The “Copts for a Day” Experiment
By Sally Bishai
Recently, and after many “escape from studying” discussions I’ve had with other intellectuals involved in the worldwide human rights struggle—including several Egyptians of both major faiths—I have begun to wonder about several things relating to the alleged inequality between Christians and Muslims in Egypt.
To begin with, I know for a fact that the role these respective religions play in the formation of one’s identity is a big one.
Furthermore, I know that the identity formed by an Egyptian’s religion—a religion which is, in both cases, culturally-bound—dictates, or at least affects, the dealings said person has with other people of his or her faith... as well as their dealings with the “Other.”
This is all fine and well and, in fact, constitutes the bulk of my doctoral studies (you know, that thing I escaped from to have philosophical discussions with the aforementioned intellectuals the other day).
Moving right along, the topic of these well-timed discussions was inequality in general. As we shifted into talk of the inequality in Egypt, namely between Christians and Muslims, it was instantly crystal to me that there were nearly as many opinions as there were people jawing.
One person was saying that the Copts were 100% victims, and had no role in their current problems in Egypt.
Another person said that it was a vicious circle, that their weakness spurred on the mentality that it’s ok to discriminate against and persecute Copts, causing them to keep being weak, which led to more discrimination, ad nauseum.
Then there was the fellow who said that Copts in Egypt LIKED being victims (which he said they were, by the way), and that the only ones who truly didn’t share in this victim mentality are 1- the ones who wouldn’t take it anymore, pulled the plug on it and “escaped” from Egypt, and 2- the ones who found a way to make so much money that they didn’t have to deal with the day-to-day problems that many Copts do (like being turned away from a job because one is a Christian) and had enough bribes ready to go that they could vaporize any problems they couldn’t avoid in the first place.
Finally, there was the snotty girl who kept going on about how there actually wasn’t any discrimination or persecution in Egypt, and how Copts liked to pin everything on their religion, when it oftentimes had nothing to do with it. (Kind of like, if someone got murdered, it was because they’re a Copt. If they didn’t get a job, it’s because they’re a Copt. And so on and so forth.)
So which side did I agree with? Well, to be honest, I always find it hard to put something down to ONE variable and be done with the experiment. I’m sure that there are instances of every one of these theories, plus others I haven’t even begun to imagine.
I’d like to point out at this time that none of the people in this discussion are or have ever been practicing (or hardcore) Muslims (while a few were devoted/pious/practicing Christians. I didn’t mean that the three are interchangeable, by the way.).
This led my scientific mind to wonder what a moderate or very religious Muslim might say about inequality in Egypt, or if they would even admit it happened. (Since the persecution and/or discrimination has to be propagated by non-Christians, seeing how it’s Christians who are complaining of this special brand of it. Then again, a guy once told me that members of the Muslim Brotherhood are also discriminated against, but anyway..)
Anyway, God heard my prayer and hooked me up with several comments on various snippets and the trailer of my recent documentary, Children of Kemet: The Copts, Culture and Democracy of Egypt, and I had my answer.
It seems that many Muslims think that there is either no inequality in Egypt at all, or that Christians have it better.
I’m not saying that Muslims don’t suffer too—after all, no economy is perfect, and the gap between haves and have-nots is oftentimes a big one. But to say that Christians have it better?
Well, if that’s the case, I’d like these optimists to partake in a tiny experiment I’ve cooked up.
I want them to wear crucifixes, to paint cross tattoos on their wrists, to shop in a market they’ve never been to wearing a Christian T-shirt.
Or, if they really want to be brave, I want them to tell their families and colleagues at work that they’ve converted to Christianity and see how it would go.
I want the women to stop veiling and tell me if men gave them a hard time, if their husbands or fathers became cross with them (excuse the pun) or if they suddenly had lots of free time on their hands (where they once had a job).
I want them to carry a Christian ID when they go apply for a job or get pulled over for speeding or fill out some government paperwork.
Then, at the end of their stint (let’s say a year, although a day might be just as effective) they can let us know if, in fact, there is a difference in treatment towards them.. and how safe, accepted, or equal they feel.
If you think my intent today is to antagonize one party or the other, you’re wrong.
That’s not my aim, and neither is my goal to deepen the rift between the communities. (I know what some of you guys are thinking.. “But Sally, there IS no rift in the communities! It’s just when outsiders like you come along and stir things up that things get bad! Lay off, already!” Well, stop thinking and keep reading, love, I’m almost finished here.)
AS I was saying, my intention has nothing to do with antagonism or mischief.
Rather, it’s my hope that through my words, through the first-hand experiences of others, through the media, people in Egypt would see what the problem was, admit that it exists, and then act on it.
After all, how can we fix something if we don’t admit it’s broken?