Behind Egypt's Revolution
Two weeks after President Mubarak left office, tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in the now-famous Tahrir Square for what they called a "Friday of Cleansing and Protecting the Revolution."
Right in the center of the demonstrations, Muslim Sheikh Reda Ragab and Coptic priest Father Khazman walked hand-in-hand through the square, welcomed by warm applause and cheering from protesters chanting "Muslim and Christian, we are all one."
Sheikh Ragab addressed the massive crowd, saying, "We came here today to show the world that there is no sectarian strife … " And the crowd chanted in response, "The time of strife has passed."
As the world looked on in awe at the protests in Egypt that led to the ouster of the authoritarian regime, a far more profound revolution took place away from television cameras. During the last month, we Christians in Egypt have witnessed an unprecedented coming together of local Muslims and Christians, especially among young people.
Unlike typical religious dialogue gatherings, which have been en vogue since the 9/11 tragedy and typically involve religious leaders (often the same individuals) attending conferences and forums, this was entirely a grassroots movement led by what might be considered the next generation.
In the midst of the crisis, or rather perhaps because of it, they discovered, in the words of the early 20th-century Arab Christian revolutionary writer and artist Kahlil Gibran, that "Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down."
This is my eighth year living in Cairo, where I serve as the Rector of St. John's Church, an international Episcopal church that serves the diplomatic, NGO, academic, and business communities. Having grown up within and spent most of my life in Islamic contexts, I have observed the unique catalytic role that international churches in Arab Muslim-majority countries can play toward building bridges between Christians and Muslims. While we have numerous outreaches to help build understanding, respect, and friendship between the two faiths, nothing could have prepared us for this moment.
When historians write up the story of this recent "revolution," in which Egyptian Christians and Muslims demonstrated an extraordinary camaraderie, I believe they will observe that a critical foundation was created weeks before in the most tragic of ways.
Last New Year's Eve, just after midnight, a bomb exploded outside a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, just as worshipers were beginning to leave their worship service. Some 23 were killed and more than 90 were seriously wounded. While the perpetrators meant to bring increased sectarian tension, their plan backfired. Six days later, when Coptic Christians across Egypt celebrated Eastern Christmas, many Muslims attended services with them to show their solidarity. In the streets, people displayed posters and bumper stickers showing the cross and crescent next to each other, often interwoven in design, with the phrase, "We are all Egyptians."
Weeks later, young Muslims and Christians took to the streets in anti-government protests. Countless protesters' signs highlighted the crescent and cross next to each other. Perhaps the most moving of images was of the Coptic Church service held in Tahrir Square that Muslims helped facilitate; when the service came to an end, all jointly shouted, "Amen, amen." Similarly, Christians with hands clasped together encircled Muslims so they could pray without harassment. These amazing images were broadcast to the world.My last visit to Tahrir Square was breathtaking: people in harmony, selfless support for each other, Muslims and Christians together.