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Egypt's 'Peaceful Revolution' an Example for the World
John Feister
Published: Friday, February 11, 2011
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Anti-government protesters cheer outside the presidential palace in Cairo Feb. 11.
“The significance of what happened is tremendous,” says Friar Michael Calabria, O.F.M., speaking of the protests in Tahrir Square that led to the resignation at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“This shows, not only the Arab world, but also the rest of the world that people can remove a corrupt and tyrannical government through peaceful revolution.” The way things are today, says Calabria, “that’s no small thing.”

Calabria, from St. Bonaventure University in New York, has a unique perspective on the unfolding situation in Egypt. He has visited Egypt regularly since 1981, and lived there from 2001 to 2002. Since 2004, he has directed and taught in a summer English as a Second Language program at a Coptic Catholic Seminary in Cairo. He is pursuing a doctorate in Arabic and Islamic studies.

It started with a peaceful protest, then the protesters continued, “day after day, sacrificing their jobs, putting their lives in danger—it’s truly significant!” he marvels.

He knows from his time in Egypt, over many years, that the Mubarak regime was every bit as cruel as what we hear on the news. Police brutality and torture were commonplace.

“Mubarak felt he had to squash any opposition to his government in order to maintain stability,” observes Fr. Calabria.

It has been widely reported that Mubarak’s family is worth between 40 and 70 billion dollars. “That's in a country where you have 40 percent of the population living near the poverty line or below it. People were desperate,” Calabria said.

In theory, the Christian community would have been a beneficiary of a stable Egypt, he observes, by being protected from extremist groups. (Iraqi refugees had expressed the same belief about their own nation to St. Anthony Messenger during our recent immersion trips.

But the bombing of the Coptic church in Alexandria earlier this year was a sign that Mubarak was “not keeping us safe,” says Calabria. “Now we have Al Qaeda coming in and blowing up churches. So he’s not the strong leader that we had,” would be one way to think of the Christian reaction to recent events.

Franciscans have a special devotion to building peace between Christians and Muslims, in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, who promoted Christian-Muslim peace in the Middle Ages.

Today’s Franciscan movement is a witness to society: “We don’t join the popular media portrayal of an Islamic group as ‘the enemy’ simply because they have the word Muslim in the name of their organization,” he says, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, who joined the revolution.

Rather, Franciscans support events like the recent Tahrir Square protest, says Calabria, in which Christians and Muslims “joined in peaceful demonstration, holding crosses and Qu'rans together, in a sign of Egyptian unity.”

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