The National Catholic Register’s Edward Pentin has an interesting interview with Father Samir Khalil Samir, SJ, a professor at St. Joseph University in Beirut and the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome and author of many books, including the excellent 111 Questions on Islam. Father Samir is a native of Egypt and a renowned expert on Islam; as such he has a fascinating perspective on the current situation in the Middle East, including his native country and Syria.
What is your view of the chemical-weapons attack? How certain can we be that it came from the Syrian army, as the U.S. government says?
It could be from both sides. Personally, I would never decide on such an important point without proof. We have seen what happened with Iraq 10 years ago. And those who will pay the price are not the West but the Syrians. … The situation in Syria now is very bad, very evil, but how can we be sure that an intervention will result in something better? This is the question. It’s not a kind of game where we succeed or don’t succeed. It is a matter of life or death for tens of thousands of Syrian people.
It’s not clear what the path to achieve peace in Syria is?
It’s not clear at all, and for me what makes the situation more unclear is that there are too many interested parties involved who are not unified. …
The only solution is to say: Okay, we have two Syrian positions. We have the government, with people supporting the government, and we have the opposition, with people supporting the opposition. The only people who can decide are the Syrians themselves, but cannot do so without the help of the world community.
Now what is the aim? It’s to come to a common decision, respecting both positions — to find an honest compromise between the two. If one party wins, either Assad or the opposition, we will have war or we will have a prolongation of the war.
You are a native Egyptian. What are your current concerns about your homeland?
I must say, as I’ve said elsewhere: What I hear from the West is absolutely wrong. When I hear, “Finally, Morsi is the first democratically elected president” — this is a nonsense! If you take it juridically, he was elected democratically, but, juridically, so were Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak. Since 1952’s revolution, we had an elected president. So to say this statement, that he’s the first democratically elected president, is one only a non-Egyptian can make.
Secondly, we know there are reasons to explain why Mohammed Morsi was elected: because the youth [the main drivers of the 2011 revolution] were not organized as a party and because those associated with Mubarak and the old system were excluded. So, finally, the only group who was organized politically and who had the right to be elected was the Muslim Brotherhood. But where is the democracy?
… I am sure that Egypt and the Egyptians are willing to start a new stage in their political life. They are willing to have a more democratic government. They are willing to ban discrimination between men and women, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor, etc.
This is the true revolution, and I am convinced this is the wish of the people.
The entire interview—which also includes Father Samir’s thoughts on the relationship between Islam and violence, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular—can be read here.
Regarding Syria, Father Samir’s belief that dialogue and compromise are the only route to peace echoes the words of Pope Francis on the issue. Today the Holy Father met with King Abdullah II of Jordan and discussed Syria; according to the L’Osservatore Romano summary of the meeting, “it was reaffirmed that the path of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian society, with the support of the international community, is the only option to put an end to the conflict and to the violence that every day causes the loss of so many human lives, especially amongst the helpless civilian population.”
After leading the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis made a particular appeal for the people of Syria:
The increase in violence in a war between brothers, with the proliferation of massacres and atrocities, that we all have been able to see in the terrible images of these days, leads me once again raise my voice that the clatter of arms may cease. It is not confrontation that offers hope to resolve problems, but rather the ability to meet and dialogue.
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to express my closeness in prayer and solidarity with all the victims of this conflict, with all those who suffer, especially children, and I invite you to keep alive the hope of peace. I appeal to the international community to be more sensitive to this tragic situation and make every effort to help the beloved Syrian nation find a solution to a war that sows destruction and death.