ROME — “It started early in the morning,” recalled Bishop Joseph Alessandro, co-adjutor of Garissa in northern Kenya. “We could hear every gunshot from our house because it’s not even one kilometer away, so it’s very close.”
Bishop Alessandro, a Maltese Capuchin missionary friar, was recounting the deadly attack at Garissa University College on Holy Thursday, when Al-Shabaab Islamist militants shot dead at least 150 people and injured 79 more. The victims, mostly students from other parts of Kenya, were singled out for being Christian and then killed.
“There was a lot of movement of police and military men, but we didn’t know exactly what was happening inside, because they surrounded the campus of the university so no one could go near,” Bishop Alessandro, 70, told the Register in Rome on April 17. He and his brother bishops were on their ad limina visit to the Vatican — the requirement that each bishop must report to the pope on the status of his diocese every five years.
He and other priests were also prevented from visiting the injured in the hospital the next day, and the Triduum liturgies were disrupted. But on Easter Sunday, despite the possibility of further attacks, Garissa’s cathedral was full. “This was something of a surprise for me,” the bishop said, who baptized 28 infants and children at the Mass. He called it a “show of witness” and an evangelizing moment in the presence of much international media.
In his homily, the bishop said he “tried to encourage them,” telling his flock they were “celebrating the paschal mystery in a different way, a more concrete way.” He said he told the local faithful, “If before you used to celebrate the passion and death of Jesus, this year we are going through the Passion, experiencing the death of so many young people, female and male.”
Comforting Beleaguered Kenyans
But he comforted them, by saying that on the third day “Jesus rose to raise us up, so even if we lost some of our members who used to come to the cathedral for Sunday Mass, we believe they are already risen with the Lord. And even if they suffered a martyrdom of blood, we have new ones who are being baptized by the baptism of water and the Spirit.”
“This is how it was,” Bishop Alessandro said. “And they celebrated Easter and participated very actively in the Mass, singing and dancing in the Kenyan way.”
The April 2 attack was the third such atrocity committed by such militants in the area over the past five months.
Last November, Al-Shabaab, which is loosely connected to al-Qaida, ambushed a bus near Garissa, separated Christians from Muslims and shot dead 28 Christians. On Dec. 2, the same group attacked workers at a stone quarry in the area, again singling out Christian workers from Muslims ones, and killed 36 of them.
Tara McKinney, an international project officer for Cross Catholic Outreach, a Catholic non-governmental organization, spoke of the “shock and grief” among the local population “combined with increasing anxiety over what may happen next; where, when and to whom?”
She said there have been more than 100 Islamist attacks in Kenya in recent months, but they have been significantly smaller. “The magnitude and escalation of this incident has caused an outcry for God’s protection and sadness over the loss in Garissa — wherever one is in the country,” she told the Register April 20.
Alarming Rise of Fundamentalism
On their ad limina visit to Rome in mid-April, Kenya’s bishops shared their deep concerns about the attack, the “alarming rise” of Islamic fundamentalism in the East-African country and an urgent need to defuse the hostilities.
During a two-hour meeting, the bishops informed Pope Francis that what, at first, seemed to be a “very contained” and local attack is “wider than meets the eye,” according to Bishop Anthony Muheria of Kitui.
Speaking to reporters in Rome April 20, he said all but one of the Garissa university attackers were homegrown and trained in Somalia (its ringleader Ahmed Omar was well-educated and had studied law at Nairobi University). Some have also been radicalized in local refugee camps near the border with Somalia or at mosques in major Kenyan cities, such as Mombasa.
“In a sense, this is a very bad fact, because you don’t know who your enemies are,” Bishop Muheria said. “They’re not foreigners.”
The authorities are considering erecting a 200-kilometer security wall along the Kenya-Somalia border, but many are opposed to the idea, given that most of the militants are already in Kenya. The bishops have, instead, appealed to and sought meetings with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to boost security, especially for Christians. “We’re being a little aggressive on the leadership because it can’t be business as usual,” Bishop Muheria said. “We’re also hoping to bring Muslims into it.”
Bishop Alessandro, who was once shot in the hip by shiftas (outlaws) in rural Kenya in the 1990s, would like to see improved intelligence, as some attacks “could have been prevented” if there had been better “information sharing” among security services.
But the bishops also spoke about another major concern: the “deafening silence” in the international media for two days, which they contrasted with the global outcry over the Charlie Hebdo Islamist attack in Paris earlier this year.
“Are lives not worth the same?” Bishop Muheria asked. Unlike the aftermath of that attack, he said Kenya “had no solidarity visit from any leader in the world,” nor was there any condemnation for the Islamists directly targeting Christians. President Barack Obama’s official statement on the atrocity omitted any reference to the terrorists’ targeting of Christian students. “Our institutions are not defending Christians,” the bishop said.
Pope Francis shared the bishops’ concerns, Bishop Muheria noted, adding that he showed the “greatest solidarity” of any world leader, and in their private meeting, he “really supported” the bishops in calling on international leaders to speak up in defense of persecuted Christians. He was “extremely encouraging,” the Kitui bishop said.
Two local imams condemned the university attack, Bishop Alessandro said, and added that Christian-Muslim relations are normally good. But the bishops have noticed that the condemnations of Islamist violence are usually weak or absent. “Our reading is they’re fulfilling a bigger agenda, which is to make Africa Muslim,” Bishop Muheria said. “That is something we must speak out about. It’s not disconnected.”
Many reasons are attributed to the rise of Islamist violence in Kenya, most of them political. Al-Shabaab says it is avenging the Kenyan government for sending troops to join an African Union army fighting Islamist militants in Somalia, where the militants have lost the key positions of Mogadishu and Kismayo and, with them, important sources of income. But despite their loss of mostly black-market revenue, Al-Shabaab continues to be well-resourced, having received ransoms worth millions of dollars when they hijacked ships off the Somalian coast.
Another reason for the violence is that Al-Shabaab also wishes to reclaim Garissa and some of the northern regions of Kenya that formerly belonged to Somalia. The attacks are a bid to “scare away” Kenyans so this can be accomplished, according to Bishop Alessandro. Then there is the militants’ wish to impose Islam by force.
The Church’s priority now is to try to defuse the attacks by calling on Kenyans to forgive the perpetrators as well as call on political and social leaders for practical help. “Pope Francis encouraged us along these lines,” Bishop Muheria said. “We have to control vengeance or it can escalate.”
McKinney said Cross Catholic Outreach is working with partners on the ground to foster peace and religious harmony in schools and local communities. On a larger scale, she noted how Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, when meeting with family members, prayed for forgiveness.
“It was an extremely positive example for a Church leader to focus on forgiveness at such a time, especially when the comments being aired in social media had the opposite tone,” she said. “The Church continues to be a sign and a witness of God’s love and of the role of forgiveness we should all give to one another.”
In his ad limina address to Kenya’s bishops on April 16, Pope Francis urged the Church in Kenya to “always be true to her mission as an instrument of reconciliation, justice and peace” and to strengthen dialogue with other Christian and non-Christian leaders.
Bishop Muheria said prayers of solidarity are “very important — we really need that prayer.” And although the bishop noted the lack of international solidarity among world leaders, he said they appreciate the acts of solidarity already shown by others.
“We have to pray for peace in Kenya, especially in our area,” said Bishop Alessandro. “We have to pray for the victims’ relatives and also the perpetrators, that they might have a change of heart.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Sources report that high-level Church officials are ‘extremely interested’ in having the petition added to the end of all celebrations of Sunday Mass.
VATICAN CITY — A concerted effort is under way in Rome and in dioceses around the world to have Pope Francis introduce a prayer for the poor, persecuted and oppressed at the end of every Sunday Mass.
The Register has learned that Church officials at the highest levels are “extremely interested” in having such a prayer inserted into all celebrations of Sunday Mass in accordance with the liturgical norms of the Missale Romanum 2002, the Missale Romanum 1962 and the liturgical customs and norms of the Eastern Churches.
The initiative is being taken not only because of the increasing persecution of Christians, but also in view of the many victims of abortion, human trafficking, poverty and oppression around the world.
It follows regular appeals from Pope Francis who has urged people to speak out against persecution of Christians, whom he has likened to the Church’s first martyrs. Cardinal Timothy Dolan also made a point of bringing it to people’s attention. In his final speech as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference last November, he called on his brother bishops to champion the cause of people persecuted for their faith and to fight to protect religious freedom.
“Our Christian brothers and sisters [are] experiencing lethal persecution on a scale that defies belief,” he told the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore.
The issue was also raised by cardinals at the extraordinary consistory in February ahead of the October synod on the family.
The prayer would be reminiscent of the former Leonine prayer which called for the conversion of Russia at the end of Mass. Like the Leonine prayer, established by Pope Leo XXIII and which was removed in 1965, the new petition would also include the Prayer to St. Michael, said to be one of Pope Francis’ favorite prayers.
“Those who are practicing Catholics should be conscious of these unacceptable assaults on the God-given freedom and dignity of human persons,” said one source helping to lead the campaign and speaking on condition of anonymity. “You cannot have a Pollyanna view of the world. If nothing else, the faithful can at least express spiritual solidarity with those suffering persecution.” He stressed the proposal has “enormous support.”
Aid to the Church in Need
A number of leading Catholic NGOs are said to have also given the proposal their strong backing. Aid to the Church in Need, which already has a prayer for persecuted Christians, believes such an addition to the Mass would be both appropriate and timely.
“Coming face to face with victims of persecution, as we at ACN do during trips to countries marked by violence and oppression, what we almost always find is that they ask time and again to pray for them,” John Pontifex, ACN UK’s head of press and information, told the Register. “What could be more important an opportunity, than praying for them at Mass?”
Pontifex noted that in countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, China, Sudan and Nigeria, many of the worst atrocities suffered by Christians have taken place while at Mass. “For that reason, it’s all the more fitting that we should remember them when we are at Mass ourselves,” he said.
Many Catholics in the West remain ignorant of increasing persecution against Christians. Lord Alton of Liverpool, a pro-life British peer who has fought for the rights of Christians for many years, told an audience April 11 that the West’s failure to understand the “religious dimension to these terrible atrocities” and the “imperative of harnessing thoughtful and moderate religious leaders from all traditions” leads to a failure to “end the persecution and the unspeakable violence.”
“We in the West, who enjoy so many freedoms and liberties, ignore the systematic violent ideology of an Islamist ‘Final Solution’ directed at Christian minorities,” he said in a speech to ACN’s Lenten vigil in London.
At the same event, British Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged that Christians “are now the most persecuted religion around the world” and said “we should stand up against persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever we can.”
‘The Most Persecuted Religion’
Pontifex, who believes the prayer would “work best if it were short and clearly worded,” said it “would be great if it acknowledged that Christianity is the most persecuted religion.” He also would like it to show “that our compassion and God’s mercy are sorely needed at a time when in parts of the world, the Faith is at risk of being effectively flushed out by oppression, bigotry and other forms of intolerance.”
Some argue that drawing attention to persecution runs the risk of making it worse, and can fuel the fear of those who suffer from it most. Pontifex recognizes the risks, but believes these concerns “are in themselves nothing compared to the value of praying for persecuted Christians at Mass.” He also believes the prayer should not be confined to victims of religious oppression, but that it would be part of “coming together as a family of faith” because prayer is “the most natural expression of our compassion.”
Lela Gilbert, co-author of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians and adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, said she found it “hard to think of anything objectionable” about a prayer for the persecuted Church at the end of every Sunday Mass.
“Not only does it raise awareness and combat ignorance — which is plentiful in places where the media is disinterested in issues related to Christianity — but it also lifts our struggling brothers and sisters before the Lord and invokes His power and grace and comfort into their lives,” she said.
Adoration, Fasting and Almsgiving
A separate proposal being forwarded to the Holy Father also suggests adoration before the Blessed Sacrament on Fridays for the intentions of the poor, oppressed and persecuted. It further aims to introduce the other two spiritual weapons: fasting and almsgiving.
The Pope, campaigners propose, should bring back abstinence from meat on Fridays, as the bishops of England and Wales did a few years ago. They would also like the Holy Father to call the Church to a renewed practice of charity and almsgiving in the face of these many evils, all of which are of great concern to the Pope.
In this context, Pontifex said the words of ACN’s founder, Father Werenfried van Straaten, are highly appropriate: “They are being tested in faith,” Father van Straaten once said. “We are being tested in love.”
Following is a draft text of prayer being proposed for the poor, persecuted and oppressed, which would be followed by the Prayer to Saint Michael.
Almighty, ever-living God,
Your incarnate Son taught us that those who suffer for Your name are blessed.
Give love for their neighbor to all people of good will.
Inspire rulers and governments to work tirelessly for peace, justice and freedom for all.
Give us a spirit of solidarity and of service for those who suffer and who are poor, that we may bring to them that love Your Son made manifest by His suffering and death on the Cross.
Help us to recognize the face of the Evil One in our day and give us the strength and means to confront his many works.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
BY EDWARD PENTIN 08/29/2013
VATICAN CITY — The Holy See is using diplomatic channels to convince the U.S. government and its allies not to take military action against Syria and to pursue a political solution to the conflict instead.
Pope Francis said during his Sunday Angelus Aug. 25 that he was disturbed by the “terrible images” coming from Syria and stressed it is “not confrontation that offers hope to resolve problems, but, rather, the ability to meet and dialogue.”
The Holy See is taking the Pope’s line to diplomats in Rome, contending that any military operation won’t solve the situation. “Both sides will have to renounce something, but military action will cause more problems,” a Vatican diplomat told the Register.
Instead, the Holy See would like to see more pressure exerted on the U.N. Security Council to implement a peace process, as well as more attention placed on the dire humanitarian situation caused by the conflict.
Pope Francis is expected to continue voicing his concerns until the situation improves, the official said, and although the Holy Father has no intention yet of sending a peace envoy to the region, the Holy See is “open to doing everything it can to find a political solution.”
In a meeting today between the Pope and King Abdullah II of Jordan “the promotion of peace and stability in the Middle East” was at the top of the agenda.
“Special attention was reserved for the tragic situation in which Syria finds itself,” a Vatican statement said. “In this regard, it was reaffirmed that the path of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian society, with the support of the international community, is the only option to put an end to the conflict and to the violence that every day causes the loss of so many human lives, especially amongst the helpless civilian population.”
Over the past week, Church leaders in Syria and the Middle East have spoken out forcefully against the West’s approach to the Syrian conflict, especially over the possibility of military intervention following the recent chemical-weapons attack on Damascus.
Syrian Catholic Patriarch Youssef III Younan told Terrasanta.net Aug. 26 that Syrian Christians “have been betrayed and sold by the West,” and that they are “disillusioned by the cynical, Machiavellian” policies of Western nations, the Gulf states and Turkey. Over the past two and a half years, he said, these states have armed the rebels, only to realize there can be no military solution to the crisis.
Gregorios III, Melkite Greek Catholic Church Patriarch of Antioch, said yesterday any Western intervention would be “disastrous,” and he also criticized U.S. policy towards Syria.
“You should not accuse the government one day and then accuse the opposition the next. That is how you fuel violence and hatred,” he told Aid to the Church in Need. “The Americans have been fuelling the situation for two years.”
Speaking to Vatican Radio Aug. 27, Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo warned that Western intervention could lead to “a world war,” but he said he hoped both sides would heed Pope Francis’ call for dialogue.
Other Catholic leaders have expressed similar concerns about a possible U.S. airstrike. Father Jacques Mourad, abbot of the monastery of Deir Mar Musa (The Monastery of Saint Moses the Ethiopian) in northern Damascus, told Fides news agency yesterday that Syrian Christians are “in a phase of extreme suffering” and that he hopes Western countries “take the right position, reject[ing] all forms of violence, putting an end to aiming weapons at one another and defending and protecting human rights.”
The monastery was re-founded by Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, kidnapped a month ago in the area of Raqqa. The religious there have just held a “special day of prayer and fasting” for the release of Father Paolo and for peace in Syria.
Catholic bishops in the region are thought to be appealing to President Barack Obama directly to avoid military action. Many Syrians fear the conflict descending into another Iraq War.
The patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Louis Raphael I Sako, said any U.S.-led military intervention against Syria would be “a disaster” and would be “like a volcano erupting with an explosion meant to destroy Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine.”
“Maybe someone wants this,” he told Fides. “Everyone is talking about democracy and freedom, but to reach those goals, one must pass through historical processes, and one cannot think of imposing them in a mechanical way or with force. The only way, in Syria, as elsewhere, is the search for political solutions.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, a professor of philosophy, theology and Islamic studies based at St. Joseph University in Beirut, Lebanon, gave a long and very interesting interview to the Register August 27th. Alas I couldn’t include it all, so I reproduce the unedited version here:
What are your main concerns about the current situation in Syria?
The situation is really very bad. We don’t see any solution, and there is none as far as I can see because both sides have decided to take this as far as they can. Why? For Assad, defeat could mean defeat not only for him or the regime, but for the Alawite community. Today the problem is not simply internal to Syria. The Syrian people began by reacting against dictatorship and calling for democracy and liberty. In the meantime, and quickly, elements came from outside, from all over the world, and these elements are essentially fundamentalist Sunnis. The problem became a confrontation between the Sunni on the one side and the Shia on the other, represented by Alawites.
So we have two groups: the army which is geared to fighting and is often brutal, and the other are many groups who have decided to fight in the name of Islam – Sunni Islam. It’s no more a question of democracy and liberty, so that’s the general situation of Syria as we see it.
What do we know about the bigger problem of ‘proxy’ powers?
Syria is at the centre of a larger strategy in the Middle East, involving Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan a little bit, and the West. As the conflict has evolved, Iran has been supporting Assad, as has Hezbollah. This is one side. The Arab peninsula is supporting the opposition, as is Turkey, and other individuals from abroad. Israel is observing the situation but I suppose if Iran enters the conflict, Israel will react. If the West enters the conflict, then we have a conflict between Russia on one side, and the United States on the other. Europe is not unified, thank goodness.
What is your view of the chemical weapons attack? How certain can we be that it came from the Syrian army, as the United States government says?
It could be from both sides. Personally, I would never decide on such an important point without proof. We have seen what happened with Iraq 10 years ago. And those who will pay the price are not the West but the Syrians … The situation in Syria now is very bad, very evil, but how can we be sure that an intervention will result in something better? This is the question. It’s not a kind of game where we succeed or don’t succeed. It is a matter of life or death for tens of thousands of Syrian people.
It’s not clear what the goal is.
It’s not clear at all, and for me what makes the situation more unclear is that there are too many interested parties involved who are not unified. Some have a religious interest. For the Sunni, they view the Shia as Kuffār (plural of Kāfir = infidels), worse than Jews and Christians. We hear this from many Sunni leaders. You have small groups terrorizing others.
What is the solution?
The only solution is to say: OK, we have two Syrians positions: we have the government, with people supporting the government, and we have the opposition with people supporting the opposition. The only people who can decide are the Syrians themselves, but cannot do so without the help of the world community. Now what is the aim? It’s to come to a common decision, respecting both positions – to find an honest compromise between the two. If one party wins, either Assad or the opposition, we will have war, or we will have a prolongation of the war.
So this is the most important point to make clear: there cannot be one winner, there must be a compromise with both sides placing on the table their criticisms and demands. You cannot put a precondition on it, that this or that group will not take part, or this person won’t take part. Then there must be a neutral arbiter as well, such as the United Nations. It’s not easy but I don’t see any other possibility.
Pope Francis has called on all parties to meet and dialogue. That is your view, too?
Certainly. There is no other way, and with no condition on who represents each other, each party must decide for themselves. One party cannot exclude Assad, for example, or anything like that.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronites, recently said he believes there is a plan to destroy the Arab world for political and economic interests, and to achieve this, various groups are stirring up Sunni and Shia conflicts. What is your view on this?
Personally, I think the conflict between Shia and Sunni is something very bad and it’s not good for Islam. It’s not helping Christians either. We are one people in the Middle East. Whether I’m Jew, Christian, Muslim, secular or atheist, is a personal issue, it’s not a political one. We have to move towards a more secular society, not in the negative sense, but one that is open-minded to religion. As Pope Benedict said in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Synod on the Middle East (no. 30), when he spoke of a positive secularism, there must be a distinction, not a separation, between Church and State. Religion gives principles to the State, and at that level, Christians, Muslims and Jews can find a common ethic. But if we go deeper into the more ethical details, then we are divided. So there is nothing positive about the fact that Shia and Sunni are fighting. It is a primitive vision to think that this would be “good” for Christians. Again, we are one people.
How much is this violence to do with Islam itself, and that certain Muslims have always believed in the use of force?
There is something of this in Islam. Pope Benedict made the point, in his famous Regensburg lecture on 12 September 2006, when he was speaking generally, that any religion that uses violence to defend its position, or pretending to defend God, is wrong. We can never ever use violence for a good reason. Violence is bad in itself, so it cannot be used to convince people and so forth. Everyone would agree with that.
What the Pope didn’t say, but in fact what we find in the foundation of Islam, is that violence was used. This is a fact. If anyone denies this, they’re not a historian. We know that, thanks to Muslim sources and to the oldest source that has survived, the Kitāb al–Maghāzī written by Al-Wāqidī (745-822) , which means the “The Book of Campaigns (or Battles)”. He is describing around 60 battles (ghazwah) led by Mohammad in the years 623-632 against other groups.
I explain this by saying it’s an historic situation, not a principle to be applied everywhere at every time. This is the point. What is happening today is that almost all extremist and fundamentalist groups are using this model – forever. Mohammed was able to unify a great many Arab tribes under the common name of Islam, which was a cultural, social, political and religious reality. This fact, this reality could be understood in two different ways: either, to be taken as a model to be applied forever; or to be taken as a practical situation valid for that time.
We have the same problem with the Jewish Bible, where culture, religion and politics are mixed, and were we read in Exodus how the Jews conquered the Holy Land against the people who were there, following the order of God. But it doesn’t mean that we have to take this as a model and apply it today. It is written in the mentality of that time and reflects their understanding of the prophet. As long as Muslims won’t read their holy Scriptures critically and historically, and as long they will believe it is to be forever applied literally in the world at all times, there will be a problem.
When I look at the history of any religion, I find things which were considered absolutely God’s will, which we consider today as not being so. We have to recognise that humanity – and this is one of the aims of religion – is growing, not only in number but in spirit. And to discover the meaning of a holy document takes time. But we have to do this.
For that reason, I say that at the moment violence is unfortunately widespread in all fundamentalist Islamic movements. Also fundamentalism has spread a great deal in the last 50 years in the Muslim world, but this fundamentalist interpretation is not the official Islam. We can see that in Egypt for instance. Al Azhar university [Islam’s foremost center of learning] which represents the majority of Muslims in Egypt and even perhaps in the world, was against the Muslim Brotherhood and former President Mohammed Morsi and they still are.
So you cannot say the Brotherhood represent the majority of Muslims – on the contrary. So I say fundamentalist Islam is certainly a part of Islam, as opposed to those who say: “This has nothing to do with Islam, Islam means tolerance” and so on. This is blah, blah, blah. This [violence] was always a part of Islam as it is understood. It’s not the whole Islam and the majority of Muslims obviously don’t support terrorism. But those who do support it are doing so not in their name, or in the name of politics, but in the name of God and Islam. They always have a mufti giving a fatwa, saying you must fight this group in the name of God, following the Koran.
You are a native Egyptian – what are your current concerns about your homeland?
I must say, as I’ve said elsewhere: what I hear from the West is absolutely wrong. When I hear “Finally, Morsi is the first democratically elected president” – this is a nonsense! If you take it juridically, he was elected democratically, but juridically so was Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak elected. Since the 1952’s revolution, we had an elected president. So to say this statement, that he’s the first democratically elected president, is one only a non-Egyptian can make.
Secondly, we know there are reasons to explain why Mohammad Morsi was elected: because the youth [the main drivers of the 2011 revolution] were not organised as a party, and because those associated with Mubarak and the old system, were excluded. So finally the only group who was organised politically and who had the right to be elected was the Muslim Brotherhood. But where is the democracy?
The democracy means, etymologically, the power (kratos) of the people (demos). When you see that 22 million adults sign a petition to remove Morsi, saying after a year he’s not worthy to be president – 22 million adults! – this is a number we never reached before. Then there were around 30 million people on the streets a week after. This is the voice of the people, this is democracy.
The military, traditionally in the last decades, were always with the people, whether the government or the opposition. During the revolution of January 2011 and the weeks after, the army were supporting the opposition. So why didn’t we speak of a military coup? Because the coup was from the people and the military came and said, “OK, the people don’t want this government, and the Brotherhood refused.” So they said, “OK, we’ll nominate a provisional government,” and they nominated a magistrate, not a military, who was already nominated by Morsi himself! And when they asked all parties to take part in the government, the Brotherhood were the only party who refused, but the Salafists, who are more extreme than the Brotherhood, entered into this provisional government. Nobody said anything.
So this means it’s democratic, and it’s provisional. They didn’t make a joke, and say we create a constitution in one month and in one week people will vote for it [as the Muslim Brotherhood did]. I couldn’t read the constitution in one week – I tried. To write a constitution also takes years. To make a constitution in one month – now, that is a coup d’etat. And all we’ve seen, in the so-called democratic government [of the Muslim Brotherhood], is that they put their own people in all the important ministries of the state. They put their own governors into nine provinces before the end of the government, at once!
What they did was to worsen the economy. There was a shortage of food, they sold the petrol or gave it to Gaza. I was there in April and you’d see queues of one 1km of cars waiting 3, 5, or 8 hours to get provisions. They gave to Hamas and Gaza free access to 40 percent of the Sinai to train their mujāhidīn … and they killed a Coptic priest and some Christians, plus 27 soldiers. So it’s good that people threw them out. The people did their part, they expressed themselves, and the army protected the people and did their part.
What are your hopes going forward. Should the Brotherhood be banned?
Not banned, but we should simply say we need a new government. We will give time to all parties, without excluding anyone, and that means some months. We could apply some conditions, such as no terrorist could be accepted, and similar conditions.
And no to Sharia law?
Yes certainly! And then to give time to prepare a well-studied constitution. When they are approved and recognised, they need to decide on a reasonable time for the election and for it to be observed internationally. This is very important to avoid any criticism afterwards. We start with those who are elected by the people, and the parliament and so on, without excluding anyone, even the Muslim Brotherhood, on the condition that everyone signs and is obliged to follow the rule that violence is absolutely excluded.
Why is it, as Cardinal Rai said recently, that Christians must always pay the highest price in the Middle East? Why is this when they the most peaceful of all the people in the region?
First, it’s obviously easy to attack a minority. Second, it’s easier when the minority is peaceful and not armed. You could have a fighting minority, but it’s not the case with Christians.
But these are secondary reasons. The main reason is ideological. Who are fighting Christians, destroying churches and so on? Not my Muslim neighbour, but groups who are excluding the others. If you have Sunni excluding the Shia, they will obviously exclude Jews, Christians and so on. Any exclusivist group is a terrorist ‘in potentia’ – he becomes one when the occasion rises. We have seen this in Egypt for instance. Where were the biggest attacks? In two provinces: Minya and Assiut. These two are well known as centres of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood also did a lot of things there which were against the law, for example, taking a large plot of land in Assiut, which was an agrarian area, and building their Islamic university there. So anything illegal must be excluded.
But what we are asking as Christians – actually I don’t say as Christians, but as citizens – is not to put the word religion in the constitution. We should not put man or woman, rich or poor, or make any distinction. Just put “citizens”. As a citizen I can build a house of prayer, on condition that the same rules are applied to Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus etc.. This is the only acceptable solution – that we speak only of citizens, and do not distinguish between them. What we are asking is to apply honestly and totally the “Universal Charter of Human Rights”, including the liberty of conscience and the right to choose its religion and to change it, if you want.
So for these reasons I think Christians are attacked in Egypt spontaneously. In Syria, under the Assad regime, they were protected no more no less than Muslims, because the regime adopted the Baath Party ideology, which was considered secular. Religion was a positive thing, and seen, by the government, as helping citizens to do good and so on.
So I think this must be the goal, but on one condition: if we want to reach this point in ten years, then we have to start today. But if we say Egypt is not ready for that, and we don’t start making some steps, it’s a joke. We have to start making the necessary steps, like when you start on a construction. If you say it takes a lot of time but never start, you’re not serious. So we have to set rules and put them into practice at this point.
I am sure that Egypt and the Egyptians are willing to start a new stage in their political life. They are willing to have a more democratic government. They are willing to ban discrimination between men and women, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor, etc. This is the true revolution, and I am convinced this is the wish of the people. The army should help people to realize this “dream” until a new government is elected and finally organized. Insha’ Allah!