This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 16/05/2011
"Christians are carrying weapons, and we Muslims have bottles only. We will not be real men if we did not torch the churches of Imbaba."
The Salafi youth who uttered that threat can be viewed easily on the Youtube website, with his hostility towards the Copts being loudly applauded by a group who had gathered to protest against a woman being detained inside a church, after she converted to Islam. They claimed they had come to rescue her.
Provocative statements such as this were issued at the time of the bloody confrontations that took place in Imbaba a few days ago, and have spread widely and in a worrisome manner.
The traditional Egyptian media outlets, by refraining from broadcasting such opinions, will not necessarily succeed in containing the explosion of sectarian violence, as the virtual world in Egypt is full of fuel for sectarian violence, with extensive momentum.
Even if demonstrations are staged in front of radio and television buildings, this will not solve a crisis that has remained dormant for decades before the Egyptian revolution broke out, thus creating a new reality.
To make matters worse, angry Copts have issued statements in which they yearned for the old days of the previous regime, saying they do not believe in the January 25th Revolution anymore. This has coincided with Muslim demands to interrogate Abeer, Camilia, and others to determine whether they had converted to Islam, and whether they were forced to retract this decision.
When cases such as that of Camilia and others transform into a national sectarian cause, this suggests that the current Egyptian climate is one of pure congestion.
It is true that the first, urgent step to be taken is to adopt firm measures to contain and end the violence, yet what must also be addressed is the language being used, especially that of the Salafis, Islamic currents, and others within this atmosphere.
The media, both public and private, may impose censorship on the material filmed by their cameramen, but there are still social networking websites that are not subject to censorship, and enjoy almost limitless freedom, something that paves the way for incitement. Apart from the political and sectarian dilemma represented by the Salafi phenomenon in Egypt, what is of more concern is their ability to appear on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. Here the modernity problem arises; the same outlets that inspired revolutions can also give rise to evil and create disasters. The dilemma does not lie in what modern technology produces, but in the culture conveyed, or carried through such technologies. Instead of blaming the computer for what happened in Egypt, we should ask al-Azhar, and perhaps the government and the army, about their plans to curb this phenomenon. We say: the question must be addressed to these official bodies, and not the Salafi currents themselves. They still seem unable to speak anything other than the language and logic they are currently pursuing.