By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
30 April 2017
The Pope’s visit to Egypt was preceded by a critical and hostile campaign. People affiliated with political groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, are behind these campaigns which were aided by ISIS attacks on two Coptic churches earlier this month.
The Pope insisted on visiting Egypt as scheduled despite all threats. Meanwhile, Al-Azhar sheikh also defied threats made against him and against his institution and publicly received his guest.
Actually, the message which extremists want to send through this hateful campaign and through explosions is not directed against the Pope or against Egypt’s Copts but against the Egyptian authority and Arab governments which support it.
The underlying message the extremists seek to convey is that they are the decision-makers and will confront any foreign relations with entities that are opposed to them.
Muslim Brotherhood members who are criticizing the pope’s visit used to brag that they are civilized people who believe in co-existence with the Christian West. During closed-door meetings, they used to clear themselves from what they described as “underdeveloped” Gulf governments that restrain the followers of other religions. When the Muslim Brotherhood government collapsed, they opted for politically sabotaging others and so they launched hostile campaigns against Al-Azhar and Copts in Egypt, and their followers stirred up an uproar over the Pope’s visit.
Global Religious Forums
Some may wonder why we should care about dealing with global religious forums. Communicating with the Vatican and other major religious institutions in the world has, for decades, been an important part of the continuous and permanent relation among nations. The aims behind this policy is to organize relations and combat hatred against other religions.
Major religions, like Islam, Christianity and Hinduism, need to organize relations among their followers as they are present in almost all countries.
During the current times of religion-based tensions, the world will benefit if people who call for co-existence rather than bigotry dominate the arena.
We need people who spread the spirit of tolerance in places where there are tensions or possibilities for conflicts, like in France whose majority is a Christian Catholics and where there is a large Muslim community.
The Pope is thus a religious figure of great significance as he influences his followers and to end national and religious extremism which advocates racial supremacy and political divisions.
There are more than 8 million Copts in Egypt and they were never a target before religious extremism emerged. They were never a target during the reign of the monarchy or during the presidential terms of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar al-Sadat but they became one after extremist ideologies surfaced.
Those who condemn relations with the Vatican or think it’s recent or criticize Muslim clerics who support such cooperation are in fact ignorant, if not hypocrites and instigators. These relations have always existed and even Saudi Arabia has good relations with the Pope of Rome. King Faisal, may he rest in peace, who politically revived the Muslim league set the foundations for a relation based on respect. When he received the cardinals in Riyadh, they handed him a letter from the Pope.
The pope said he and the Ecumenical council appreciate King Faisal who is the “man with the major influence in the Arab and Muslim world.”
In 1974, the King dispatched then-Minister of Justice Sheikh Mohammed al-Harkan and a delegation of Saudi clerics to visit Pope Paul VI and communicate with the Vatican. However, this communication must not only be with Christians in the West as there are other influential religions, like Hinduism, Buddhism and others, whose interests intersect with Arabs and Muslims.
We must not let them be victims of their perceptions about Islam that is linked to ISIS and politicized Islamic groups.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.