There have been clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims in Egypt recently. Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, Head of Saint Demiana Monastery, General Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, speaks about the causes of this conflict and problems experienced by his Church in an interview to Interfax-Religion.
- Recently there were clashes between Christians and Moslems in Alexandria. What are the reasons of the conflict?
- Moslems and Christians had normal relations for many centuries, we were always living in mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. The media now, especially foreign satellite channels, are causing division between our religions. Some people on this television speak against Islam, some people against Christianity. These attacks aim at feelings of the believers and are organized abroad. It's a new type of war, a satellite war of religions. So, it is a very dangerous situation and if it continues, it will lead to a catastrophe in the whole Middle East, not only in Egypt. Something should be made to put regulation for the satellite broadcasting. Both sides should not to go so far, insulting the faith of each other. You know what happened in Denmark and in the Islamic world as a result of publishing caricatures on the Prophet Muhammad. We expressed our regret, because we don't like somebody to insult another religion. But the things which happened in Denmark are similar to that which was being broadcast in these satellite channels. And we warned that it should be stopped, that this was harmful, this was not the way to speak about your religion or about the religion of others.
Some people use violence when their religion is attacked. Christian teaching does not courage violence, but not every Christian is following the true teaching of the Gospels. There are also Islamic extremists, fundamentalists. There were two accidents in Alexandria, first in the end of 2005 and another one at Easter time this year. There were several attacks on churches. Some documents should be adopted by the UN to preserve peace in the world. The government in Egypt was suffering from extremist groups claiming that they know the true religion of Islam. They were acting against the government, police, tourists in the past few years. From time to time they attack Christians.
These attacks was caused by some Egyptians who in the time of President Anwar Sadat were sent to Afghanistan as volunteers to fight against the Soviet Union together with Ben Laden. They were supported by the USA that sent weapons to them. They came back and started military acts in Egypt. It was a mistake of Sadat. Now the government is trying to put an end to this movement. But fundamentalists benefit from the information warfare, saying that Islam is in danger, that Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem is threatened by Israel. In 1967 Israeli occupation spread to this area, where there is Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Moslems should not be left agitated and threatened for the cause of the holy places in Jerusalem. I think it would be more wise to heal the problem, not to make fire come out.
- What is the best way to solve a problem of extremism?
- Egyptians were offended by the attack on Iraq. They feel that American Christians support Israel and also attack the Arab country, whose people are Moslems. They feel that Christians in the Middle East are not separated from Christians in Europe and America and regard Egypt's Christians as a part of the Christian world. Besides it's necessary to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which which core is Al-Aqsa mosque.
Today nobody can guarantee to Moslems that Al-Aqsa mosque won't be destroyed by the Jews. Another dimension is to convince the satellite channels not to attack religion of others. We need to show that these acts destroy historical relations between Christians and Moslems all over the world. I think a special committee should be formed to search a solution not only in Egypt. We need to have a conference, a committee helped by people who would like to search for religious peace in the world. The UN can form such a body and start immediately searching for real dealing. There are historical relations between people in their countries which are now subjected to the possibility of explosion. How long can this happened without a wise solution!
- Maximus I has decided to break away from the Egyptian Coptic Church under and form his own alternative church. He explained it by disagreements with Pope Shenouda III on religious and financial questions. How could you comment his acts?
- Maximus I is a false archbishop, his name is Max Michel Hanna. He is a reader deacon who was prevented from service in the Coptic Orthodox Church because of his Pentecostal believes away from Orthodoxy. He was ordained bishop by uncanonical schismatic bishops in the United States of America while he is a married person and has two daughters. No orthodox bishop can be married as he claims. His case is to some extent similar to Filaret of Ukraina in Russia.
- What is the number of Christians in Egypt? Are you satisfied by the position of the Coptic Church?
- President Mubarak said in one of his speeches that Christians in Egypt are over 10% in the 70 million population. But we don't have church statistic for the Christians in Egypt. We need to have more representation in the parliament. It includes 444 members and the Christians are only four people, that is less than 1%. When a Christian is going to election he cannot win because most of the voters are not Christians. Legislators now are going to change the Constitution to give real representation of the Copts in parliament.
- Today the growing number of Catholics in the world is due primarily to African countries. How could you explain this tendency?
- Rich missionaries, mostly from the West, are going all over Africa, converting pagans to Christianity. The more money they have, the more inhabitants they can convert, because many people in the continent are poor. The Coptic church of Egypt also has parishes and bishops in many African countries - in Sudan, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania.