Photos: Easter Greetings at the Coptic Cathedral

The following pictures show a lot of handshakes, but the message should not be lost in the repetition. Government officials, most of them Muslim, congratulate Copts for their holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.

Similar pictures could be seen on Christmas, but Easter is a far bigger deal. In Egypt, Christmas is an official holiday, and there is no Muslim religious objection to the birth of the Messiah. Muslims agree with Christians that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and though they object to the interpretation of incarnation, there are few reasons not to celebrate a common prophet.

Easter is different. In Islam, Jesus die not die on the cross so therefore he cannot have been raised again. There are real theological barriers, and less if any common ground. Some conservative Muslims are vocal about the inadmissibility of congratulating Christians on their holidays, but especially Easter.

The Muslim governmental and religious officials of the current Egyptian regime do not agree. Certainly they would not share the spiritual meaning of Easter, but they are keen to demonstrate congratulations to Copts in recognition of the importance of their holiday.

In these contested times in the Middle East, a handshake communicates much.

(More reflection to follow after the pictures)

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab

Shiekh Mohamed Abu Hashim, representing the Azhar

Shiekh Mohamed Abu Hashim, representing the Azhar

Sheikh Mohamed Gamia, representing the Egyptian Family House

Sheikh Mohamed Gamia, representing the Egyptian Family House

Amr Moussa, head of the constitutional committee and longstanding diplomat

Amr Moussa, head of the constitutional committee and former head of the Arab League

Nabil al-Arabi, head of the Arab League

Nabil al-Arabi, head of the Arab League

Labor Minister Nahed al-Ashari

Labor Minister Nahed al-Ashari

Planning Minister Ashraf al-Arabi

Planning Minister Ashraf al-Arabi

Culture Minister Abd al-Wahid al-Nabawi

Culture Minister Abd al-Wahid al-Nabawi

Easter greetings were also extended in the governorates.

Bishop Thomas of Qusia received Asyut governor Yassir al-Desouki

Bishop Thomas of Qusia received Asyut governor Yassir al-Desouki

Bishop Kyrillos of Nag Hamadi received Sohag governor Gen. Abd al-Hamid al-Hegan

Bishop Kyrillos of Nag Hamadi received Sohag governor Gen. Abd al-Hamid al-Hegan

Bishop Bisada of Akhmim received Sohag governor Ayman Abd al-Munam

Bishop Bisada of Akhmim received Sohag governor Ayman Abd al-Munam

Bishop Maqar of Sharqia received Sharqia governor Rida Abd al-Salam

Bishop Maqar of Sharqia received Sharqia governor Rida Abd al-Salam

A military designation visited the St. Mina Monastery outside Alexandria

A military designation visited the St. Mina Monastery outside Alexandria

Just as at Christmas great importance was given to the visit of President Sisi to the papal mass, the first ever honor bestowed by an Egyptian president, perhaps meaning should also be taken from his absence at Easter services.

Religious relations remain tricky in Egypt, and the president may not have wanted to alienate conservative Muslims with such a symbolic endorsement. But his government was not shy to risk it.

America is a secular state; Egypt is less so. When President Obama frequents a Muslim Iftar, it is an honorable recognition of the place of Islam within a nation that constitutionally guarantees the non-establishment of a religion and the freedom of all.

In Egypt it is a bit different, for Islam is the state religion and its law is the source of legislation. While the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Islam retains a priority of place in interpretation.

The gesture in Cairo, then, is weightier than that offered in Washington. It is greater still in the more conservative governorates. It is not just that Copts have freedom, it is that as a government we honor even their Islam-challenging Easter holiday.

Of course the reality is not yet complete, and a cynic is excused if he accuses the government of insincerity. It is the practical demonstration of executive enforcement of law that speaks far louder than a handshake, and in this many parts of Egypt are still lacking.

But a handshake still speaks, and it speaks in relationship. Far more handshakes are needed, but let the message resonate.

Egypt honors the Copts at Easter.

(All photos courtesy of the Coptic Orthodox Church)

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