Irini: Peace in Coptic.
In a small area between Alexandria and Cairo, Bishop Thomas has created Anafora. A spiritual retreat and getaway for people of all religions to meet and get to know eachother.
In the fall of 2006 he was in a car accident on the road to Cairo with a Swedish family. The mother and daughter passed away and the father and Bishop Thomas made it with serious injuries.
I met with him more than a week ago at his place in Anafora. I was informed he wasn't to be tired out so brief was the word. I had questions about the situation of the Copts in Egypt, being a Christian minority in a Muslim majority.
"Layers, it's all about layers" he started. "On a social level things may seem OK, people meet, socialize attend each others parties and gatherings."
He turned to me and my group and asked us "How frank can I be with you?"
"I wanted to set up a school for the poorer children at Al Qusayr where they would be able to learn foreign languages like English, French or German. At the bottom of the list of languages that would be available to study I had placed Coptic."
Apparently the man incharge of supervising the project in that particular area had taken one look at the list and said; Coptic? What's that?
Bishop Thomas was asked to remove it saying it was not allowed to teach it in the school.
"In my area (Asyout, Al Qusayr), a new church hasn't been built since 1932, it is next to impossible to get permission to build one or restore an existing one there and yet when I travelled to Uppsala (Sweden) and a new mosque was about to be approved to be built I got the question whether I thought it was a good idea to let the Muslims in Sweden build a mosque or not. I told them, let them build it. Why not?"
And yet in Cairo you see many new churches. It was never clear whether it is Egyptian law that discriminates or Egyptians in charge themselves. In Cairo I met with Hisam, a young Coptic Egyptian who had a different view on life as a Coptic in Cairo. It was clad with far less reservations against the ruling majority.
However Egypt is a vast land and one area can differ from the other in attitude and implementation of laws.
Bishop Thomas left me with a slightly worried feeling, of the increasing polarization in between Muslims and other Muslims and non Muslims, brought on by the growing media influences of islamo-political channels in the Muslim world. Each channel with its own message and direction indirectly not letting its viewers accept any other message or point of view, being far from self-criticism.
The issue of the situation of the Copts in Egypt was raised by our group with a local muslim NGO and they were all surprised and upset to hear about the attitude towards the coptic language. Hopefully they will carry on investigating the why's and why not's.
In this globalized world it is ever more clear that you can be a minority and a majority at the same time. A Muslim minority in Sweden a Christian majority in Sweden, and a Muslim majority and Christian minority in for example Egypt. In a position of dependance and power, all at once. With added awareness and responsibility as a result of that, but do we take heed?