Egypt is changing: burqa ban, Qur’anic exegesis, equal rights for Muslims and Christians
For Fr Greiche, spokesman for the Catholic Church, the government has taken significant steps that are starting to spread to the population. They include a ban on the burqa in universities, and exegetical attempts to reread Islam’s holy book. Building will soon begin on the ‘Martyrs Church’ dedicated to the Copts beheaded by the Islamic State group in Libya.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, told AsiaNews that there is some evidence of a changing mind-set in Egypt’s government and authorities, a trend that is spreading to the population at large. They include a timid attempt at Qur‘anic exegesis, a ban on female faculty from wearing the burqa, and the fight against fundamentalism and extremist preachers in mosques.

One example Fr Greiche welcomes is the decision by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi to authorise the construction of a Coptic church in Minya Governatorate dedicated to the Coptic martyrs beheaded in February by the Islamic State group in Libya. Construction for the Martyrs Church in the victims’ native village of Al-Awar (Samalout District) is set to start in a few days.

“It is important and encouraging that president himself attacked Daesh*camps at the time of the massacres,” the clergyman said. “Later he visited the area and ordered the construction of the cathedral."

Half of the funds needed for the construction have already been allocated; the rest will be raised during construction.

The President did something "good in front of Christians and Muslims”. This represents “a change in people’s mind-set," as well as "a change in the history of relations between Church and State in terms of church construction."

Until recently, there was a lot of red tape, Fr Greiche noted. The changes show that "the government cares about Christians and wants to break the cycle of discrimination."

Scheduled general elections are coming in late October and early November. Constitutional change is on the agenda, and, if everything goes as expected, Copts should regain a greater presence and visibility in society and national politics.

"Christians are freer now than under Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood,” said the spokesman for the Catholic Church, “because now there is a government that cares about Christians and defends them."

Although "Education and time are needed to change the mind-set of the people", Fr Greiche explained, "Muslims do accept us far more now than in the past because the government is the first to set the example".

In fact, the president called on Christians to become more involved in politics, to vote and to stand for office in order to ensure their presence in Parliament.

At present, “there is no more organised state violence, even though sectarian tensions do flare up occasionally.”

The spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church noted some trends as evidence of the country’s changing atmosphere. The first one comes from Cairo University, which has banned faculty from wearing the burqa, a veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the face, in classrooms. The latter can wear it, if they so choose, at home or in the street "but not during teaching hours."

This is "very brave" gesture, the priest said. Equally significant is the fact that now people can voice criticism of religion on television.

For Fr Greiche, the presence of Islam “in society has been progressively waning. Add to that the fight against fundamentalism, sectarianism and extremism in mosques” and we get “more secularism without the rejection of religion”.

There is an attempt to go towards young people "without presenting God as something fearsome".

Egypt "is trying to build a society that cares about religion,” he said, “but one not based on differences between Christians and Muslims. It is clear that the president is trying to start an exegesis of the Qur'an and other religious texts, even if the process is just at its beginning. " (DS)

*Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī 'l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām, i.e. the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS).