Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Christian persecution and marriage

Sept. 10
We still do not know who the next president will be, even though elections were three days ago. That’s a good example of how much slower-paced this society is compared to America. In so many ways I’ve warmed up to it well, yet sometimes the American in me gets frustrated with waiting an extra 45 minutes to an hour for a bus, a guest, etc. Overall it’s been a joy to live with people who are much more laid-back than your average American.

I’ve been trying to get a sense of Christian persecution in Egypt, especially since it has been fascinating to be in a culture where my religious beliefs are the minority. After speaking to many Egyptians (mostly Christians) and a few knowledgeable foreigners who have lived in Cairo for at least a decade or so, I’ve discovered that persecution is not a real threat right now. However, that’s not to say it doesn’t happen in some ways. For instance, it is ‘illegal’ to convert from Islam to Christianity. Interestingly, your religion is whatever you are born into, and it is even written on your birth certificate! If your parents are Muslim, you are Muslim; if Christian, you are Christian. Around the age of three, Christian children are marked (tattooed) with an Orthodox Coptic cross on the inside of their forearm just below the wrist. So, when I am walking the streets or standing on the metro I know who the Christians are by their marking. This of course does not mean each person is a practicing Christian or a practicing Muslim, but I have heard quite a few times that if you are a Muslim who openly ‘converts’ to Christianity you might find yourself put in jail for some ridiculous reason when really you are being punished for converting. Basically, conversion just does not happen in Egypt.
Also, it is very difficult for a Christian community to get a building license; there can be many set-backs and a long waiting period. Despite this, the Christian community in Cairo is very active and certainly does not let any set-backs stop them. It has been great to hear about the Christian’s passion and motivation to lead by example and bring about positive change. President Mubarak’s wife, for instance, enjoys working closely with Christian woman because they are strong, powerful, and get things done. Christians have been the first to start non-profit programs in Egypt and continue to develop more programs to help the hungry, sick, and needy. The refugee program at St. Andrews is one example.

Studying for Arabic is always a hoot. A number of us are struggling and we just laugh at ourselves as we attempt to speak, write, and understand Arabic. We have perfecting our mnemonic device skills. For instance, “Walid must have a bate before he can have a bint!” What does this mean? Well, “Walid” is an Egyptian name and also the word for ‘boy,’ the word for ‘house’ sounds like ‘bate’ in English, and the word for ‘girl’ sounds like ‘bint’ in English. Therefore, this is also a cultural lesson. In Egypt, in order to get married, a man must first have enough money to buy/rent a house/apartment and furnish it. Unfortunately, so many Egyptians are poor and there are many adult men living with their parents (because everyone lives with their parents until they marry), desperately wanting to marry, but cannot ‘afford’ a wife. It's important to realize the groom is not 'buying a wife' nor is the woman's family 'selling' their daughter. Giving a dowry is really a statement of good faith and intention; not a transfer of ownership but a transfer of responsibility. Actually, a dowry establishes a girl's independence in some regards because it means she has her own wealth.
Speaking of marriage, I have now seen two wedding caravans driving the streets of Cairo, just like America! After the wedding, a car is covered with flowers and guests follow the bride and groom, honking their horns nonstop. This is quite funny in Cairo, actually, because cars are honking all the time anyway, so the wedding progression REALLY has to honk long and hard. It almost sounds like a riot of angry cars is breaking out!


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