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Pillars of faith

A  year ago we brought you news from Egypt - before the Arab Spring got underway. On New Year's Eve a church in Alexandria had been bombed by Islamic extremists. Twenty-five people had been killed, and the year started with great fear for Egypts Copts. But a campaign started that received little coverage here in the UK. The Egyptian entrepreneur Mohamed El Sawy called on fellow Muslims to act as protecting shields outside churches as Mass was celebrated. A journalist backed the campaign, and created a symbol of a crescent and a cross combined. 'It's time to change and unite', he said.

Thousands responded to the call. 'I'm here to tell all my Coptic brothers that Muslims and Christians are an inseperable pillar of Egypt's texture', said one attendee. 'Copts have to know that we will share any pains or threats they go through'. Father Rafaeil Sarwat of the Mar-Mona church added a prophetic note: 'Although 2011 started tragically, I feel it will be a year of eagerly anticipated change, where Egyptians will stand against sectarianism and unite as one.' Although Egypt has not entirely fulfilled the dreams of the Arab Spring, the rest, as they say, is already history.

The UK has of course had its own difficulties this year. Strikes, student riots, looting, market-induced panic and Occupy protests. Equally, 2012 does not look to be starting well. The parallel though is obvious. Britain does not have a dictator to overthrow, but arguably it does need a reformation of its democracy. We have a servitude to markets just as others do to totalitarian governments. Amid it all we struggle with division rather than solidarity: public sector against private; a million young unemployed against older 'taxpayers'; council estates against property; it's a long list.

For some, the answer is to battle over whose argument is the most righteous. Indeed, our politics almost demands sectarianism. For Egyptians, the answer was instead to find what it was that united them. To decide that each of the country's traditions was 'an inseperable pillar of Egypt's texture.' And it started outside churches.

Britain is not Egypt. 2012 is not 2011. But one wonders what could be started inside them.