Turning Stones - George McKale


Separation of church and state

There is more to report this week on our sister city Aswan, Egypt.  I have received endearing emails and texts from friends with simple messages.  Yasser writes on Facebook “I miss you” with a frowning yellow face.  Ahmed writes “how u family,” and Ismail sent a photo of the west bank of the Nile glistening in the sun.

As temperatures drop into the high 70s the hotels should be crawling with tourists.  This is the high season. Yet the hotels are empty.

The country is intensely divided with Islamists on one side, those that support the democratically elected Muhamed Morsi and an Islamic state, and those that do not.  This has pitted Muslim against Muslim. Though more complicated, I liken the situation to the issue of separation of church and state, a concept most countries address in their constitutions and or laws.

Interestingly enough, the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the First Amendment, or in the United States Constitution. The phrase was used once in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802, but it wasn’t until 1878 when the United States Supreme Court first used the term.  The Supreme Court eventually considered how the First Amendment applied to the states in 1947.

The concept of a separation has evolved over time, and we can expect the same in Egypt.

What do other countries do? Spain, only since 1978, added to their constitution “No religion shall have a state character.” The constitution of the Philippines states, “The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.”  In Italy, the constitution states, “The State and the Catholic Church are independent and sovereign, each within its own sphere.”  While the German constitution allows for freedom of religion, there is not an explicit separation of church and state.

War is not at all foreign to religious fervor. There are countless examples, but the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) comes to mind. The war involved most of Europe and was one of the longest wars in modern history.  It began as a battle between Protestant and Catholic states — Christians. When we look back at history and the bloodshed caused by a difference of opinion between Christian religions, it should be no wonder to be witness to the complications inherent in other religions, specifically in the case of Egyptians, Islam.

Today, Egypt has one former President, Muhamed Morsi, behind bars and the other, Hosni Mubarak, under house arrest. Morsi’s trial began two days ago and lasted but a few hours.  The trial will continue in the New Year.  Morsi was not very agreeable during the court session and proclaimed that he did not except the court proceedings as he contends that he is still the President of Egypt. Morsi was ousted by the military in July.

It is disturbing and hard to understand how groups of people with different ideologies can live side by side for so many years, in harmony, and ultimately pit themselves against one another.  The death count in Egypt in the last six months is staggering. Not one day goes by in Egypt without violence leading to death.

There are wonderful people living in Egypt struggling to survive.  Yasser, Ahmed and Ismail make their livings serving tourists.  All three can speak a little Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and English.  Today, there are few tourists roaming the streets of Aswan. Yasser drives a taxi which is now permanently parked in front of his house.  Ahmed works at a hotel, though has little to do.  His hours have been cut in half.  Ismail used to sell art to tourists.

Some readers may want to help. Support Sister Cities and make a difference.  Sister Cities promotes peace through mutual understanding and cooperation, one individual, one community at a time. Become a member now to support this ideal.  Also, a fundraiser to support three families in Aswan, Egypt is taking place November 10 at Artescape in Boyes Hot Springs from 2 to 5 p.m.  Explore Sonomasistercitiesassoc.org to join and get more information on the event.

Sister City fundraiser

The Sonoma Aswan Sister Cities Committee hosts a fundraising event to benefit three families in Aswan, Egypt, on Sunday, November 10. Over the last three years Egypt has been through tremendous turmoil, and many friends of the Sonoma Aswan committee, who rely on the tourist trade to make their living are in desperate need of help.

The event will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. at ARTescape, 17474-A  Sonoma Highway in Boyes Hot Srings. There will be a silent auction and sale featuring beautiful Egyptian artwork, and food, wine and Egyptian tea,

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