Recently, an Egyptian writer living in New York City wrote a critical account of the Egyptian government’s treatment of its Christian Coptic minority in the Arabic-language London daily “Al-Quds Al-Arabi.” The Middle East Media and Research Institute provides the following translation and adaptation of the article.
On Feb. 10 news agencies reported attacks on Copts in a village in the Al-Minia district. Homes, cars and churches were burned, and 10 Copts were hurt. I would like to analyze the reasons why this scenario of attacks on Copts has been repeated time and again, from the Al-Khanka incident of 1972 to the most recent occurrence.
1. Lack of a clear penal policy: In self-respecting societies, there is no dialogue or compromise whatsoever with a criminal who commits an act punishable by law. Yet in Egypt, the real criminal ends up going free, and the ones brought to trial are youths against whom the judge has no evidence whatsoever. All this, when everyone knows who really committed the crimes – not one of whom, for some unknown reason, is brought to trial or punished.
2. Equal treatment for attacker and attacked: Since former President Anwar Sadat’s espousal of the accursed policy of equalizing the attacker with the attacked – which developed into claims about clashes between “extremists from both sides” – our lives became a nightmare. By what logic, law or religion is the attacker compared to the attacked? After every brutal attack on the Copts come arrests of groups from both sides; this show ends in the victim relinquishing his rights. This means that the state is not neutral, and it encourages crime against the Copts.
3. Rewarding the aggressor: Every time, the state rewards the extremists for their crimes instead of punishing them. Thus, the extremists manage to impose their will. In the village of Al-Timsahiya, in the Assyut district, when a Muslim mob went wild because of the height of a church, it was agreed to make the mosque’s minaret higher so that it would be taller than the church. Instead of rebuilding the church after it was destroyed by the mob, the housing minister launched a fundraising campaign for the construction of a mosque.
Why should the Muslim mob refrain from running wild if it ends in the burning of Christian homes and churches, while at the same time they accomplish their goal of building a mosque?
I should note that I am not opposed to making mosques taller. As far as I’m concerned, they can reach the sky. What worries me is that this is done in surrender to the will of the extremists and constitutes an improper reward for the aggressor.
4. Oppressive, arbitrary laws: Clearly, the laws for establishing Christian houses of worship in Egypt are oppressive and unconstitutional. Because of this injustice, the Christians have paid dearly, in blood and property, for attempts to establish houses of worship.
5. Government behavior that fosters extremism: The government destroyed a four-story church in Shubra Al-Khayma. This angered President Mubarak, who ordered it rebuilt at state expense, but more than a year had passed since the incident. A few months ago, that same government destroyed the walls and foundations of the Al-‘Ubur Church. The government prevented the Church of the Virgin in Al-Zeytoun from being made higher on the pretext that it would interfere with air traffic – although the church is quite far from the airport. It built a mosque in the middle of the road in Al-‘Abbasiya so that it faces the cathedral. When the government thinks with this kind of mentality what signals does it send to the Muslim mob?
6. The Embracing Show: The Egyptian government maintains that the Copts should be satisfied and thank God for gestures that are a great honor for them. What is the matter with this Coptic greed, they seem to be asking. Isn’t it enough for them when the sheikhs embrace the priests in front of the television cameras? After all this, they whine about the burning of a few houses, the destruction of a church and a few people wounded or murdered when a church is opened or rebuilt. We Egyptian Muslims have a philosophy according to which we burn the Copts’ homes and churches and then apologize to their clerics. Be grateful to Allah that we do not annihilate you!
7. Interest in image, disregard of essence: All that interests the Egyptian regime is its image abroad; the facts on the ground are a secondary issue. To this end, the regime recruits businessmen to take out advertisements in leading American and European newspapers on various occasions, to say that all is well. It launches delegations at the expense of the Egyptian foreign ministry and with funds from the Coptic taxpayer to say that everything is just fine and we have come to establish a cultural dialogue! They deny the known facts and disseminate words of deceit. Unfortunately for them, since Sept. 11 these methods are of limited effect.
8. The renovation and rebuilding tax: For every attempt to build or rebuild a church, Copts must pay in lives and property, even though they have building permits. In July 2000, Coptic citizen Fakhri ‘Iyad paid with his life for his attempt to build a church in the village of Sol in Al-Fayyoum district. The same thing happened in August 2000, at the Qasr Rashwan Church in Al-Fayyoum. The church was attacked, then seven Coptic homes were attacked. Four people were wounded. Thus, while a church is being renovated, some Coptic homes are burned in exchange, and some people pay with their lives.
9. Recurring rituals: Special rituals have begun to emerge in all attacks on Copts. One of these is incitement against the “infidel Copts” from the mosques’ loudspeaker. Likewise, the security apparatuses are soft on the aggressors, and collaborate with them. Furthermore, telephone lines are cut so that no calls for help are possible. An additional ritual is blaming the Christians for provoking the Muslims – as if it were Christians who started the attacks. By God, how can a church bell calling people to prayer every week constitute provocation of Muslims? Is the mere existence of the Copt also a provocation?
I read that an American commentator wrote that during the Sadat era, an understanding was formed between Egypt and Saudi Arabia regarding the elimination of the Christian presence – primarily Egypt’s Copts – in the Middle East. This understanding expanded after Sadat’s death. Sadat himself is quoted as saying he intended to make the Copts bootblacks and beggars.
So, Saudi Arabia provided financial backing for religious radicalism in Egypt. Unfortunately, three decades later Egypt has become the largest exporter of extremist sheikhs. The Saudi funds helped paint Egyptian life in the colors of religious extremism.
In conclusion, I will say openly that the state is mistaken, and everyone in Egypt is mistaken, if they think that encouraging the majority to persecute the minority will lead to the submission of the Copts. This behavior will lead to collective suicide and the destruction of Egypt.
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