With the coming celebration of Passover, we recall the Jewish exodus from the tyranny they faced of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Sunni Muslims recall a similar exodus, in escaping the tyranny they faced of the Quraish tribe in Mecca. Though these holidays are also celebrated in October, during Yom Kippur and the ‘Day of Ashura’ they have similar meaningful explanations during the feast of Passover.
It was July 1992 when I returned to my assignment in Croatia after a brief vacation in Egypt, only this time Croatia wasn’t the main destination, rather it was Bosnia. By that time, war had ended in Croatia only to break out in Bosnia, yet the aggressor was the same: Serbia. For the following years, Croatia was a major stopover each time I returned to Bosnia since it was under near total siege. By that time, I had become close friends with Ivan Lackovic, one of the world’s most renowned fine artists who insisted I stay with him whenever I traveled through Croatia.
I stood there unable to speak after I grasped what the attractive Vesna Skare, Personal Assistant of Croat president, Franjo Tudman, had just said. “I told you that you were crazy; I shouldn’t have listened to you. The president is so angry – he refuses to give you an interview, not now and not in the future. You must leave the office and never come back,” she said with a menacing look in her eyes.
As I was entering the old Cathedral of the Ethiopian Church, I felt my heart pounding out of fear that my mission would fail. Two days before, I was contacted by an Egyptian Bishop asking me to conduct an interview with his Holiness Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Church. The main objective was to soften the man’s attitude towards the late Pope of Egyptian Orthodox Church, his Holiness Pope Shenouda. After a while of discussions and argument, I agreed to take the mission on the condition of having two Egyptian diplomats (the press attaché and a member in the African Union Secretariat) with me during the interview. Having the Egyptian Church both in my heart and mind, I, the Muslim, felt a massive weight of responsibility leaning over my shoulders.
It was 7am on July 9, 2004, when I woke up to my cell phone insistently ringing. I was very exhausted after covering the marathon African summit being held in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa, preceded by ministerial meetings, after which I planned to treat myself to a few days touring that beautiful country. I was half asleep when I heard the voice of the Archbishop of the Egyptian Coptic Churches in Africa, a dear man I had come to know years before. After the usual greetings and good wishes, he didn’t waste time getting to the point.
In human bodies, the first thing a virus targets is the immune system. As in human bodies, the first thing Dictatorships target is freedom of expression and more specifically, press freedom. If successful, the Dictators’ task would be much easier in controlling their people, in sucking dry their fortunes and more seriously, their spirit.
As a child many years ago, I remember my father telling me “never fight with anyone who insults your faith”. However, this “no fighting advice” led me to many arguments with Dad. “Why is it that Muslims are to be so accepting, to always settle with the lower hand?” I would ask. “Because this is what God has commanded us,” my Father would say. “But where and how does God command this?” I asked. “In the Quran,” he responded, and then recited Chapter Al-An’aam, verse 68:
“And when thou seest those who meddle with our revelations, withdraw from them until they meddle with another topic. And if the devil causes thee to forget, sit not with the congregation of wrong doers.”
“The three feminine sorrows” is how Dahabo Musa, a young beautiful Somali woman, described the tragedy she has faced through most of her life. Using the less harsh term, though no less severe, we refer to the procedure of forcibly removing a large and important part of young girls’ genitals as female circumcision. When referring to this crime as “the three feminine sorrows,” the poor Somali girl meant: the procedure itself, the wedding night when the girl has intercourse for the first time, then the terribly painful childbirth.
Being a journalist for the last 27 years, covering issues in my own country, Egypt, and other parts of the world, I have to admit that I always belonged to a generation that believed, until recently, that the sole and pivotal role of traditional media was in effecting social and political change. Of course, such changes could be for the worse, in situations where traditional media failed to be free and independent, as today’s environment in Egypt, or for the better, in situations where media is independent. I must admit that it took me many years to believe in the ability, efficiency and effectiveness of social media to effect such positive changes.
When we refer to the action taken in the Syrian massacre, it is blatant, EVIL action. Russia, Iran, and some militarized Arab regimes have openly supported Assad in murdering innocent people, Syrians who dared to aspire to democracy after 47 years of being terrorized by an absolute “republic monarchy”. On the other hand, when we talk about inaction, we talk about the West.