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In discontent, Egypt’s Muslims and Christians unite


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Looks like the Muslim Brotherhood is taking over


In discontent, Egypt’s Muslims and Christians unite

Despite growing sectarian tensions in recent years, the Egyptian people have adamantly expressed their unity since the start of mass demonstrations on 25 January.

The message delivered by protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was unequivocal: Egyptians are fighting side by side to end President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, and religion does not factor into the equation.

“Look around you,” says Mohamed Helmy, a magazine editor, standing in the square at around noon Monday. “There are men, women, old people, young people, poor and rich, Muslims and Christians… Egyptians from all walks of life have a common goal: Getting rid of Mubarak.”

Among the thousands of people gathered on the central square chanting anti-regime slogans, exchanging information and marching peacefully, poster bearing crescents and crosses drawn in thick black ink.

A young Muslim man held a placard with a crescent and cross under the motto “Long live Egypt.” He explains its significance: “Mubarak is the one who created a “fitna” [rift] between the Muslims and the Christians in Egypt over the past 30 years.”

A nearby demonstrator, whose puffy eyes betray a week of little sleep, overhears the conversation and interrupts: “Why do you think no churches or mosques have been attacked since all police forces were removed from the city two days ago? It’s because places of worship have been protected by the population, and the neighborhood patrols.”

Pointing to a mosque on a street adjacent to the square he says, “Wounded Coptic women were taken to the mosque there and protected from the madness going on outside Friday.”

Suddenly the voice of the muezzins (prayer caller) calms the general agitation as rows of men bow in prayer. Time seems suspended while the men pray, and Christian demonstrators standing close by.

“This is the first time I came downtown to check on the demonstrations to get a feeling of what is happening,” says Magdy, a Coptic librarian from Darassa. “To be honest, I was worried that the Muslim Brothers would have an overwhelming presence in the demonstrations, but now I see that many opposition forces are present and it seems balanced.”

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In Iran, there were a number of moderate factions opposing the Shah. The fundamentalists were by no means a majority, but Khomeini had enough of a cult following to be viewed as a useful uniter, and he made several promises of concessions on his way to power. Once established, he brutally suppressed all opposition and ignored any promises made. Fortunately in Egypt, there doesn't seem to be any such person of magnitude, and the military has more respect and a stronger grip on the nation than any one man. If there is a relatively peaceful transition, Egypt could well end up a functioning democracy with the army as a stand-by moderating force, as in Turkey. In Turkey, however, the army has a long-honored tradition of stepping down after coups once a secular candidate has been re-elected. I doubt Egypt's army could make any such action without justifiable suspicion from the populace.

Whatever comes of this uprising, the less violence/repression endured to achieve results, the far more likely it will be that the end result is more moderate and democratic. Brutal repression might keep Mubarak or Suleiman in power longer, but the end game then would result in a tyrannical Sunni theocracy. The oppressed adopt the tactics of their former oppressors.

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