Egyptian weekly accused of 'inciting sectarian war'

An Egyptian Coptic doctor is suing the prominent Islamic weekly Sawt al-Ummah for publishing a series of articles which he says inspire sectarian hatred between Egypt's Muslim and Christian communities.
sawt el ommah

CAIRO, APRIL 3, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Siti Zeki Shenouda, a Coptic doctor in Cairo, has brought a legal case against the chairman and editor in chief of the Islamic weekly Sawt al-Ummah (Voice of the Nation) for publishing a series of articles by two Islamist journalists that supposedly scorn Christianity. The complaint has been presented to the Public Prosecutor in Cairo under the heading, "Egyptian media and creating envy, religious extremism and terrorism."

Shenouda believes that the reports by Dr. Zaghloul al-Naggar and Ahmad Abdullah that were published in Sawt-al-Ummah inspire sectarian hatred between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.

According to Shenouda's statement, which was made available to Menassat, al-Naggar referred to the New Testament in one of his articles as a "falsified and non-divine book."

"The current New Testament is not true and the Old and the New Testament were not revealed by God; they are all human made," al-Naggar wrote.

Shenouda is also attacking Sawt-al-Ummah for publishing an interview with Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Abu Islam (father of Islam), in which he accused Egypt's Coptic church of proselytizing.

Sex in exchange for conversion?

The two writers have previously said that Christians have planned missionary operations to divert Muslims from their religion by offering financial aid to poor Muslim citizens.

On December 10, 2007, Sawt-al-Ummah ran a front page article entitled, "Zaghloul al-Naggar throws a bomb: the Church is converting Muslims into Christianity." The newspaper also listed the addresses of what is said were "ten villas where they hold boys and girls after converting them with the help of foreign companies in the Maadi neighborhood."

Shenouda's complaint also mentioned another article in the same issue in which al-Naggar attacked a Catholic church and inferred that Christians are "insane."

"Go to Saint Marc Church on Sunday to see how they use people's poverty, sickness and unemployment to convert them. Christians should go back to sanity and cohabitate with Muslims. No power on earth will be able to turn Egypt into a Christian state."

Moreover, Shenouda pointed out that Sawt-al-Ummah has slandered Christian clerics. He specifically referred to an article published in Sawt-al-Ummah entitled, "Priests use all possible means to convert Muslims, including sex."

'Inciting civil war'

Following the publishing of the articles written by the Islamic journalists, the newspaper ran reactions and comments from Christian clerics and key players in Egypt's Christian community on January 18, 2008.

While the Christian figures were allowed to contradict the assertions made by the writers, some in the Coptic community considered it was not enough.

Shenouda has demanded the questioning of the two journalists along with the Chairman of the newspaper and its editor in chief "for the crimes they committed against the state, such as inciting to sectarian violence, scorning Christianity, Christian Copts, calling for their death and inciting to kill them, spill their blood, rob them and violate their rights and lives."

The articles could potentially "incite a civil war that would burn Egypt with both its Muslims and Christians," said Shenouda.

The complaint also includes articles from other Egyptian publications which Shenouda considers "harmful to Coptics" or that "ignore their suffering."

Moreover, Shenouda voiced concern over occurrences of violent acts against Christian citizens in different Egyptian districts throughout the year.

Champion of lawsuits

It is not the first time that Shenouda has filed a suit against Islamists.

Two years ago, he brought a legal case against Islamic writer Mohammad Amara for quoting writings by other religious scholars who have described Christians as "infidels."

Coptic Christians make up 10 percent of Egypt's population of 80 million. There have been sporadic reports of sectarian violence occurring in the country's sparsely populated areas.
Shawt al-Ummah is no stranger to lawsuits.

Since it was established by journalist Adel Hamouda seven years ago, the newspaper has been sued a total of 63 times, 37 times by governmental officials. On one occasion, six lawsuits were brought against the paper on the same day.