Persecution of the Copts: Morsi, the Brotherhood, and the failure of the West

The Coptic Church said in a statement issued today (19th August 2013): “We strongly denounce the fallacies broadcasted by the western media and invite them to review the facts objectively regarding these bloody radical organizations and their affiliates instead of legitimizing them with global support and political protection while they attempt to spread devastation and destruction in our dear land. We request that the international and western media adhere to providing a comprehensive account of all events with truth, accuracy, and honesty.”

Taking a look among some of the Christian news agencies, it certainly seems as though the Christians in Egypt have become a lightening rod for Islamic hardliners' wrath at the stalling of their project of creating a Sharia state in Egypt. Today there was video footage of a taxi driver being dragged from his car and beaten to death, reputedly because he had a cross displayed on his dashboard. 

This was in Alexandria, a relatively peaceful area as far as Christians are concerned, a city that is quite westernised. The worst areas seem to be in Upper Egypt, away from the capital, around Asiut for example, an area where the Guardian reported that a hardline extremist who was a member of Gamaa Islamiya had recently been appointed by Morsi as regional governor. ACN reported that "Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria described how he was "saved" by police who stopped Islamists from setting fire to his home in Luxor during a spate of violence that has grounded the region's Christian community – including the bishop, priests, Sisters and laity – and prevented them from leaving their homes." 

According the ACN 80 churches, convents, Church-run schools, clinics and other centres were hit since the violence spiralled out of control with the ousting of Morsi. Fox News reported Ishaq Ibrahim, from The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, claiming to have documented as many as 39 incidents on Wednesday alone of violence against churches, monasteries, Coptic schools and shops across Egypt. The OCP media network reported attacks on 25 Coptic churches. This article describes how inflamed tensions are easily manipulated and systematic attacks organised on the local churches and Christian population in general.

These are clearly attacks on Christians because they are Christians, perceived by some Islamic sections of Egyptian society to be their enemies, responsible for the vicious violence which the Morsi supporters received at the hands of the Egyptian army. Certainly the Coptic Pope has publicly backed the army and its tactics, seeing in the Muslim Brotherhood an intractable enemy of the Christian community at whose hands it had long complained of being the victim of violence and intimidation. However, the current Egyptian government has the support of various sections of Egyptian society. That this has been a deliberate ploy of the Brotherhood to make political capital, and I would suggest deliberately destabalise the country, has been documented by Egyptian human rights organisations, as reports here "At the camp of Morsi supporters near Cairo’s Rabaa El Adawiya square, organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, some speakers on the protests’s stage railed against Christians and their “betrayal” of Egypt. Attacks against Christians spread throughout Egypt, particularly in southern Egypt where the Christian population is large and sectarian violence common. On August 7, 16 Egyptian rights organizations condemned the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies for using rhetoric that included “clear incitement to violence and religious hatred in order to achieve political gains.” The groups also condemned the government and security forces for failing to protect against sectarian attacks or hold accountable those responsible."

Yet there have also been many stories about Muslims defending their Christian neighbours and here are a couple of photographs of a church protected by Muslims while at the same time doing their Friday prayers. (The yellow writing says ""we are all brothers,we are all united" this the yellow one" and the red ""Muslims in Sohag at Egypt had prayed Friday prayer in front of a church to protect it " )

I was speaking last June with a Coptic nun that I am friends with, who returned from Egypt about six months ago. She had previously told me about how difficult things had been getting before Morsi, but when she came back I was surprised when she said that because of the Muslim Brotherhood's hostility she found ordinary Muslims were much friendlier and very supportive of the Christians. These photographs would suggest that this is true, and perhaps, just perhaps, while many of our Christian brothers and sisters are paying for this revolt against an intolerant and dominating Islam with their lives, that a more tolerant Islamic Egypt will emerge as a result. However, that is about all that is positive I think it is realistic to now hope for.

The majority of Egyptians never remotely voted for Morsi in the first place as there was such a low turnout, and those who did and who were not part of the Brotherhood did so because the only alternative was a stooge of the old Mubarak era which they had struggled so hard to overthrow. Morsi showed no respect at all for that political reality, and that he chose to pursue a divisive and partisan agenda, not least at the expense of significant minorities such as the Copts, made it clear that democracy was just a front for another, very different agenda. This would be more akin to the National Socialists winning the democratic elections in the Weimar Republic, than the election of the Labour Party in the UK. In overthrowing Morsi the Egyptian people attempted to rescue their fragile democracy from those who were intent on using that as a camouflage to give a vestige of legitimacy for a very different and sinister agenda that threatened to turn Egypt into the dark ages. That Egyptians have remained loyal to the principles of a tolerant, democratic spirit seems to have been overlooked in the way Western politicians and some journalists have so far responded to the challenge which this popular uprising has presented.

Because the West have shrugged and wriggled and spoken on and on about 'democracy' and focused entirely on how the military uprising was 'undemocratic' it gives the idea that Morsi and his supporters really were democratic. In fact they were using democracy simply to orchestrate the sort of democracy that Iran now enjoys, one where candidates are selected and vetted by the religious elite to conform to their basic viewpoint, and to re-structure society according to their own interpretation of an imposed Islamic code. While the new Constitution was given a free vote, the President was at the same time dismantling of the powers of accountability placed around his office, and so it was a referendum in the context of a president above the law and the sole arbiter of the law. This was no democratic President, and the west should have long ago been backing the Egyptian people and bringing pressure on him to stand down. That the West failed to do so left the Egyptian people with no choice but to rely upon their own resources, and that meant their military. There was no other way of preventing democracy being snuffed out by a radical, intolerant, fanatical regime.  

This continuing inability to address the reality has now resulted in the army believing that democracy cannot deliver stability and safety for most Egyptians, and so propelled them into a much more vicious repression, itself fermenting the very instability which it was supposed to avoid. It has also been a gift to those who resented loosing power during the Arab Spring, creating a neat scenario by which they have begun to creep back into power which I am sure they are unlikely to relinquish very soon and without even more disturbance and bloodshed. If the West had rather saluted the popular uprising as a democratic spirit, with the pressure then to see elections as soon as possible, and with encouragement and resources poured in to ensure that there really was a choice which the people could get behind, then the Morsi Brotherhood would have been increasingly isolated and deprived of the oxygen of victimhood. As it is, we now have the worst of all worlds, and the likelihood that democracy will have gone for some considerable time.


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