Under the slogan, ‘We live together, think together, work together’, The Egyptian Evangelical Synod of the Nile opened the Religious Dialogue and Civil Society Conference September 20-22, sponsored by the Konrad Adenuer Foundation. The conference featured an impressive array of participants among Egyptian religious and civil society leaders.
Opening remarks were moderated by Dr. Imad Abul Ghazi, the Egyptian Minister of Culture. He introduced each of the many religious representatives to follow.
Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald is the Papal Ambassador to Egypt. He described the living together of Muslims and Christians in Egypt to be natural, but fragile. He lauded the efforts of the Azhar to create a ‘Family House’ in which religious leaders meet to discuss issues affecting Egypt and their communities. He urged, however, this effort to seep down to the grassroots – its imitation represented in each local community. He also described the necessity for religious communities to have a share in civil society to raise concerns against government policies. For this to be effective, he declared, religion must maintain some distance from the state.
Dr. Safwat al-Baiady is the President of the Egyptian Protestant Council of Churches. Following on the imitation of God who dialogues with man, he urged dialogue between men to transcend baser stages to the more effective. From Shared Monologue to Skillful Discussion to Reflective dialogue to, finally, Creative Dialogue, he declared that partners must enter dialogue as freemen, not slaves to their constituencies. The goal of this effort is not to defend yourself or to convince the other, but to reach common ground on the basis of friendship and love. This requires, he believed, not only self-confidence, but also confidence in the other.
Rev. Albert Ruiess is the President of the Synod of the Nile. He noted that the valuable process of reform often results in the emergence of different groups. This was noticeable in the Protestant Reformation, as it is noticeable in Egypt today. What is necessary is to find the elixir that can make Egypt one again. The Bible, he declares, teaches that humanity is one body with many different parts, and that the elixir needed to unify them is love.
Dr. Mahmoud Azab is the Azhar Advisor for Dialogue and Deputy to the Grand Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyib. He stated that as the Azhar views Islam as a religion of mercy, so it also sees Christianity as a religion of love. He noted the historic cooperation between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, seen in their opposition to the British occupation, and more recently in the January 25 Revolution. He praised the efforts of the Azhar to guide discussion of the future Egyptian state between liberals and Islamists, declaring the Azhar document demanding Egypt to be a civil state was recognized by almost all parties. He also commended the ‘Family House’ initiative, in which Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic, and Anglican leaders join with the Azhar to promote dialogue, discuss interreligious issues, and confront extremist religious discourse, whether in churches, mosques, or on satellite television channels.
Dr. Mouneer Hanna is the Anglican Bishop for Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. He provided examples of the commitment of Anglicans in Egypt to serve their communities, as well as of Anglicans worldwide and locally to engage in Muslim-Christian dialogue. He praised especially the agreement between the Azhar and the Archbishop of Canterbury, crafted after September 11, 2001, to conduct yearly sessions to better know one another. Finally, he urged application in Egypt of wisdom he learned from political leaders during a recent trip to China: I don’t care the color of the cat, as long as it catches the mouse. So in Egypt, religious affiliation should be unimportant in the civil state, as long as citizens contribute to the good of the nation.
The conference was held at the Movenpick Hotel in Media Production City, near 6 October City on the western outskirts of Cairo. Panel sessions included other well known Egyptian figures from the churches of Egypt, civil society, and the Muslim Brotherhood.