Seven members of the Constituent Assembly, the committee writing the new Egyptian constitution, refuse to stand while the Egyptian anthem is being played. Their reason: Music and songs are prohibited in Islam. Most Egyptians are furious; how can these close-minded and arrogant few be the ones bestowed the honor of writing the country’s constitution and how can it ever be a just effort?
In Basrah, Amyriah, close to Alexandria, Salafi villagers force the village church visitors out. They insist that the priest ask the visitors to leave. Their reason: mere arrogance and unflinching superiority. Both incidences are corroborated.
Many other occurrences are scaring moderate Egyptians and Christians alike. Be it the jizya, a tax Christians may be asked to pay for being Christians, or the dress code that may be imposed on women, or the sudden surge of harassment that unveiled women are facing. The incidences are mere rumors, but they are hitting the main stream hard. The stories mentioned here are a miniscule of the stories circulating in cyberspace and on the hard ground.
Is it blind conservatism, emerging power, or mere defiance? Well, it is an amalgamation of all the above.
Salafis and extreme Muslims have always refuted the accepted Egyptian norm. Even thirty years ago, rigid Islamists would refuse to attend weddings because of the dancing and singing associated with such joyous events. Many others would quickly bring out their handkerchiefs to place on their hands so as to avoid touching a woman’s hand. Better yet, they refused to shake women’s hands or vice versa altogether. I actually remember a professor of English who refused to teach the conditional tense—If I had this, this would’ve happened—since “if” opens the door to Satan.
All this was bewildering but acceptable by moderate Egyptians because it was not enforced upon them. The women in the black niqab and the bearded men in the short galabiyas had their lives and the moderates had theirs. Though flabbergasted at one another’s outlooks, the two groups lived happily together in the land of Egypt never interfering in one another’s ways.
However, the Islamists have emerged as a force to be reckoned with. It came early on during the revolution when suddenly the bearded men tripled in a matter of a few days, held the Saudi flag in Tahrir, and began to boldly voice their demands. Mubarak had held them back with an iron fist, and they breathed freedom immediately after he was toppled.
This remained fair and just since all Egyptians have every right to practice their beliefs. Who am I to tell another Egyptian what he should believe or not believe in? To everyone his/her own, the liberals also said.
With the arrival of Morsi, though he personally has absolutely nothing to do with it, an explicit change occurred. The Islamists gained even more defiance. It was as though they captured the reign and became the proprietors of Egypt—telling all how to lead their lives. Egypt had become theirs.
Well, I’m afraid this will not happen. My fellow Islamists, this is my Egypt, too. I will live here and enjoy it, and you cannot change my way to fit your style. I’m me and you are you. You will not tell me to lead my life the way you please.
Egyptians will continue to enjoy culture, music, and beauty. Egyptians will remain open to the outside world and appreciate the happenings around them. And Egyptians have a history that they will be proud of: always. They will remain a diverse people.
I personally will continue to listen to my favorite singers and music, dance to my heart’s content if I so please, and have the wind blow through my hair for sheer delight. I will continue to expand my knowledge; I will read and watch everything that I think will help me to do so. In other words, I will remain myself.
The bottom line is I won’t allow you to change me as much as I won’t try to change you. This is called freedom of choice. We can live together; it’s up to you to accept that choice.
To overcome an imminent abyss, to be a country that opens its arms to all its citizens and visitors, and to continue to grow as a nation, we have to accept the terms and conditions that come with modern times. Anything else will bring this nation down.
To everyone his own I say, to everyone his own.