Project: Living in Peace Together; No more "Fitna" - no more violence: Reducing religiously motivated violence in Egypt.
Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country with a strong Christian presence. Through the centuries Christians have made important contributions to the country and continue to do so, as political leaders, artists, writers, businessmen etc.
Both Muslims and Christians have worked hand in hand to build their country.
Yet, today we hear about 'Fitna', a word that is used in Egypt to describe tensions between Muslims and Christians in Egypt that are both local, tied to a local conflict or dispute, and periodic. Most Muslims and Christians fortunately have no personal experiences of such tensions but have heard about them from various media. But the tensions media today report about were very uncommon only 30 to 40 years ago.
In the past ten years Egypt has witnessed a greater liberalization of media reporting but this has also made sensationalist media reporting possible. Greater freedoms result in greater responsibilities.
The Center for Arab-West Understanding wants to make its own contribution to a national unity of people from all social and religious backgrounds in Egypt through a project called "No more Fitna." The purpose of this project to strengthen reconciliation efforts whenever local people decide to form a local reconciliation committee.
The Center for Arab-West Understanding is explicitly non-partisan. Its board is therefore composed of Muslims and Christians. It is not linked to any political party or religious grouping. Its objective is to contribute to harmonious relations between Muslims and Christians and it wants to do so through cooperation with all relevant parties in Egypt. The Center for Arab-West Understanding will not ask for reconciliation committees to be formed or ask for certain solutions. Those are decisions local people should make.
Current media reporting:
If we only looked at media reporting we would believe that Egyptians are experiencing frequent tensions throughout the country which is simply not true. This kind of reporting has been rapidly increasing in the past years while it is not at all certain that actual tensions have increased. It is more likely they have become more visible. Some media reporting is so sensationalist that it has actually made tensions worse and thus both tensions and the way they are reported damage social cohesion between peoples belonging to different religious convictions and hamper possibilities for economic development.
Most tensions are petty conflicts that one finds in all countries between neighbors but some can get out of hand and then violence is used whereby fights often take place along tribal divides. The police often intervene to stop parties from fighting each other. But the causes of these conflicts are often insufficiently addressed which makes it possible for them to recur.
Egyptians of all religious convictions want this 'fitna' to be stopped and hence the project name 'No more fitna.'
Fitna or sectarian tensions usually start around non-religious issues but can well develop into sectarian conflicts that not only divide the conflicting parties but because they have obtained a religious nature add to a widespread feeling among common Christians that they are persecuted and a widespread feeling among Muslims that Christians are exaggerating.
Many of these incidents and case studies have been described in detail in AWR reports, see for an overview of AWR reports, http://d1216222.u107.securedc.com/awr-reports.php
We believe that addressing local religious tensions can be successful if it is linked to the traditional Egyptian approach of reconciliation meetings. These meetings are currently often not very effective but research done by Arab-West Report shows that these meetings can be made more effective if Egyptians are better prepared to address conflicts in their society. Reducing religious tensions in Egypt is expected to have a positive effect on economic development in Egypt
Subjects that triggered this religiously motivated violence often include:
- Problems around church building and restoration, frequently illegal building practices from Christians, opposition from Muslim neighbours
- Resistance against conversions from one religion to the other, both from Christianity to Islam and from Islam to Christianity. Related to these are honor killings.
- Land conflicts and social problems in which the factor religion entered.
Project “No More Fitna:”
The project wants to form a team to build Egyptian capacity in conflict resolution, building a permanent network of VIP negotiators, mostly members of prominent local families, building local capacity, including members of reconciliation committees through training them and others to enable them to deal with future conflicts.
Local capacity means helping to improve the current problems connected with reconciliation committees and meetings. It is not our role to form reconciliation committees, but our team and network will help to overcome existing problems and get involved as a mediator, if this involvement is required.
If the reconciliation committees work it will be possible to reduce tensions. We want to support the people involved in the conflict and help them understand the reasons behind it. It will be possible to solve problems and reach a satisfying solution for all parties. The same conflict will not recur and it will prove that peaceful solutions benefit everyone. Furthermore, by understanding that religion is rarely the main reason for the problems it will be possible to improve coexistence between Muslims and Christians on a long-term basis.
The “No More 'Fitna'” Project will meet these goals by:
- Collecting relevant legal documents and making them accessible to all parties
- Supporting all members in the committees with relevant legal and socio-economic data and background material for a particular conflict situation, in order to understand the reasons for the conflict
- Undertaking site visits: holding meetings with conflict parties, police, local administration, church authorities and Muslim leaders for both collecting information and providing them with information material, explaining how peaceful conflict resolution is possible and helping to find solutions for tensions.
- Helping parties to approach tensions from a holistic perspective, which include socio-economic problems, unclear legal structures, lack of knowledge of legal and other structures, cultural factors as 'honor and shame,' and thus seeing that causes of tensions are rarely in religious beliefs
- Advising how to conduct reconciliation meetings
Helping parties to formulate their own position, focusing on facts, legal position and avoiding emotional responses, looking at similar interests over religious lines.
- Documenting oral positions to make it possible to take issues apart, show where parties have similar interests. Parties will thus become convinced that solving issues for all results in win-win situations.
- Working as a non-partisan mediator, if desired: involvement is only possible, if the conflicting parties want our help, it is not possible against their will. To force them to accept our offer would only increase the tensions.
- Capacity building for future mediators: working on recommendations, guidelines and manuals for successful reconciliation processes, training mediators
- Identifying prominent Egyptians who could play a role in mediating on ad-hoc basis: creating a list of independent high profile negotiators/mediators
- Workshop for volunteers who want to learn basics of conflict resolution
We are seeking a widely respected coordinator who can build a team to implement the above described project. For a function description please click here. Once the coordinator is in place he/she can assist the board in forming a team to carry out the project as described above. The project should result in a report with advice for local reconciliation committees on how to deal best with conflicts whenever people are faced with them. Through this report the Center for Arab West Understanding hopes to make a lasting contribution to reducing tensions and work toward the development of Egypt for all its citizens.
Cairo, February 16, 2009