Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Copts’

Egypt: Where Next?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd June, 2014

Egypt elections 1Egypt elections 2Last night at the National Liberal Club, Liberal International British Group hosted a panel discussion on the political situation in Egypt, with former Nile TV presenter Shahira Amin, democracy activist Ahmed Naguib (via skype), the Treasurer of Liberal International, Robert Woodthorpe Browne (who has been involved in a lot of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s recent work in Egypt) and myself. As the discussion was (rightly) held under the Chatham House Rule, I cannot divulge what any of the others said, but I can share some of the things I talked about. As the two Egyptian participants gave such a comprehenesive and coheremnt picture of today’s political realities and challenges, I complemented their presentations by reminding people about the highs and lows of the mood on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January/February 2011, including the prominent role played by brave women and the way that Muslims and Christian Copts protected each other when they were at prayer. But those who dubbed the phenomenon that started in Tunisia the previous December “The Arab Spring” were always way out on their time-frame. I believed that then and believe it even more strongly now: it will be 30 or 40 years before it becomes clear how the whole New Arab Awakening works out, but what is sure is that Egypt is the test case of its success or failure. It has always had a pole position in the Arab mentality, not just because it is by far the most populous nation in the the Arab world but also because of Cairo’s (Sunni) religious and intellectual pre-eminence. Field Marshal Sisi’s victory in the recent presidential election was a foregone conclusion, though it was notable that in each electoral district there were tens of thousands of spoiled ballot papers. But for the majority of Egyptians (rather than the wealthier, educated elite) the prime concern at the moment is economic survival: bread not ballots. Western commentators like myself rightly focus on matters such as human rights abuses, including the systematic use of torture in detention centres. But the key thing that any Egyptian government, now and for the foreseable future, has to tackle is how to overcome the huge inequalities in Egypt and to provide enough, reasonably-paid work for the predominantly young population. Otherwise, there is likely to be a growing, disenchanted body of youth who could be tempted by something far more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood that was ousted from power. And that bodes ill.

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Multiculturalism Is the Only Answer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th October, 2011

Sectarian conflict has been a depressing sideshow to many of the uprisings in the Arab Awakening this year, the latest being the bloody crackdown on Copts demonstrating in Cairo last night. But whether it is Egypt, Syria, Iraq or indeed Great Britain, a mature policy of multiculturalism is the only answer. This doesn’t mean one size fits all; each country or situation has its own specificities. However, in the 21st Century and inh an increasingly globalised world, we all have to recognise that we live in mixed societies and that this is a healthy, enriching thing if handled properly. In London, of course, this is stating the obvious, as one third of the population of the great metropolis weren’t even born in the UK, let alone in London. But even when there is a clear ethnic or religious majority in a society, there needs to be an inclusive approach that embraces everyone, in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance. This is something Israel could do well to learn. Turkey, interestingly, is making small steps in the right direction, after nearly a century of imposed monoculturalism, though much still remains to be achieved. The European Union is of course by definition multicultural and officially celebrates its diversity. But in Europe as elsewhere, these fine words have to be put into practical action.


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The Egyptians’ Fear of Swine Flu

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st November, 2009

Swine flu EgyptA fourth Egyptian has died from swine flu (H1N1 virus): a tragedy for the person’s family, of course, to whom one can only extend sympathy. But it hardly adds up to an epidemic. Death tolls are far higher in parts of Asia, Europe and the Americas. So why the sense of panic and all the media hype in Cairo? School trips have been cancelled, some schools are only open three days a week, university students are missing classes (well, it provides a good excuse for them, I suppose) and in the Metro at rush hour you can see men pushing handkerchiefs to their faces to keep out the germs. The minority of Egyptian women who wear the niqab (full veil) must feel very smug. Alas, there is a tragico-comic side to the swine flu scare in Egypt, too. When the disease was first publicised, some Muslim activists went on a rampage and killed any pigs they could find, pigs being the preserve of Coptics Christians. The Copts say this is all part and parcel of the discrimination that they face on a daily basis. Whatever the truth of that, it certainly gave some Muslims the chance to rid their neighbourhoods of ‘unclean’ animals.

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