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by Johnny Sarraf
Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2004 at 12:01 PM
firstname.lastname@example.org 0112027360796 26A Bahgat Ali, Cairo, Egypt
Personal reaction to Egyptian government's cancellation of all Christmas carols in Cairo
I thought you might be interested in publishing the following piece. I could modify it a bit, if necessary.
Thank you, and I hope to hear from you soon.
Dept. of English & Comparative Literature
American University in Cairo
113 Sharia Kasr El Aini
P.O. Box 2511
11511 Cairo, Egypt
Pickin’ a Fight with Christmas
Not since American children’s story writer Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” in which the antagonist initially denied the holiday from the unsuspecting citizens of Whooville, has something quite like this happened, at least in my experience.
Exactly a week before Christmas, I received a call from one of my friends from the choir of which I’m a part. The reason for the call was that all the Christmas carols concerts at the three hotels where we were set to sing beginning on the very next night were cancelled, and ours wasn’t the only choir to be affected. In an unprecedented move, the Egyptian government had ordered all Christmas carols concerts by all choirs at all hotels in Cairo to be cancelled due officially to security concerns.
There is nothing confirmed besides the cancellation itself, and it is doubtful that there will be any official confirmation in Cairo, but one thing heard was that some Muslim extremists had threatened the use of violence if the Christmas carols at hotels would be allowed to go on as planned.
Whatever the reason, the news came as a shock to all of us involved and to relatives and friends, on the eve of our Friday night performance at the Semiramis Hotel in the downtown area. The initial disbelief that something like this could happen, all at the last minute, and the numbness felt have since given way to anger complemented by frustration, the latter resulting from an inability to change the situation and to celebrate publicly the event as usual.
What is always interesting to me is the reaction to threats like these. Does the government, for instance, in canceling the events, not end up achieving the fundamentalists’ main goal? By denying people the tradition of hearing Christmas songs openly, the government is preventing a significant part of the community from celebrating publicly what it believes and what is important to it. The concerts have also always been special in that they have brought many people together comfortably, among them Christians and Muslims, many of them singing along with the choir at the shows. Are stopping such things not among the aims of extremists?
To its credit, the Egyptian government has, in recent years, made efforts to bridge the gap and ease some tensions that have existed between Egyptians who practice different religions. Recognizing officially the Orthodox Christmas recently is one such gesture. The most recent move, however, even if done in the name of security, is a sharp step in the wrong direction. As a considerable part of the community here has been denied open celebration of a religious holiday, what would be really nice to express now is how many of us feel about it, even if it would not be nice for the Egyptian government to hear.
What were still heard in Cairo were Christmas carols, as there was a last minute arrangement by our choir’s director to present a concert in the church itself, something not done before by the choir. Arranged just the day before, the concert resulted in a church packed with people who had come together in an inspiring act of solidarity. As the Grinch’s efforts to steal Christmas had failed because he did not recognize that the holiday goes much deeper than Christmas gifts and decorations, the recent attempt to disrupt Christmas in Cairo was foiled because of the resilience of the community and the spirit of Christmas.
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