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Quranists Arrests in Egypt Proves Government Radicalism

Last week in Egypt, the Security Service arrested representatives of the Quranic Center in Egypt, including Mr. Abdellatif Mohamed Saied and others, and terrorized the relatives of the Center’s President, Dr. Ahmed Subhy Mansour. The Security Service also broke into Dr. Mansour’s apartment in Cairo and confiscated his books, research, and his computers.

The Quranic people are a group of Muslims who want to modernize Islam in Egypt and throughout the world. Dr. Ahmed Subhy Mansour, a professor at Al-Azhar University, started the movement in the early 1980s. Al-Azhar rejected his beliefs, and in 1987 Dr. Mansour was jailed by the Egyptian government and subsequently exiled.

As a Coptic Christian, I am defending the Quranists because I believe it is our duty to defend the human rights and religious freedoms of all people – and it is extremely beneficial for us to align with like-minded individuals. The Coptic cause in Egypt has no better friends than the Quranists. I firmly believe in respecting all religions, so I have no interest in examining the theological differences that exist between Muslim beliefs or sects – rather, I want to point how the actions and deeds of the Quranists are excellent examples for those of us who are defenders and promoters of human rights.

Through my friendship with Dr. Mansour, I learned that members of this group are a very peaceful people who steadfastly believe in helping the weak and the poor and equality in gender, religion, and all other areas. They are great promoters and defenders of Islam through peaceful means.

I first met Dr. Ahmed Subhy Mansour at a Coptic Conference many years ago. There were representatives of many religions at this conference – speakers and audience members included Jews, Christians, and Muslims. During that conference, one speaker began attacking Islam by equating the theology of Islam with violence, arguing that the Quran itself promotes violence. Because so many of the conference participants were Muslim friends who came to show support of the Coptic cause, I became very upset at this speaker, and I stood up and stopped the conference. That speaker subsequently altered his speech, and the conference continued. At the end of that day, Dr. Mansour introduced himself to me, and he and his wife accompanied my wife and I at dinner. During that dinner – and through many other lunches, email exchanges, and meetings – a great friendship developed. This friendship has flourished, and our two families have become very close friends. He has visited me in Chicago for Coptic feasts and to share in the participation of a Coptic demonstration against the Egyptian government. I had Ramadan Fatar at his house.

I was honored when Dr. Mansour asked me to serve as a Board Member for the International Quranic Center alongside him, Jewish Americans, and multiple women. Dr. Mansour’s work and website, www.ahl-alquran.com, has attracted thousands of other Muslims who seek to promote and present their ideology through peace and love.

In the early 19th Century, an enlightenment period of the modernization of Islamic thinking called Asr El Nour occurred, and Egyptians like Refaay El Tahtwai and Shaikh Mohamoud Abdo led this movement; therefore guiding the entire Middle East’s liberation from radicalism. Following Asr El Nour, great Egyptians like Saad Zaghloul, Taha Hussain, El Nahass Basha, and others promoted democracy and enlightenment in Egypt. Both movements resulted in a Middle East liberated from foreign occupation, and the road to modernization was wide open.

After the 1952 Military Coup, Egypt began regressing back to radicalism and the movement to strengthen democracy collapsed. Dr. Mansour is one of a very brave group of Egyptians that started objecting to these reversals. That group also includes big names such as Farg Fouda, Nasr Hamed, Saad Eldin Ibrahim, and many others. These men have sacrificed their lives and futures for the defense of Egypt and to fight against an environment full of violence and radicalism.

When we discuss what is happening now in Egypt, we can find no reason that the Egyptian regime has selected to arrest members of this group other than a clear, directed path of policies that rejects any idea of modernizing Islamic thinking. The following points are examples of this:

1. By rejecting any promoters of secular, democratic, or religiously tolerant viewpoints and silencing them, the Egyptian regime promotes radicalism. This is evident in way the regime treats Copts, Bahai’s, and all other non-Sunni Muslims. A few examples include:
a. Copts are appointed to very few higher positions in government, are rarely promoted within the military, and have little representation in Parliament. The government campaign to promote the demeaning of Copts is clearly enforced.
b. The government refuses to recognize the Bahai faith and Bahai’s cannot obtain identity cards with their religion listed on them.
c. The poor treatment of non-Sunni Muslims is shown through what is happening to the Quaranists, the Shia, and all other non-Sunni Muslims.
d. By leading the campaign throughout the world to isolate the non-Muslim West and to show a conspiracy against Islam by the non-believing west. Recent examples include:
i. The uproar surrounding the Danish cartoons. On Oct. 17, 2005, the cartoons in question were published in an Egyptian newspaper along with an article that strongly denounced them, but there were no protests from either the Egyptian government or religious authorities. Over 2 months later, the Egyptian Ambassador to Denmark, Mona Omar Attia, stirred up a hornet’s nest by stating that the Danish Prime Minister had not responded in a way that was appropriate to “appease the whole Muslim world” and organizing international Muslim groups to take up the cause. Then at a meeting of leaders from the world’s 57 Muslim nations in Mecca, Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Aboul Gheit, circulated a report about the cartoons and other purported anti-Islamic activities in Denmark that further inflamed the Muslim world. The problem was that the report contained a great deal of erroneous information and Gheit knew it. Two Egyptians took a non-issue and manipulated it into an anti-Western campaign that culminated in violent protests worldwide.
ii. Characterizing America’s presence in Iraq as an “occupier” not a liberator, even though we know that if America leaves Iraq it will explode in a civil war, and it is a possibility that the conflict between Shia and Sunni will spread to the entire Middle East, putting the entire region in even more danger. Despite this, Egypt’s media continues to hammer in the “occupier” characterization, ignoring any other viewpoints.
iii. Supporting the Arab Muslims in Darfur in a campaign to murder African Muslims just because they are not Sunni and not Arab.

2. How the Egyptian regime succeeds in deceiving the world and helping to promote radicalism:
a. By practicing a two-faced policy.
i. On one side, it is friendly with America and the West, assuring them that Egypt is doing everything possible to contain, control, and fight terrorism.
ii. On the other side, inside Egypt, it sponsors radical principles through education, the media, newspapers, and television.
b. By promoting divisions between groups including Christians vs. Muslims, men vs. women, farmers and workers vs. businessmen, Arabs vs. Africans, ect. Within these divisions, the regime chooses a side, and defends that side in the name of religion. For example, in Christians vs. Muslims, they labeled Christians differently. In men vs. women they have encouraged women to wear the veil in the name of Islam and treat women as a 2nd class citizen by not allowing women into higher positions of government, not providing equal opportunities for gainful employment, and by promoting the idea that a women’s duty is only limited to their responsibilities in the home.
c. By using religion as a tool to stay in power by setting up an “us vs. them” mentality – it’s either “us” or the Muslims Brothers and other radicals, and the competition has become over who is more Muslim. The Muslim Brothers and other radicals are allowed to roam throughout Egypt, freely spreading radicalism, but the government uses those same ideologies to “prove” their adherence to Islam. That leads to a public obsession of religion, and the government, as the ruling power, dangerously becomes the idolized keeper and protector of the religion.
d. By practicing discrimination fueled by radical Islam and claiming that discrimination is a religious duty. This fuels discrimination throughout the entire region because Egypt, as the largest country in the Middle East and an influential cultural leader, sets an example - Egypt’s policies and practices are copied and put into place in other countries. The Egyptian government should work to play a positive role in these divisions by stifling, not encouraging, the divide. Look at the Sunni vs. Shia sectarian violence in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon: despite the fact that historical divisions and animosities exist in these countries, Egypt’s actions ignite and encourage the divide. The regime encourages the idea that Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and the Taliban are “heroes.”
e. By changing Al-Azhar from a modern University in the days of the early 20th Century to a University full of pointed radicalism and Wahabism. The fatwas now coming from Al-Azhar are so ridiculous that they are used as jokes in colloquial language on the streets of Egypt.

We Egyptians must realize what is happening to us! Just look at where we are now, only 55 years after the 1952 Coup – look how far we have regressed in a period where the whole world has expeditiously advanced.
i. In 1903, the Wright Brothers flew the first plane 400 ft. In 1962 – only 59 years later – America landed on the moon.
ii. In 1952, IBM introduced the world’s first computer – it took up an entire room. Now, in 2007, look how far computer technology has come! Almost everyone uses a computer on a daily basis, and many have portable laptop computers or PDAs. In just 55 years, the computer has gone from a room-sized bulk contraption to a palm-sized device.

The arrest of the Quaranists in Egypt is another nail driven into the coffin of the modernization and advancement of Egypt, and it is the duty of all Egyptians – Coptic and Muslim – to protest these arrests in the interest of securing Egypt’s future as a democratic, progressive leader in the Middle East and in the world.


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