride

Photo copied from the Internet

— By:Alexandra Kinias —

Controversy erupted among Egyptian women activists over Chief Justice Ahmed El Zend’s decree that compels foreigners marrying Egyptian brides, twenty five years their junior, to issue them bank certificates worth of 50,000 L.E. On one hand, there are those who denounce the decree for putting a price tag on women, and thus facilitating prostitution and human trafficking. On the other, there are those, I among them, who hail the decree for finally addressing a subject that has been ignored for decades and taking the right step towards the protection of these women, who often are forced or lured into these marriages. A positive outcome of this controversy was that it also has exposed child marriages, a dark reality practiced in day broad light, and the failed government efforts to combat it.

Growing up in Egypt, I witnessed firsthand how poverty is the catalyst that drives many underprivileged women to marry incompatible foreign suitors from wealthy Arab countries, some with age difference that exceeds twenty five years. Once settled in their spouses’ homeland, some find themselves partners in a polygamous marriage, with a status slightly above domestic help, mistreated and often violently and sexually abused by the household. When sexual desire fades and the time comes to replace the wife with a new one, or if women rebel and ask for a divorce, they are sent back home with a suitcase, and often a child, or pregnant with one.

From the comfort of their sofas, the social media activists imprudently lashed at the government of Egypt from behind their computer screens. They ignored the fact that in Egypt, a country with extreme income inequality, this cash would enable women with no resources, a chance to start over, upon their return. Detached from reality and depleted from reason, some activists suggested that instead of putting a price tag on marriages, the government should rather intervene to stop them, quite a ludicrous statement since only a guardian (father, brother or uncle) can make such a decision.

The official marriage age in Egypt is eighteen, and the meager privilege of the 50,000 L.E., is denied to those whose marriages are unregistered, and that includes marriages of underage girls in rural villages across Egypt. Dwellers of these villages follow their own traditions and laws. In these conservative communities, people follow the guidance of the imams in the village mosques, whose preaching about girls’ eligibility to marriage when they reach puberty is to be blamed for the widespread practice of this crime.

In these rural communities, women are viewed as sex objects and breeding machines. The irony is that while some families marry their daughters at young age to protect their honor and releases the fathers from their financial responsibility, families on the other side of the spectrum marry their daughters for financial gains. For these families girls are their capital investments. But in spite of their different motives, the idea of marrying the girls at the age of fourteen is neither rejected nor negotiated. It is a status quo, a fact of life that has been passed on from one generation to the other.

The government’s incompetence to either fight or control underage marriages is because these marriages are undocumented, a manifestation of the power of the religious institutions over the government. Families draft urfi marriages, a religious contract between the girl’s guardian and the groom, signed by two male witnesses and blessed by the mosques’ imams. Urfi contracts are not official documents and don’t protect the wife’s rights in marital dispute. They are temporary vehicles till the girls are old enough for the marriage to be registered. If the marriage fails before the girls reach eighteen, children born out of them share the same fate and status as illegitimate children. If fathers walk away with the marriage contract, the burden to prove parenthood falls on the shoulder of women. Resorting to courts to issue a birth certificate to the child is a lengthy and costly procedure most can’t afford, not to mention that it exposes the families to the unlawful crime of marring an underage girl, a crime which if proven is punished by the law.

The same concept is used by families that marry their underage daughters to wealthy Arabs, or what they have become known as “seasonal marriages”, because they take place mainly during the summer season. Wealthy Arabs travel to Egypt in the summer, and through marriage brokers, they purchase underage girls for sex, a classic case of child sex trafficking. Because of the escalating rates of sex child tourism, the U.N. classified Egypt as a Tier 2 country for human trafficking, which means that Egypt is among the countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victim’s Program Assistance (TVPA) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

Child Marriages are sparked by poverty, illiteracy and greed, ignited by sexually sick societies and protected by the religious scholars. But in all fairness, poverty alone can’t be blamed because there are millions of poor families who don’t sell their girls. Civil laws can’t fight thousands of years’ old traditions, especially those that are shrouded with religious justifications.

Pedophilia is practiced in many countries around the globe. However, unlike elsewhere where it is criminalized, in the Middle East it is blessed by religious fatwas. People in rural areas in Egypt follow the preaching of their imams with disregard to the law. Wealthy pedophiles engage in child sex believing they are following in the footsteps of Prophet Mohamed, who allegedly married his wife Aisha when she was at the age of nine. Aisha’s age is highly debatable since her exact birthdate is unknown, and also because many historical events conclude that she was at least nineteen years of age when her marriage was consummated. However, because of the non-conclusive interpretations by various scholars, this crime continues and some girls are sold to one man after the other. In a horrid testimonial, a twenty four years old girl explained in televised interview how she was married eight times in ten years.

The crawling efforts by the NGOs and civil institutions to spread awareness against underage marriages are overpowered by tradition, culture, ignorance, financial gain, and above all medieval religious fatwas exploiting the innocence of these girls. Integrating these girls back into the society is also challenging. The entire society is responsible for stealing these girls childhood. What kind of future generations we expect to bring up?
References:

1- L.E. 50,000 fee on foreigners who marry Egyptian women ‘if age difference exceeds 25 years’: Justice Ministry

2- 2014 U.N. Trafficking in Persons Report – Egypt

3- A twelve years old girl engaged to be married in few months

4- A twenty four years old woman explains in televised interview how she was married eight times in ten years.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Child marriages in Egypt, Editorial, Sex Tourism in Egypt

In the Name of the Gods

— By: Alexandra Kinias —

Article published “Zamalek Island 11211 Magazine” November 2015

FeaturedImage-age-of-mythology

The relationship between humans and gods dates back to the beginning of time. People of ancient civilizations created the mythologies and worshiped their multiple deities. Mythologies are the cultural evolutions of these civilizations. They are the stories of the gods that answered the speculative curiosity that intrigued the people. They explained to them the mysteries of the creation, the origin of humans, the good and the evil, life and death, the underground world, the afterlife and the supernatural forces that their primitive minds couldn’t comprehend.

In his book The Evolution of God, Robert Wright explains that gods arose as illusions, and that subsequent history of the idea of god is, in some senses, the evolution of the illusions1. In other words, people created the gods they worshiped, and with the powers man gave to these gods, religions were developed.

The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians, Mesopotamians, Sumerians, Indians, Chinese, Aztecs, Incas, Polynesians, Mayans and others were polytheists. And as writing systems were developed in ancient civilizations, the records left behind; on clay tablets in Mesopotamia, on papyrus in Egypt and Greece or on turtle shells and bones in China, enabled anthropologists to study the evolution of religions. The damage by the early European invaders to the Americas destroyed the Mayan and Aztec records and left many unanswered questions about these civilizations and their gods.

Each god or goddess in the mythologies played an important role. In ancient Greece, Persephone was the goddess of the underworld.

Throning_goddess_(Persephone)_480-460_BC_(Sk_1761)_1 (1)

Persephone on her throne in the underworld.

Ishtar, the patron deity of prostitution in Mesopotamia, was also thought to help wives conceal their adultery2.

British_Museum_Queen_of_the_Night

Ishtar, the patron deity of prostitution in Mesopotamia, was also thought to help wives conceal their adultery.

Horus, son of Isis and Osiris in the Egyptian mythology was the god of the sky and the divine protector of kings.

maxresdefault (2)

Horus, son of Isis and Osiris in the Egyptian mythology was the god of the sky and the divine protector of kings.

Angi, the most important Hindu deity in the Vedic Mythology, was the god of fire.

Musée_Guimet_897_05

Angi, is a Hindu deity, one of the most important of the Vedic gods. He is the god of fire .

Gods were created because human nature has the need to believe in a higher power, and they communicated with the people through high priests and shamans. In ancient Polynesia people believed that the chiefs, who were also the priests, were descendant of the gods3. Priests in ancient civilizations drafted the early recorded religions. In the name of the gods, priests dictated the ethical and moral guides that shaped and organized the lives of the people, from loving the neighbor, to not to steal or urinate on crops4.  And from these moral and ethical guides religions emerged.

The wrath of the gods was sent to those who disobeyed and angered them. Gods punished the people by sending storms, floods, rain, fires, volcanos, or hurricanes. The high priests realized people’s fear and exploited them. They claimed they possessed powers to manipulate and control the supernatural and communicate with the gods to lift their wrath, for a price. Bribing the gods, also known as offerings, was a common trait in ancient civilizations. Offerings to appease the gods included bread, wine, grain, food, gold, animal or human sacrifices.

Because ancient civilizations were polytheists, people were neither threatened by the deities of the neighboring tribes and lands, nor did they view them as competitors. In these societies, life revolved around the gods as religions became an important part of people’s lives. In today’s world and with the rise of monolithic religions, many cultures integrated their ancient gods and beliefs with modern religions. In Cusco, Peru, the capital of the Inca Empire, and despite the strong influence of the Catholic Church, the Andean natives proudly claim their Incas’ heritage and still celebrate their ancient religious rituals.  “Catholicism was not the religion of our choice, but was forced upon us,” they explained to me when I questioned the biblical art adorning their church walls. In Peruvian churches to this day, Virgin Mary wears a big cape to look like Pachamama, who in the Inca mythology is the goddess of earth, also known as Mother Earth.

MotherEarthNoText

Pachamama is a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. She is also known as the earth/time mother.

As ancient Gods are mortals, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are still walking among us today. Look into the faces of people around you in the subway, in the supermarket, among the crowds in stadiums watching their football team playing the world cup. They have lost their divine status, but their efforts to organize the order of the world should not be overlooked.

References: Robert Wright, The Evolution of God; pages 4,70,53,78 respectively.

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorial

Prince Charming and the “M” word

disney-prince-lineup-disney-princess-35505382-1236-642-actors-who-could-definitely-be-real-life-disney-princes

— By: Alexandra Kinias —

In Disney’s fairytales the handsome Prince fall in love with lumber jack’s daughter he meets in the forest. And after the Prince asks for her hand in marriage, they ride together into the sunset on his white horse. The birds chirp, the butterflies dance to the romantic song at the end of the movie, and the royal couple lives happily ever after. The fairytale romance leaves us with misty eyes and a happy heart filled with hope that our prince charming lives a few castles away.

We love happy endings even though they alter the perception of reality in young girls’ minds. And unlike fairytales, princes in real life fall out of love. Left with low self-esteem while battling pangs of rejection, the broken heart ex-princesses wonder what happened to the promises of the eternal love they heard on their rides into the sunsets.

Since it takes two to tango, men constitute half of the equation in any relationship. Rarely the innocent party, yet it’s unrealistic to throw the entire blame on their shoulders. Women share the responsibility for the failure of the relationship. In many cases, they misinterpret men’s behaviors and become victims of their own misconceptions. They cling to failed relationships to avoid or postpone confrontations that lead to the painful, yet, inevitable truth.

Most women fall in love with the intention to get married. Other than the obvious reasons to settle down and start a family; fear of loneliness, financial support or gain, or a change of status also plays a role in the decision making. In societies that glorify marriage, where girls grow up to believe that it is women’s ultimate dream, and where unmarried middle aged women are looked down on, staying single is not a choice. In these societies, women marry because of social, peer and family pressure.

Aurora-and-Phillip-disney-princess-32398902-900-641

On the other hand, men seek relationships for different reasons. Both curious and confused, men on one hand want to learn more about the women they meet, but on the other, they have no idea what they want out of the relationship. An interest to know you better doesn’t automatically translate that your date is ready to commit. No one knows for sure what goes on in men’s minds. Most men avoid commitment for as long as they can get by with it. Who knows? They could be waiting for scientists to discover life in another galaxy to plan the honeymoon. The point is that it doesn’t matter because in the world we live in women are on the receiving end of the engagement ring. And because of that women invest more time and emotions into relationships.  And as their expectations are higher than men’s, they are more affected by the dynamics, outcomes and disappointments of the relationships.

In pursue for an engagement ring, women ignore the flaws in their partners in hope to win their hearts. But winning their heart is not always enough reason for men to propose. And if pressured to do so, while not yet emotionally or mentally ready to settle down, men’s reaction often backfires and they withdraw. It’s important for women to pay close attention to changes in men’s behavioral patterns. If a man is busy to call or answer your call, breaks promises, plays games, becomes discreet or simply unavailable, it is time to re-evaluate the relationship and not to defend or justify his behavior.  No one is busy, but it is a matter of priority. Men find time for whatever is important to them. But because love is addictive, women ignore the neon signs flashing in front of their eyes urging them to run away. Some waste years clinging to emotionally unfulfilling relationships in anticipation that the men will change. Unfortunately, they won’t.

The failure of Princess Diana’s marriage, the modern day fairytale, proved to the world that fairytales Princesses neither live in the real world nor fall in love with real men. But that doesn’t mean that princes no longer exist. They are out there living in the real world. They get caught in traffic; they have bad days at the office and agonize when their football team loses.

Once women realize that princes are humans and they don’t live in fairytales, it’s important to approach the relationship with more realistic expectations. And most important, they should not lower their standards.

If you want to meet a prince, then you better behave like a princess.

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorial

Divorce in Egypt may actually be a healthy sign

photo-home-unhappy-couple-in-bed

Photo copied from the Internet

— By: Alexandra Kinias — The concern by many over the soaring divorce rates between young couples in Egypt may be argued by others as a healthy phenomenon. Shocking as it sounds to some, but these rates suggest that young couples are rebelling against the obsolete rules and regulations that had once governed and shaped the fate of their parents and grandparents, and forced women to stay in dysfunctional marriages against their wishes. And with the increasing rate of divorce, marriage counselling, a novelty to the society, is thriving.  Marriage counseling is also a positive indication that marital problems that were once concealed and contained behind closed doors and endured in silence, mainly by women, are no longer accepted, nor viewed as shameful taboos, as once believed to be.

Seeking professional counseling as opposed to older family member’s intervention, to help young couples solve their problems, shows the rejection of these couples to the old rules, terms, conditions and band aid solutions.  Also marriage counselors act independently with no bias solutions that mostly put the blame, responsibility and the burden to salvage the marriage on the shoulders of women.

Many blame the young couples’ irresponsibility in dealing with life’s issues for the failure of  their marriages, quite an unfair accusation. Dysfunctional marriages existed since the beginning of times, but until recently women suffered in silence, unable to terminate their misery, and many still don’t for various reasons. Because of the belief that divorce may harm the kids, mothers choose to stay in abusive marriages, unaware of how the toxic atmosphere of an unhappy marriage negatively impacts their kids’ emotional balance.

Before the new divorce laws that granted women the right to divorce and keep the house, if the kids are underage, non working women with no source of income stayed married for financial reasons and in fear to end up homeless. And with the loose alimony and child support laws, not all families were ready for the extra expenses of a divorced daughter and grandkids. The irony, however, was that even women who could afford a divorce, still couldn’t get one. It was a right granted only to men.  And while some women couldn’t get a divorce, others divorced against their wishes.

Society stigmatized and alienated divorced women. Viewed by many as loose and unrespectable women, friends avoided them to protect their husbands and their own marriages. Parents restricted their freedoms to guard their tarnished reputation, in the eyes of the society.  The endless battles in courts over the alimonies, child support and custody dragged for years and costed fortunes. Divorced women were nothing but trouble, and families were happy to hand them over to another man to resume their responsibilities.

In today’s world, relations changed. Laws changed. Women work and are financially independent.  The reasons that their mothers and grandmothers stayed in dysfunctional marriages no longer apply to them. And with the social change, they can decide when to terminate a failed  marriage. And with no guilt or shame, they walk with their heads high, for they are setting new rules for how society perceives divorced women.

1 Comment

Filed under Editorial, Women in Egypt, Women Rights in Egypt

Who Will Throw the First Stone at Zeina?

Zeina_keppcalm

— By: Alexandra Kinias —

After two and a half years fighting in courts, Zeina vs Ahmed Ezz’s paternity saga finally ended with a victorious milestone for Egyptian women. The verdict would allow the actress to issue birth certificates for her twins in spite of actor Ahmed Ezz’s, the presumptive father, denial of his paternity. Furthermore, in an unprecedented ruling that would also benefit thousands of women who are fighting similar cases, the judge shifted the responsibility to the presumptive fathers to contest their paternity. So for Zeina’s case, and until proven otherwise by Ezz, the twins will carry his name. This verdict came as a slap in the face of the actor who wouldn’t comply with a previous court order to undergo a DNA test. Had he taken the test, this feud would have been concluded months earlier.

It is quite reprehensible how a father would refuse to issue a birth certificate for his offspring and vindictively fight against it, knowing fully of the consequences. A child without a birth certificate would not only be stigmatized for life as illegitimate, a shameful label in an unforgiving conservative society, but without it, this child can’t be enrolled in schools either.

To avoid social humiliation as her pregnancy advanced and Ezz was nowhere to be reached, Zeina fled to America to give birth to the twins. On their American birth certificates, Ezz was added as the father. The paternity battle started upon her return to Egypt. It is crucial to prove the status of the twins on Egyptian documents.

Zeina’s fame brought attention to her case and helped resolving it. But there are thousands of other underprivileged women who can’t afford hiring lawyers for such cases that can drag on for years in courts. Granting the mothers the right to issue birth certificates for their children, without consent of the presumptive fathers, was a huge victory for these women. Also the judge’s decision to shift the pressure of refuting the paternity to men was a smart move to bring closure to such cases.

Children born out of wedlock should not pay for the sins of their parents. Deprived from their identity, they will be forever haunted by the ghosts of their upbringing. The lucky ones are those whom their mothers terminated their lives before it had started, to save them the anguish and torment of abandonment in an orphanage or in the street. It is heart wrenching to read horrific stories of infants found in dumpsters stabbed to death or with their limbs eaten by stray animals. A high percentage of abandoned children become homeless. Left in the streets, it is tragic to see them competing with stray dogs and cats for scraps of food salvaged from the garbage, or for a spot to spend the night. You find them sleeping under parked cars, in construction sites or on a sidewalk with nothing to cover their frail bodies on cold nights but a piece of cardboard. They become invisible to the masses that carry on with their daily lives as if these helpless children are just stray animals they cross path with.

The shocking news of such discoveries briefly awakens the guilt feelings of people who would shift the blame entirely on the mothers, forgetting that they are also victims of an ultraconservative and heartless society. But other than condemning the mothers, not much action is taken to save these kids. As the hands are chained by the laws that govern and the minds are cluttered with cultural taboos, these helpless children will go on with their predestined lives that are doomed with shame and misery.

It is outrageous to discover that the voices of those who are fighting against the rights of these unfortunate children are coming from the comfort of expensive homes and mansions. Zeina was an unexpected surprise as she fought back relentlessly a battle that every mother with courage should fight. Ezz and his lawyers are appealing the court’s decision on the basis that no Orfi marriage contract is available, and thus slander the mother, discredit her claim and refute the paternity. The truth, however, will inevitably prevail. So why Ezz wouldn’t save us all the drama that he seems to play better in real life than in movies and take a DNA test? If he is confident of his stance, he would prove her wrong, close this chapter in his life and move on. If not, then he should stand up like a man and take responsibility for his action.

Women with courage and a cause are pivotal in changing outcomes, and Zeina proved to acquire both. Admire her courage and stance or despise her, her action will pave the road for more helpless women to follow her path. And those who are being critical of her, one can’t help but remind them that, “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!”

4 Comments

Filed under Editorial, Women Rights in Egypt

Censoring Movies in Egypt

Fullscreen capture 11172014 82741 PM.bmp-003

Written by: Alexandra Kinias

On its journey from birth to screen, Egyptian movies require triple permits before they see the light. The screenplay must first be approved before a shooting permit is issued. Before the movie is shot, the censorship bureau can demand the removal of scenes, tamper with the story or even change the title as happened with Cairo Exit which its initial title was Egypt Exit. Unless producers comply with such requirements, movies will forever remain on paper. Once a movie is shot, a screening permission must be granted. And as a final reminder of who has the upper hand, the bureau reserves the right to revoke the screening permit at any time and for any reason.

Refusing to comply with the requirements to change the faith of the female character, the screenplay Cairo Exit was not approved. In lieu of shooting permits, the movie was shot underground since carrying a film camera on the street of Cairo without a permit is a felony. In spite of the games of hide and seek played between the movie crew and policemen, in civilian clothes roaming the streets, the shooting was completed.

The first censorship law in Egypt was drafted on November 26, 1881 as a reaction to Ahmed Orabi’s revolution against the British occupation. To curb the freedom of press after nationalistic newspapers in support of the revolution flooded the market, control over the media was born. An amendment to the law was made in 1904 that included censorship over movies and theatrical performances. Prior to that date, movies that were screened in Egypt, since 1896, and theatrical performances were under the direct control and discretion of the police chief.

Against the belief of the masses, the censorship bureau was not essentially created to protect family values, but its objective was primary political to safeguard the government and its leaders. Unfortunately, nothing has changed since then. However, with the religious surge in Egypt, those who proclaimed themselves as custodians of morality rode the wave to benefit from the censorship that has assisted them in spreading their ideologies.

To silence the voices and switch off the brains of the people, censorship becomes essential for the existence of totalitarian regimes. With adding a tint of religious and family values to its objectives, no one dares to dispute its motives. It comes as no surprise that movie censorship thrived under the reign of Mubarak’s corrupt regime.

To safeguard moral and family values, countries worldwide have instituted the rating system whose purpose is to alert viewing audiences of the contents which maybe objectionable to some. However, banning movies, to stop people from watching them is a common practice of totalitarian control. It is an insult to assume that people are unable to think for themselves and thus need the guidance from decision makers to tell them what they should watch, or how they should think and behave.

As in other countries, Egypt also has its own inconvenient truths embedded in the society such as female genital mutilation, sex out of wedlock, women who turn to prostitution for a living or interfaith relationships. Banning movies that discuss such issues on the basis that they defame the society is a form of mental manipulation as denial of an existing problem is a delusional approach to solve it. On the contrary such important social issues require people’s awareness rather than wishing them away. Only when addressed, then they may be resolved.

In addition to that, the ban of movies or books resulted in restricting creativity which unfortunately doesn’t come with an operating manual with guidelines to follow. Over the years, censorship has achieved nothing but an overall decline of talents.

It is ironic to see the books that were published in Egypt in the early twentieth century are being banned in the twenty first century. No wonder that when the dispels of the cultural renaissance of the twenties and thirties in Egypt, like Abbas Mahmoud Al- Akkad and Nagub Mahfouz, two of Egypt’s notable writers, took responsibility of the censorship bureau, Egypt’s cinema witnessed its golden age. The set back of the Egyptian movie industry happened with the revolution of 1952 when the industry was nationalized and censorship escalated to protect the revolution.

Today’s censorship officials in Egypt are the sons of the era that witnessed the cultural decline. Their qualifications are not important anymore because the job description nor longer requires creativity and talent, but total submission to the regime’s doctrine.

Leave a comment

Filed under Editorial

The Egyptian Inquisition

DemianaAbdelnour

— By: Alexandra Kinias —

The hopes of 24 years old school teacher Demiana Abdel-Nour to return home from self-exile were postponed indefinitely, on June 16, 2014, when the Egyptian appeals court upheld a blasphemy conviction against her and sentenced her to six months in prison, in addition to the earlier ruling that only imposed a fine of LE 100,000. Among the many challenges taking place in Egypt, the developments in Abdel-Nour’s case were sidelined by most Egyptian media.

The young teachers’ nightmare started in May 2013, when parents of three of her pupils, accused her of insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad by saying that the late Pope Shenouda III performed more miracles than the Prophet. They also alleged that she placed her hand on her stomach to convey nausea when mentioning the Prophet. These accusations were entirely based on the testimony of the three students, all under the age of ten. Abdel-Nour denied all allegations, and the school administration as well as the confessions of ten other students acknowledged that there was no truth to any of those claims. Yet on filing the charges, the young teacher was immediately arrested and thrown in jail, pending investigations of the charges.

Two weeks into her arrest and after going on a hunger strike Abdel-Nour was released on LE 20,000 bail. Soon after she fled to France, in fear of the consequences, after the court refused her defense request to admit witnesses and reports demonstrating her innocence. And according to her lawyer, she was mentally preparing herself to seek asylum in France if the courts ruled against her, which is exactly what happened.

The incident of Abdel-Nour is not an isolated one, but another in the long strand of events that target the Coptic minorities and affirms that the religious intolerance is steadily increasing. It is only predictable that this phenomenon that has grown roots in the society will eventually become a trait in the absence of the supervision of civil institutions. However, what came as a disappointment was that this verdict was the first after the new constitution has promised equality and freedom of religion to all Egyptians.

Defamation of religion is a phenomenon that is practiced in societies where religious extremism is rooted. In such societies, zealots condemn, prosecute and kill those who speak out against their faith, while giving themselves the license to do and say the exact same against other religions. With the rise of conservatism, Egypt is aggressively following in the footsteps of countries that have been labeled among the worse in freedom of religion. And while it didn’t come as a surprise what the young teacher had to go through, I somehow had hoped for a miracle that would reverse the heritage of long decades of ignorance and intolerance, forgetting that magic wands are only used in fairy-tales.

Abdel-Nour’s case reminded me of the Spanish-American movie “Goya’s Ghosts” by Milos Forman that took place during the time of the Spanish inquisition where Muslims and Jews were prosecuted for practicing their faith. Ines, a young catholic woman, the character played by Natalie Portman, was accused of being a heretic because she decides not to eat a pork roast; a dish she particularly doesn’t favor, that was served to her in a tavern. And before she knew it, she was tortured by the Inquisition on the accounts that her dietary choice is dictated not by taste but by her clandestine conversion to Judaism. Ines was sent to 15 years in jail on the alleged charges, with no proof.

Abdel-Nour’s case was similar to Natalie Portman’s character in “Goya’s Ghosts”. While the fate of Ines was decided by speculations, Abdel-Nour’s was decided by the testimonies of three school kids under the age of ten.

Unfortunately, Abdel-Nour’s will not be the last case of blasphemy Egypt will witness in the near future. If the fate of a young woman was decided by the testimonials of three under age school children, we might as well bid adieu to a country that was once a safe haven to all religions. And unless the government that has promised equality and religious freedom and safety to its Coptic minority exerts tangible measures, together with social organizations, to promote civility into a society that has been injected with religious intolerance for many decades, one fears that Egypt may revert back to medieval times.

Sectarian tension won’t simply vanish overnight by just adding a clause in the constitution, but by working hard to burn out the sentiments that ignite them, from both sides. And Abdel-Nour’s case is yet another example that has left a bitter taste in the mouths of all Copts. For it is not merely about a person sentenced to jail, but of the right of citizenship that is divided equally among the partners of the land.

1 Comment

Filed under Editorial, Sectarian violence