It was Sunday morning, February 20th 1910; Egypt was on the verge of a political earthquake. Ibrahim Nassif El Werdany waited patiently outside the parliament building clutching a loaded gun. The tranquility of this Cairo morning was shattered by the sound of 6 bullets shot by El Werdany towards Prime Minister Botrus Ghali Pasha. Egypt’s first Coptic Christian Prime Minister was instantly killed.
The assassination of Botrus Ghali Pasha created a tremendous rift between Muslims and Christians at that period, a rift that our British colonialists were keen on exacerbating. El Werdany claimed that his motives were purely political. He regarded Botrus Ghali Pasha as a traitor for his “decision to support a proposed extension to the Suez Canal Company’s concession for forty years beyond the expiry of the original concession in 1968, in exchange for increased payments to Egypt.” El Werdany said he would have done the same thing if the Prime Minister was a Muslim.
Nevertheless, El Werdany’s justifications to his act did little to save the country from the schism that awaited it. Many Christians were furious at what happened and regarded the assassination as an attack on their community as a whole. A year later, a group of prominent Christian figures opposed the Coptic Pope and held what was known as “The Coptic Conference” to discuss grievances Christians complained of. The idea of this conference was anathema in a country that was trying to unite and fight for its independence from the world’s superpower back then. To counter the sectarian “Coptic Conference”, another conference called “The Egyptian Conference” was held in Heliopolis that included both Muslims and Christians. Among the Christian participants was Wesa Wasif Pasha who in the 30s was elected as President of Parliament.
A few years after the death of Botrus Ghali Pasha, Egypt witnessed the emergence of a leader who managed to overturn the political landscape of the country and place our case for independence on the world’s stage. Saad Zaghloul, considered to be one of the greatest Egyptian minds ever, managed in an unbelievable short time to obliterate the effect of Botrus Ghali’s assassination and bring Christians to the fold of the Egyptian dream of independence. He understood that the Muslim majority had to take the initiative and extend justice, security and acceptance towards the Christian minority. Not only was Zaghloul restoring Muslim-Christian relations, he was basically ushering in the golden liberal era that remained until the military coup of 1952.
Saad Zaghloul’s remedy, or what I call Zaghloulism, was so powerful that when the British, in 1919, forced Sultan Fouad (he became King in 1922) to appoint one of their Christian allies as Prime Minister, the Christian community were the first to oppose him. In fact there was an attempt on the Prime Minister’s life. This time it was a Christian who tried to kill him!
Why am I giving you a history lesson? Because I believe this revolution has created smaller “Saad Zaghlouls” who were born in Tahrir square on January 25th and the months that followed the downfall of Mubarak. Young nationalist Muslim Egyptians who believe in the same principles of equality and justice that Saad Zaghloul believed in. Exactly the same principles, nothing more nothing less. And Christians will always get attracted to a Saad Zaghloul.
For the past months, I have seen a rise in the number of Christians who’ve joined the revolutionaries in Tahrir or have at least became politically active in some party or movement. This is quiet significant. Christians in Egypt for the past 40 years have normally been found in three locations: their homes, their churches and their secluded area inside a university or school. Today I can see that a number of them have chosen to leave the confines of their churches and make history with their fellow citizens whether by joining the protest movement or simply getting more involved in political affairs. I am not claiming that the numbers are big, but I can definitely see a phenomena. These Christians are basically doing exactly what their grandfathers did with Saad Zaghloul. They are responding to the call of someone willing to accept them on the basis of justice, security and equality.
I am often accused of being too optimistic regarding the future of this country. I admit it is very hard to be optimistic given the current situation in Egypt. I mean look at the joke called the parliament! But I still believe that just as this revolution has unearthed every ill we have in our society, it has also exposed the good which often go unnoticed. It is exactly like digging the earth with a shovel. You will unearth lots of worms. Your attention will only be on the worms and you won’t notice that you’ve also exposed fresh clean mud that you can use to plant new seeds.
The “Saad Zaghlouls” this revolution has uncovered are definitely the new seeds we’re hoping will one day, if ever, pull the country away from its abyss and towards a better future. The same future Saad Zaghloul had in mind when he was forcibly evicted from the country with his 5 close companions, 2 of whom were Christian.