Do you celebrate Christmas in Egypt?

“Do you celebrate Christmas?”- a question I have been asked every year, even by the same person!

Since I moved to London five years ago, people always wonder if I celebrate Christmas or not. As I wear a Hijab, people know that I am Muslim and are therefore curious to get an answer regarding this matter. Christmas here in London has both cultural and commercial aspects. It is all about buying presents for family and friends and of course, it remains a religious feast for some.

Back in Egypt, the scene is different. Let me tell you something that might surprise you: I am an Egyptian Muslim but I went to a Catholic school run by nuns. Christmas, Eid, Ramadan, Easter, Sham el-Nisim were very joyful for me. I grew up and it was okay for me to share with my friends their holiday celebrations, and it was the same for them with me. In Egypt, Christians and Muslims were raised together; they were friends, neighbours and sometimes families. I don’t know what happened ten years later. After I graduated from school, things became a bit different.

As information has become more readily available through the internet and social media, it has given a clear route for radical and Salafi preachers to promote their ideologies. Many of whom were forbidden to appear on television and therefore have found alternative ways of broadcasting their programmes e.g. via YouTube channels. They have benefited from social media and shared their videos freely. Some content carried hate speech against Christians; which caused friction within the community and making people question: “Why do we celebrate Christmas?”

In April 2017, we saw two deadly attacks targeting Christians in Egypt. One took place at Saint George church in Tanta, killing 27 and wounding at least 78. The second was an explosion in Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandra, killing at least 17 and wounding 48 people. The two attacks were claimed by Daesh and have left Christians feeling unsafe in their home country.

On November 24th Egypt was struck by another terrorist attack- the third one of 2017, killing 305, including 27 children, and injuring 128 people. This barbaric and savage incident highlights the fact that extremist groups do not have tolerance or acceptance of others- even unarmed Muslims praying peacefully in their mosque. This has had an important echo within the Egyptian community as they realise that terrorist groups are looking only to divide them and break their shared history and culture.

What to do next?

It is not an easy question to answer. Now is a very challenging time especially after the fall of Mosul. Daesh is losing their territories and their dream of the Caliphate. They are trying hard to continue their radicalisation process by recruiting more individuals to encourage them to carry out attacks in unusual places.

For a long time, Egypt has been the hub of the three Abrahamic religions with its different sects. This is what makes Egypt strong and powerful. We need to stand up together against radical and extremist ideologies by celebrating our differences and protecting each other.

By Aya Faissal, Researcher at Quilliam International.