Tuesday, 29 November 2011

EGYPT: Changing the world, one 'tweet' at a time

Marie-Claude Lalonde is the National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada. Here she reports back on her visit to Egypt in October to assess the situation facing Christians in the aftermath of the 25th January Revolution.

Father Henri Boulad is an Egyptian-Lebanese Jesuit, and lives in Alexandria … that is, when he is not travelling around the world. He is now 80 years old, but rest assured, he is very much of our times. Well known for his straight-talk, it is with conviction that he speaks to us of the world, and of his vision of the world.

Interviewed in Cairo last October 21 by Aid to the Church in Need, Father Henri Boulad expressed his hopes and his fears for the future of Egypt as well as that of Christians who have been present there since the era of Saint Mark, the apostle.

At the outset, he recalls that the Coptic problem is not a new one in Egypt, and since Nasser’s rule (1952) Christians have felt increased discrimination. On the legal side of things, for example, Christians must obtain - not without difficulty - a permit to build a church; whereas Muslims can erect mosques just about anywhere without so much as a permit. There is also discrimination on a regular basis in situations involving obtaining jobs or buying property.

“What is new within these events is that not only are Christians protesting, but they are defending themselves against the violence done to them,” declares Father Boulad. He adds that since the events in Maspero (Cairo), last October 9 (leaving more than 25 dead and hundreds injured), the army lost its credibility. “We had the impression that they [the army] straight-out took position against the Christians!”

Father Henri Boulad, an Egyptian-Lebanese Jesuit living in Alexandria 

According to the priest, radical Muslims are now quite visible, which was not the case before the fall of Mubarak because he would track them. The radicals speak the language of violence, whereas the more liberal groups, who were at the source of the revolution, are “silenced through threats […] whether they are Muslims or Christians,” says Father Boulad. There are actually many who think that the revolution was hijacked along the way by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists (radicals).

“It is all for show; believing that the elections will be free,” believes Father Boulad. Egypt, he says, is not ripe for democracy. Only the liberals would be. But they are far too weak in relation to other groups for the time being.

“The passage through Islam is incontrovertible and it will last a long time. […] We must brace ourselves for a haemorrhaging,” he analyses with regard to the exodus of Christians from the Middle East. “The West does not care at all for Christians […] what interests the West, is their economical and political strategy, one concern, that’s all, period.” Later on in this interview he will add “guilt by omission; kills me.”

A burnt out car in the Maspero region of Cairo, Egypt, where 25 were killed
and hundreds injured when protesters came under attack in October 2011.

Being more philosophical, he adds, this necessary passage, as he calls it, will be resolved through cultural and educational means and it will be a matter of a long process because it supposes an evolution in mentalities.

When we ask him what we can do, he says: “You must speak, fight, struggle – what you are already doing – what they continue to do with or without Facebook, in the press. […] I believe in the Internet, in Facebook and in Twitter.

“I believe in the strength of the Holy Spirit […] I am a religious priest, a Jesuit, a believer to the bone, and I believe that the strength of the Holy Spirit will one day be stronger than all these channels, but… but…

“I believe the Gospel will have the last word, and the power of truth along with the power of charity will have the last word. But battles in the meantime, and unravelling in the meantime, disillusionment in the meantime – but I believe … I count on it ... I believe in the strength of the Holy Spirit!”

And, the energetic Jesuit added with conviction that his life-long maxim has been, “To change the world!”

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