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Sumbul Ali-Karamali

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Egyptian Muslims and Christians Rising Up Together

Posted: 02/11/11 09:10 PM ET

Those who insist on characterizing Egypt's electrifying protests of the last week as "an Islamic uprising" fail to notice the Egyptian Christians who are protesting alongside Muslims and other Egyptians in Tahrir Square. It's an amazing mosaic of Egyptians from all walks of life: women in black robes alongside young men drinking beer alongside Muslim Brotherhood members alongside secularists alongside professionals, and so on. As an American Muslim not of Egyptian descent, I find myself hoping that one of the results of this uprising will be solidarity between Egyptian Muslims and Egyptian Christians.

There's already evidence and hope to that effect. Solidarity between Muslims and Christians is running high in Egypt, though of course there are always the fringe lunatics who find excuses for violence.

On Jan. 1, a terrorist bombing at a church in Alexandria tragically left 21 people dead. The media also covered the consequential street protests of Coptic youth. Yet, a story that received little coverage was the emphatic surge of solidarity between huge numbers of Egyptian Muslims and Christians.

After the bombing, one of Egypt's highest-ranking Muslim shaikhs and Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Goma'a, said, "This is not just an attack on Copts, this is an attack on me and you and all Egyptians, on Egypt and its history and its symbols, by terrorists who know no God, no patriotism, and no humanity."

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, stated, "An act like this is wholly condemnable in Islam. Muslims are not only obligated not to harm Christians, but to protect and defend them and their places of worship."

After the bombing, thousands of Muslim Egyptians attended church services in Egyptian churches, in order to serve as human shields in case of another attack. They held candlelight vigils outside, as well. The group included everyone from preachers to students to movie stars and politicians.

Moreover, millions of Egyptians changed their Facebook profile pictures to the image of a cross beside a crescent, signifying "Egypt for All."

This solidarity has held. During the past week's demonstrations, many protesters held aloft signs with the crescent-cross symbol. When some Egyptian demonstrators began to shout "Allahu Akbar," they were immediately drowned out by voluminous chants of "Muslim, Christian, we're all Egyptians."

And days ago, I saw one of the most moving sights I have seen in a long time. The peaceful protests had turned violent, when armed pro-Mubarak mobs (likely instigated by the regime) began attacking unarmed protesters. But when the pro-Mubarak mobs started attacking Muslims Egyptians who were at their prayers in the square, Christian Egyptians made a ring around them to protect them as they prayed.

Egypt still has a ways to go. Laws that discriminate against Christians in Egypt must be totally eliminated. Christians and Muslims share a history in Egypt that goes back a thousand years. The extremist ideologies originating in the 1970s have increased tensions in recent decades, and persecution of Egyptian Christians has increased. It must be completely rejected, as the majority of Egyptians -- both Muslim and Christian -- are already rejecting it on all grounds, from religious to humanitarian.

The Mubarak regime and its security apparatus has been complicit in persecution of Christians. Last year, a government moratorium on construction of a Christian community center resulted in clashes between police and protesters. More than a hundred were jailed.

In hoping that the peaceful protests prevail and the Mubarak dictatorship gives way to a real democracy, I also hope that, along with it, a truly pluralistic and nondiscriminatory society will result in Egypt. The uprisings are Egyptian uprisings, not Muslim uprisings, not Christian uprisings. May they prevail together and build a new, equal society together.

Sumbul Ali-Karamali is an attorney with an additional degree in Islamic law and is the author of 'The Muslim Next Door: the Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing.'