Egyptian Pres. Hosni Mubarakâ€™s sons Alaa Mubarak (L) and Gamal Mubarak (3rd L), who is also the head of the higher political committee of the countryâ€™s National Democratic Party (NDP), attends the Coptic Christmas eve mass, which will be led by Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and Patriarch of See of St. Mark Cathedral. Egyptâ€™s Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali is at right.
On New Yearâ€™s Day, a devastating terrorist bombing at a Coptic church in Egypt killed 21 people and injured 79 others. Although the identity of the culprits was not known, it was assumed that they were Muslim extremists, intent on targeting those they saw as heretics. Religious tensions immediately rose in the country, and angry Copts stormed streets, battled with police, and even vandalized a nearby mosque. The riots and heightened tensions between the Muslim and Coptic communities was likely what the terrorists wanted â€” to divide the Egyptian community and create sectarian strife between different religious groups.
Yet by Coptic Christmas Eve, which took place Thursday night in Egypt, things had changed completely. As Egyptian Copts attended mass at churches across the country, â€œthousandsâ€ of Muslims, including â€œthe two sons of President Hosni Mubarak,â€ joined them, acting as â€œhuman shieldsâ€ to protect from terrorist attacks by extremists. The Muslims organized under the slogan â€œWe either live together, or we die together,â€ inspired by Mohamed El-Sawy, an Egyptian artist:
Egyptâ€™s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside. From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as â€œhuman shieldsâ€ for last nightâ€™s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.
â€œWe either live together, or we die together,â€ was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the â€œhuman shieldâ€ idea. Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole. â€œThis is not about us and them,â€ said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly. â€œWe are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.â€
Al Jazeera English covered the attacks and reported from the site of one of the solidarity events where Muslims and Christians stood side by side, protesting discrimination against Copts and calling for an end to violence. Watch it:
It is a frequent complaint among opinion makers in the United States that the global Muslim community does not condemn and prevent terrorism. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has even said that Islam needs a civil war similar to the one the United States fought in order to deal with its extremists. But the truth is that moderate and progressive Muslims all over the world are battling extremism. Here in the United States, one-third of al-Qaeda related terror plots have been broken up thanks to intelligence provided by Muslim Americans. It is up to the press to report these positive stories and not exaggerate the sway that extremists hold over the global Muslim community.