[ilds] Fwd: Letter from Egypt - On Beaches, Intolerance Wears a Veil - NYTimes.com

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Thu Aug 13 11:50:36 PDT 2009

No mention of LGD in this article, but Dr. Mohamed Awad, mentioned  
below, is leading the fight to save the Ambron Villa, where LGD stayed  
when in Alex.  The article accurately describes what the city of  
Alexandria has now become.


Begin forwarded message:

> From: Glenn Meyer <Glenn.R.Meyer at nasa.gov>
> Date: August 12, 2009 1:48:08 PM PDT
> To: SF Bay Egyptology <sfbayegypt at yahoogroups.com>
> Subject: Letter from Egypt - On Beaches, Intolerance Wears a Veil -  
> NYTimes.com
> http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/12/world/middleeast/12iht-letter.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail0=y
> Letter from Egypt
> On Beaches, Intolerance Wears a Veil
> Published: August 11, 2009
> ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT — Along the miles of crowded beachfront in Egypt’s  
> second city, women in bathing suits are nowhere in sight.
> On Alexandria’s breeze-blown shores, they all wear long-sleeve  
> shirts and ankle-length black caftans topped by head scarves.  
> Awkwardly afloat in the rough seas, the bathers look like wads of  
> kelp loosened from the sandy bottom.
> The scene would be unremarkable in Saudi Arabia or Iran, where a  
> strict interpretation of Islam mandates hiding the feminine body. In  
> Alexandria — a storied town of sensuality and openness — the veiled  
> beachgoers, coupled with sectarian conflicts, underscore to some  
> residents the loss of a valued sense of diversity in favor of  
> religious uniformity.
> “Here is the front line of a battle between secularists and Islamic  
> fundamentalism,” said Mohamed Awad, director of the Alexandria and  
> Mediterranean Research Center, part of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina,  
> itself an evocation of the ancient library whose reputation for  
> scholarship helped give the city its pluralistic credentials.
> If the issue were only bathing attire — or the gradual disappearance  
> of alcohol from open-air seaside cafes to avoid insults from passing  
> pedestrians — the phenomenon might be just a curiosity. But there  
> are sharper signs of intolerance: increasing Christian-Muslim  
> clashes, unfamiliar to old Alexandrine eyes.
> On April 4, a Muslim man was allegedly stabbed by his Coptic  
> Christian landlords in a dispute over garbage collection, according  
> to a July 30 report by the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for  
> Personal Rights, a human rights watchdog. When the man died the next  
> day, Muslims praying at a mosque in the city’s Karmouz district  
> chanted “they will die” and then trashed Christian-owned stores, the  
> report said.
> There have been similar events over the past three years, including  
> one incident in which Muslims stormed homes they said were Coptic  
> churches functioning without government permits. Copts, who make up  
> about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, are an indigenous  
> denomination founded in Alexandria around A.D. 61.
> The violence is particularly striking in a city whose skyline is  
> dotted by minarets and church steeples and where, at least in the  
> memory of the Alexandrian novelist Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, religion  
> has not always triggered public disputes. He has written two novels  
> of Alexandria’s 20th-century past that reflect a longing for a kind  
> of golden age of diversity.
> Another author, Haggag Oddoul, said in an interview: “I wish we  
> could go back to being the city of Cleopatra.”
> The Alexandria of lore emerged as a major 19th-century transshipment  
> port with Europe, celebrated by Arab, Egyptian and Western writers  
> as a cosmopolitan paradise where sailors mingled at cafes with  
> exiles from Syria and Greece, businessmen from Italy and,  
> eventually, women in sun dresses.
> In 1956, Great Britain and France, with the help of Israel, invaded  
> Egypt to recover control of the recently nationalized Suez Canal,  
> through which nearly a 10th of world trade now passes. The attempt  
> failed, and communities of Greeks, Armenians, Italians, French and  
> Jews fled as the definition of Egypt narrowed to an Arab nation in a  
> homogenous Arab world.
> Since then, Alexandria has become home to oil refineries that have  
> helped swell its population to more than five million. The new  
> arrivals, many from Egypt’s overcrowded countryside, submerged the  
> scene in a tidal wave of poverty and ideology.
> Now, Arab nationalism and Alexandria’s cosmopolitanism have a new  
> rival: the push for an Islamic Egypt. Mr. Abdel Meguid attributes  
> this to influence from conservative Gulf nations — in particular,  
> Saudi Arabia.
> “We are no longer a universal city of song, dance, culture and art,”  
> he said.
> Mr. Awad’s center at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina strives to reverse  
> that trend, spreading “internationalism” and promoting “a healthy  
> spirit of diversity, pluralism and interaction among civilizations,”  
> according to its Web site. And yet “the library is an island,” he  
> said.
> The fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition  
> force, has a major base of support in the city, according to  
> national press accounts. There, as in other Egyptian urban centers,  
> the Brotherhood provides health care, subsidized food and social  
> services for the poor.
> The group is the prototype for Islamic political parties across the  
> Middle East — and nostalgia for a legendary multicultural past is  
> not part of its agenda. “At the end of the day, that’s all history,”  
> said Sobhi Saleh, a Brotherhood member of Parliament.
> A leaflet advising women on proper Islamic coverings is posted in  
> the lobby leading to Mr. Saleh’s office. A caftan and long head  
> scarf are correct. A skimpy head scarf accompanied by jeans is wrong.
> He said Christian-Muslim tensions were not a symptom of intolerance  
> but of “insults” to Islam by Copts.
> Alexandria needs “stable” community values, he insisted. Sensuality,  
> if it means sexuality, is not part of the social equation. Even the  
> library — with its museum that includes pharaonic, Greek, Roman,  
> Coptic and Islamic relics — is misguided, Mr. Saleh said.
> “There, Islam is just one topic among many. We don’t like those  
> naked Greek statues. Anyway, that’s over. Islam should have a  
> special status at the library,” he said. “This is a Muslim city in a  
> Muslim country; that is our identity.”
> Daniel Williams writes for Bloomberg News.

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