For the last 13 days, Tahrir Square has been the seed of a free Egypt. Within that square, which I recall filled 7 lanes deep with honking cars even late at night, the architects of Egypt’s democratic revolution have created their own democratic nation. The protesters police themselves, maintain their own defenses at the entries to the square, feed the hungry in makeshift kitchens, care for the sick in makeshift hospitals. Yesterday, a couple was married in the square, the first wedding ceremony in a free Egypt. On Friday, Coptic Christians protected the square while the Muslims prayed, just as the Muslims formed cordons to protect Coptic churches against bombings earlier this year.
Today, Nadia El-Awady reports on the interfaith celebrations of Copts and Muslims, as the Christians celebrate Mass in the midst of the square. From her twitter feed:
Chant in tahrir: Muslims and Copts hand in hand for a new dawn to rise #egypt #jan25
Christian mass performed with muslims and christians chanting AMEN #egypt #jan25
Chant in tahrir: Quran and Bible ask you to leave! #egypt #jan25
Caught my dad tearing up at Christian mass #egypt #jan25
One thing I can tell you: it’s not the people in tahrir causing violence between muslims & christians in #egypt #jan25
Young Copt wounded in revolution — arm in sling — sings about Jesus Christ #egypt #jan25
Young injured Copt sings national anthem #egypt #jan25
Singing, dancing, flag waving in tahrir #egypt #jan25
Representative of Anglican Church takes mic to chants of: hand in hand! #egypt #jan25
Rep of Anglican Church chants: change, freedom, social justice! #egypt #jan25
Rep of Anglican Church: Churches need no representation here. Here we are ALL egyptians #egypt #jan25
It should be noted, though, that Islam is the official state religion in Egypt, and the constitution requires that the nation’s laws agree with Islamic law. Religions other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are not officially recognized, which made it hard for members of religious minorities to honestly fill out official forms for birth certificates and national ID cards. Atheists and agnostics can be brought to court on charges of apostasy under the nation’s laws.
The revolution is demanding revisions to the Egyptian constitution, and we can hope that they will make Egypt not only an example of democracy for the rest of the Muslim world, but of religious tolerance. The laws currently keeping atheists and agnostics in the closet, and the laws punishing other religious minorities, should be reversed so that every Egyptian can participate equally in civil society. Egyptians have shown tremendous interfaith respect in the last month, and it would be only fitting to see that respect reflected in their new constitution.
On a somewhat related note, I’ll point to Maggie Koerth-Baker’s note on the state of science in Egypt:
academic salaries are so low that most scientists need second jobs to be able to make a living. Tourist guides earn more money than most scientists.
Also something to be looked at in the free Egypt.
Both of these issues â the religious discrimination and the under-appreciation of science by the government â are issues where sciencebloggers and skepticbloggers could exert useful leverage. Not necessarily on the current government â which is to be short-lived anyway, nor yet on the unformed government-to-be â which has bigger fish to fry right now, but should be lobbied on these issues before the list of necessary constitutional changes is finalized. A movement to include stronger protections of religious freedom, and a restoration of the Egyptian tradition of scholarship, could put those issues on the table as diplomats from the our nations seek to shape the new Egyptian state into one that can exist and thrive as a viable and free democracy. Religious liberty and an active and independent community of scholars