Some have questioned the wisdom of having a clear position on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
We have articulated a coherent, non-ambiguous position on the Arab-Israeli conflict to combat the extreme positions within the Coptic nation on the issue, which are damaging to the validity and morality of our own Coptic cause.
Why do we need to have a clear position on the Arab-Israeli conflict? Why commit ourselves when an ambiguous position is often taken as being politically more astute? Why do we need to have a position at all when we are not partners to the conflict and when by taking a position we risk angering one partner or the other, or, indeed, both?
The Coptic Nationalists must have a coherent position on the Arab-Israeli conflict because of its responsibility towards the Coptic nation and because it thinks of itself as a movement that will have to have a view on major world issues, particularly when they are closer to home. The Arab-Israeli conflict is forced on us whether we like it or not; and a position is often demanded of us whether we are ready or not! The lack of clear thinking about the matter in a mature and intelligent way quite often lands us in trouble: some are confused and don’t know where to position themselves; others are forced to take positions to please others; and yet some others voluntarily locate themselves to one or the other extreme position. The latters’ prejudiced, unbalanced positions – which are thankfully rare – may take the form of downright anti-Semitism or that of blatant hate for all Arabs and Muslims: one sees the Jews as the problem not just in the Middle East but in the whole world and wants to see Israel eradicated – the Arabist/Nasserist propaganda is still rife with it; the other sees all Arabs and Muslims as evil and would resist the natural inclination for fairness when it comes to them – their views are influenced by the extreme right.
We take an independent, centrist position based on justice not hatred: we are neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Arab, despite the fact that we suffered historically under the latter: we are not racists or religionists. Our position is moral: Israel has the right to exist and to defend itself; but Palestinians have rights too. In our opinion, the Two-State Solution is the only just and moral solution to the Arab-Israeli problem.
No one can underestimate the harmful effect of the extreme positions that some Copts take on this issue on the Coptic cause itself. The modern world requires a balanced and fair position on important issues from any movement that seeks justice for its own people. Our job, by developing this seven-point, principled position on the Arab-Israeli conflict, is to try to cajole our Coptic brethren to steer away from amoral, extreme positions that are damaging to their integrity and to the Coptic cause, and convince them of adopting our mature position.
And this desire to prevent any damage to the validity and morality of our own Coptic cause by extreme positions on the issue is the nationalistic drive for articulating this coherent, non-ambiguous position on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
 Not many appreciate how much courage it needs in Egypt to support the Two-State Solution which entails, inter alia, a recognition of Israel. This often enrages many anti-Semites and anti-Israelis in the region. Talking about Palestinian rights may also angers some Jews, such as in the extreme right-wing political groups.
It is mandatory that politically mature, responsible Copts think carefully and determine where they stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Their objective must be a principled position that is both moral and able to serve our national interest in a modern world that expects politicians to have a say – the right say – in major international political issues.
In 7 points, the Coptic Nationalists present their brave position in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
No one can accuse our position as being non-ethical or amoral.
Our position besides being moral serves the best interests of the Copts.
The Copts are not part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – we are neither Palestinian (nor Arab) nor Israeli, and we should not be expected to find a solution to such a complicated conflict or to have a detailed position on it. However, the conflict is often thrust on our way and frequently used either to intimidate us or block our cause. The Copts are confused over the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and fear from a backlash if they tread an independent position from the mainstream in Egypt and the region – this fear paralyses them from formulating a policy that is both moral and in the best interest of the Coptic nation. The lack of clear, well thought of, position on the conflict often leads the Copts to express hasty views, some of them blatantly anti-Semitic or anti-Palestinian, or take unwise actions, however good the intention is, which may be injurious to our religious and political interests. It is mandatory then for politically mature, responsible Copts to think carefully and determine where they stand on this subject. Their objective must be a principled position that is both moral and able to serve our national interest in a modern world that expects politicians to have a say – the right say – in major international political issues.
On this expectation, the Coptic Nationalists herewith explain their position vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict in the following seven-points:
- Israel is a legitimate state that has the right to exist. Different parties may disagree on where its final borders should be but there is no one except an anti-Semite who would think that Israel has no right to exist in that part of the world. Israel has been recognised as a legitimate and sovereign state by the United Nations, including Egypt which has signed the 1978 Camp David Accords and the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty after a long period of hostilities. Israel has thus ceased to be enemy of Egypt – at least officially – except in the minds of those who do not recognise its right to exist, of which the majority of the Copts do not constitute a part. It must be noted that even the Palestinian National Authority has diplomatic relationship with Israel; accordingly, it comes rich from any of our adversaries criticising the Copts for their recognition of Israel.
- The Palestinians also have rights. They have the right to have an independent viable state. We sympathise with the suffering of the ordinary Palestinians who are not motivated by anti-Semitism, and who do not use terrorism in their struggle. They have the right like all other peoples to live in peace and dignity.
- We believe that the Two-States Solution is the only moral and practical solution that can meet the just aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. This solution implies that both Palestinians and Israelis live in their own independent state alongside each other in peace and security. This is a solution to which all reasonable peoples can subscribe to. In the words of Tony Blair: “The only just way is two states for two peoples.”
- We do not believe in either the One State Solution or the Three State Solution. The former pretends to be ideal where both Jews and Arabs live in a one state as equal citizens. It, however, ignores the facts of history, the demography of the area, and the prevailing anti-Semitism of the Middle-East. In fact, this proposed solution, contrary to what it claims to be wanting to serve (i.e., a noble end), works only as a political tool in the hands of those who want to destroy Israel and reduce the Jews to a minority in a Muslim and Arab dominated society. Knowing the political culture of the area, the Jews can never expect an equal status as citizens within such a state; nor can they have a guarantee of their security. The latter solution (Three States Solution) is also defective. This solution aims at the absorption of the West Bank into Jordan and Gaza into Egypt, and by so doing it hopes to get rid of the Palestinian demands for an independent state. This solution has problems that originate in the desire of the Palestinians to have their own state; and also in the refusal of both Jordanians and Egyptians to unite with the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. In fact, such a solution creates more problems than it might solve. It goes without saying that we oppose extremist views from both sides: those who wish to eradicate the Jews in the region and those who want Muslims to be eradicated.
- We realise that there are important matters that come with the Two States Solution, such as the exact borders of the two states, the issue of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, etc., that have no ready answers. These need to be settled by the Israelis and Palestinians themselves through direct negotiations with assistance from the regional and international powers. For this to work, the two sides must genuinely believe in the vision and benefits of the Two State Solution; recognise the right of each other to exist; and acknowledge their mutual interdependence for peace, security and a prosperous future.
- We do not want to see Egypt getting into wars with Israel or for this sake any other country for the sake of other peoples, whether Palestinians or else. Egypt’s wars must be dictated by Egypt’s national interests, and must only be defensive when Egypt is attacked or its vital interests threatened.
- The Copts must foster without fear strong relationship with Jews and Palestinians alike, those who share with them their worldview and a Middle-Eastern vision for peace, equality and respect for all regardless of religion, race, or language. The Copts must use every possible opportunity, and with all peoples, to advance their legitimate Coptic case as part of that same, noble vision.
 ‘The Only Just Way Is Two States for Two Peoples’ By Michael Elliott in the Time Magazine (Thursday, Sept. 02, 2010).
THE 2013 USCIRF (U.S. COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM) REPORT ON EGYPT’S STATUS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Figure 1: Egypt is designated Country of Particular Concern (CPC) by the U.S. for its severe violation of the religious freedom of the Copts and other religious minorities.
Egypt again is designated by the US as Country of Particular Concern for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of the religious freedom of Copts and other minorities. But don’t hold your breath!
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has published its 2013 report on the status of religious freedom across the world. To whom who don’t know the USCIRF yet, it is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), which was enacted by the U.S. Congress. Its principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
The USCIRF publishes an annual report on 1 May each year. Part of the mechanisms it uses to advance international religious freedom is naming and shaming “those governments that have engaged in or tolerated ‘particularly severe’ violations of religious freedom”. These are called Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). The IRFA defines “particularly severe” violations as ones that are “systematic, ongoing, and egregious,” including acts such as torture, prolonged detention without charges, disappearances, or “other flagrant denial[s] of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.” And this year the USCIRF has recommended that the Secretary of State designate Egypt as a CPC, thus joining the 15-countries “honour” list of Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. Egypt has been designated CPC because, “during a February 2013 visit to Egypt, USCIRF found that the Egyptian government continued to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief.”
The USCIRF recommendations for U.S. Policy, in addition to designating Egypt a CPC, include the following:
The U.S. government should:
Not certify the disbursement of the appropriated $1.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) until the Egyptian government demonstrates that it is using FMF funds to implement policies that protect freedom of religion and related human rights; once the government so demonstrates, ensure that a portion of the funding is used to help the police implement an effective plan for dedicated police protection for religious minority communities and their places of worship;
Urge the Egyptian government to bring the new constitution in line with the internationally-recognized standards for freedom of religion and belief;
Press the transitional Egyptian government to undertake immediate reforms to improve religious freedom conditions, including repealing decrees banning religious minority faiths, removing religion from official identity documents, and passing a law for the construction and repair of places of worship;
Press the Egyptian government to prosecute perpetrators of sectarian violence, including creating a special unit in the Office of the Public Prosecutor; and
Press the Egyptian government to ensure that responsibility for religious affairs is not placed under the jurisdiction of the new domestic security agency.
The U.S. Congress should:
Require the Departments of State to report every 90 days on the transitional government’s progress on issues including compliance with international human rights standards–including freedom of religion or belief, protection of religious minorities, and the prosecution of perpetrators of sectarian violence, as well as on the U.S. government’s progress in directly funding Egyptian NGOs without prior Egyptian government approval.
The Copts, and other religious minorities in Egypt, must be advised not to raise their expectations and to understand that this is not the first time that Egypt is designated CPC. The first time it happened was in 2012. The IRFA sates that:
After a country is designated a CPC, the President is required by law to take one or more of the actions specified in IRFA, or to invoke a waiver if circumstances warrant.
In 2012 President Obama invoked a waiver in regards to Egypt’s systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom citing the strategic importance of Egypt to the U.S. We will have to wait for the States Department’s own report and response to the USCIRF’s 2013 report, and see what Obama will do.
The Coptic Church must insist that the pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a religious tradition and has got nothing to do with politics, or with who is in actual control of Jerusalem, except in the minds of its oppressors.
I am glad the Copts have started revisiting the Holy Land to make their pilgrimage to Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem and the Jordan River each Lent and to celebrate Easter there. This tradition by Egyptian Christians is old and goes back to at least the 4th century. The Coptic pilgrimage to the Holy Land has always been undertaken fervently by Copts. However, during various periods of our history we were denied this spiritual joy because of oppression by Muslim rulers or fanatic scholars who banned Copts from the Holy Land under various pretexts. Occasionally the trip to the Holy Land was made impossible by wars between competing forces of control in the Middle East or by the unruly Arab Bedouins who made the route from Egypt to the Holy Land insecure.
In recent times the Coptic Church has self-imposed a ban on visits to Israel because of the Arab-Israeli war. Faced with intense animosity to Israel by Arabs and Muslims, and the opposition to any form of normalisation with it, Coptic popes were concerned that the non-Arab Coptic Christians will be ostracised and attacked by Muslims and Arabs if they went to Israel during Lent and Easter. During Egypt’s liberal period, which ended in 1952, Copts were free to visit the Holy Land. However, since Nasser inaugurated his dictatorial rule in 1952 Copts found it extremely dangerous to continue their traditional pilgrimage. Israel had been born in 1948 after a war in which Egypt was involved. This was followed by the rise of Arab nationalism under Nasser and yet more wars with Israel. Nasser, a staunch enemy of Israel, allowed no opposition or deviation from his state’s line – during his rule no one could even think or dream of visiting the Holy Land.
Even after the Camp David Accords in 1978 and Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979, by which Egypt recognised Israel as a legitimate state and established bilateral diplomatic relations, the Coptic Church was put under tremendous pressure by Arabists and Islamists not to visit the Holy Land in Israel. Copts will be considered as traitors of the Palestinian cause if they travelled to Israel. Realising this, and submitting to political expediency, and keen to protect the Copts from reprisals by these elements, H.H. Pope Shenouda III issued an ecclesiastical edict in 1979 prohibiting Copts from visiting Israel for pilgrimage under the penalty of excommunication.
We fully understand the reasons which led to the decision taken by our much beloved and saintly Pope Shenouda III. However, we believe that was a wrong decision: the purely religious, non-political nature of visits to the Holy Land should instead have been emphasised and the whole matter left to individual Copts’ own free will. Nay, the religious freedom of the Copts to visit Christ’s land, as it is the Muslims’ right to visit Mecca, should have been stressed and defended. It is hard to be convinced that one commits a mortal sin in front of the Almighty God, deserving of excommunication, by “visit[ing] the sites in which our Lord the Christ accepted suffering in His body, and see[ing] the place of His Resurrection, and get[ing] blessed by these divine antiquities,” as the 13th century Coptic scholar al-Safi ibn al-‘Assal says.[i]
Defending the Copts’ right to undertake their religious pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we strongly support it. Why should Copts continue to visit the Holy Land? And why is it right to do so? We answer in the following three points:
- Egypt is not at war anymore with Israel. There is a peace agreement between the two countries that has ended the former state of animosity between Egypt and Israel. Not only Egypt but even the Palestinian National Authority, and several other Arab entities, have recognised the State of Israel and established political, diplomatic, intelligence and trade relations with it. Even Hamas is considering recognising Israel as legitimate state and accepting the two-state solution. There is no Egyptian law that bans visits to Israel. Visits by Copts to the Holy Land can hardly be regarded as treason or crime.
- The Coptic tradition of visiting the Holy Land is purely religious and has got nothing to do with politics. The Holy Land has changed hands several times since that tradition started in the 4th century. The Byzantines, Persians, Muslims (from various dynasties and ethnicities), Crusaders, British and Jews have all come at some stage to rule Jerusalem. At no period did the Copts consider their visit to the Holy Land to possess any political significance. They did not visit Jerusalem only when it was held by Christians but continued to do so at times when it was seized by Zoroastrian Persians and Muslim ethnicities. We do not see any reason why now Copts should stop visiting Jerusalem just because it is under its Jewish holders. In summary, the Copts’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land has never meant either a political support or lack of it to those who control it.
- Threatening Copts not to visit the Holy Land is tyrannical and must be resisted. The truth of the matter is that the pressures put on the Copts in order not to visit the Holy Land is an extension of the oppression by Arabists and Islamists to which the Copts have been exposed for a considerable length of time – and it is a pressure backed by threats and terror messages. If we don’t stop this tradition, and go to Israel to complete our religious experience, we have heard several times, we shall be attacked and even get eliminated. This is truly not about normalisation with Israel – it is about oppressing the Copts and restricting their religious liberty by the Muslim majority.
The Coptic pilgrimage to the Holy Land – a religious tradition – has been made political, and seen as normalisation with Israel, only by these Arabists and Islamists: a sign not only of oppression but a pretext for yet more oppression of the Coptic religious minority. We must resist that. The Coptic Church must insist that the pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a religious tradition and has got nothing to do with politics, or with who is in actual control of Jerusalem, except in the minds of its oppressors. Prohibiting Copts to go to the Holy Land on the footsteps of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the disciples the Church, in sympathy with the Palestinians (I know not who exactly since the Palestinian National Authority has recognised Israel), is simply falling into the trap of politicising this great religious tradition of ours by ourselves – and by this, we only assist our oppressors to oppress us even more and take the rest of our religious liberties away.
[i] Al-Majmo’a Al-Safawi by al-Safi Abu al-Fadail ibn al-‘Assal; Vol. 1; p. 196.
In an interview with Reuters on 25 April 2013, and published today, Pope Tawadros II, spoke out against the appalling current situation in Egypt and the Islamists’ policies against the Copts. The reader must read the Reuters article – I have reproduced it here in detail due to its importance.
This is how a Coptic pope is expected to do: speak out against oppression. In a just society the Church’s intervention in politics, by expressing opinions, would be expected to be minimal. However, when tyranny reigns, especially under Islamic rule, the Church can find itself in one of two situations, either submitting to oppression or resisting it. There is no question in my mind as to what direction the Church should go: resistance politics. The Church must speak out against injustice! This is what the Church is doing now, and that is what we have encouraged in a previous article “The Coptic Church and Politics”.
Those misguided Copts from the laity who shout: “The Church should not interfere in politics,” let them read what the Pope has had to say in the interview: “Christians’ problems and hardships have two sides, a religious side and a civilian one.” Let the Pope defends the rights of the Church and matters related to religious liberty, and let you do the same, and on top, fight for other Coptic and Egyptian civilian rights! The Church does not restrain you from political activity – it encourages you to get involved. And in many ways it leads the way!
EGYPT’S POPE SAYS ISLAMIST RULERS NEGLECT COPTS
REUTERS (CAIRO, Friday 26 April 2013): Yasmine Saleh and Paul Taylor. Writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Philippa Fletcher
Figure 1: Pope Tawadros II (Reuters/Asmaa Waguih, 25 April 2013).
Coptic Pope Tawadros II, head of Coptic Orthodox church, talks to Reuters during an interview in Cairo, April 25, 2013. Egypt’s Christians feel sidelined, ignored and neglected by Muslim Brotherhood-led authorities, who proffer assurances but have taken little or no action to protect them from violence, the pope said. In his first interview since emerging from seclusion after eight people were killed in sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians this month, the pope called official accounts of clashes at Cairo’s Coptic cathedral on April 7 ”a pack of lies”.
(Reuters) – Egypt’s Christians feel sidelined, ignored and neglected by Muslim Brotherhood-led authorities, who proffer assurances but have taken little or no action to protect them from violence, Coptic Pope Tawadros II said.
In his first interview since emerging from seclusion after eight people were killed in sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians this month, the pope called official accounts of clashes at Cairo’s Coptic cathedral on April 7 “a pack of lies”.
He also voiced dismay at attempts by President Mohamed Mursi’s Islamist allies to purge thousands of judges appointed under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, saying the judiciary was a pillar of Egyptian society and should not be touched.
“There is a sense of marginalization and rejection, which we can call social isolation,” the pope told Reuters on Thursday of the feelings of Christians, who he said make up at least 15 percent of Egypt’s 84 million people. Most Egyptians are Sunni Muslims.
Attacks on churches and sectarian tensions increased significantly after the rise of Islamists to power following the 2011 uprising that overthrew Mubarak, even though Christians had demonstrated alongside Muslims for his removal.
Asked about the government’s response to this month’s attacks, he said: “It made a bad judgment and it was negligent… I would have expected better security for the place and the people.”
Mursi and his ministers tried to mend fences with the 60-year-old Coptic pontiff after the April 5 clashes in the town of El Khusus, north of Cairo, in which four Christians and one Muslim were killed.
Sectarian violence spread to the capital’s sprawling St Mark’s Cathedral, the pope’s headquarters, after the funerals.
“Sometimes we get nice feelings from officials, but such feelings require actions, and the actions are slow, and maybe little, and sometimes don’t exist at all,” the pope said.
Riot police appeared to stand aside during what was the first attack on the seat of Christianity in Egypt in more than 1,400 years, although Coptic churches and community centers have suffered periodic violence for years.
EMIGRATION OUT OF FEAR
The pope said he was concerned by signs that some Copts were emigrating “because they are fearing the new regime”. Others were going abroad to study, seek work or join family, he said.
In a concerted drive, the interior minister paid a condolence call on Tawadros on Wednesday and the ministers of information and tourism visited him on Thursday for a meeting televised on state media.
But the pope said that beyond promises to investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice, nothing practical had been done to improve the lot of Copts.
“After the last incidents, we gained some promises from the authorities and the government, from some ministers, but till now there is nothing new,” he said.
Christians have long complained of discrimination in employment and treatment by the authorities and called for changes in laws to make it as easy to build or renovate churches as it is for mosques.
“Christians’ problems and hardships have two sides, a religious side and a civilian one. The religious side involves two main issues: building churches and land,” the pope said.
“I expect the government to facilitate and solve the chronic problems… For example, the building of a new church takes more than 15-16 years to get permission.”
The black-robed pontiff, carrying a white-tipped staff and a Coptic cross in his hand, was particularly scathing about an account of the cathedral violence posted on the Facebook page of Mursi’s national security adviser, Essam Haddad.
“It is 100 percent rejected,” Tawadros said. “This statement was in English, directed to the U.S. State Department, and was sent with a CD to explain their position and to cover up, but this statement is a pack of lies. It did not tell the truth.”
Haddad’s office said Christians had instigated the clashes by vandalizing cars outside the cathedral during the funeral procession, and that firearms and petrol bombs had been used from inside the church compound, provoking the security forces.
A Reuters witness saw at least two people carrying guns and petrol bombs on the roof of the cathedral that day, but the pope said mourners had merely been reacting to an assault.
“They did not come to make violence, they came for a funeral, and when they came out of the church, they started to be subjected to violence. And hence they acted. There is a difference between action and reaction,” he said.
The pope said the church had not even been asked to provide its account of events to government officials.
Pope Tawadros, the 118th head of Coptic Orthodox church, was picked on November 5 in a ceremony steeped in the traditions of a community that predates Islam’s arrival in Egypt. He studied pharmacology in Egypt and England and managed a state-owned pharmaceutical factory for a few years before becoming a monk.
The 60-year-old pontiff succeeded Pope Shenouda III, who had led Egyptian Christians for four decades, clashing early on with former President Anwar Sadat but enjoying warmer relations with Mubarak, who acted as the Copts’ political protector.
By contrast, Mursi has kept his distance, staying away from Tawadros’ inauguration and shunning Coptic Christmas celebrations, to avoid alienating hardline conservative Salafi Islamists who refuse to recognize Christian holidays.
He offended Copts by setting the date for parliamentary elections on the Coptic Easter holiday, then admitting when he changed the polling day after Christian protests that he had been aware of the religious festival.
During the interview the pope offered an Easter prayer for Mursi, saying: “May God help you to serve in the work you are doing and may the situation in Egypt improve and the bridges of trust between all officials and citizens be strengthened.”
Figure 1: Alistair Burt MP.
Alistair Burt MP is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The minister is The minister is based in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and is responsible for Middle East and North Africa besides Afghanistan and South Asia, counter terrorism and counter proliferation. On 9 April 2013 he issued a statement titled “Alistair Burt condemns violence outside Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, and calls on all parties in Egypt to respect freedom of religion”. The “violence outside Coptic Cathedral in Cairo” is of course the Islamist violent attack on the St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral, in Abbasseya, Cairo, on 7 April as Copts gathered to attend the funeral service of four Copts who were massacred by Muslims in the village of Khosous, Qaliubiya Province, two days earlier, on 5 April 2013.
Here is Alistair Burt’s statement:
Alistair Burt condemns violence outside Coptic Cathedral in Cairo, and calls on all parties in Egypt to respect freedom of religion.
Reacting to violent clashes that broke out at St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo following a funeral there, Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt said:
I strongly condemn the violent clashes that occurred outside Cairo’s St Mark’s Coptic Cathedral on 7 April, leaving at least one person dead and many others injured. I offer my condolences to the families of the victims, and urge all to show restraint. Freedom of religion and belief is a vital component of a democratic society, and it is important that individuals are able to visit their places of worship safely and peacefully, and that security forces act effectively to protect them. We welcome the news that there will be an investigation into the incident.
The reader can easily see the inadequacy of such a statement and its moral weakness. The violence was perpetrated by Muslims against Copts at both Khosous and the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo. But at no place does the minister mentions the Muslim perpetrators or the Coptic victims of the violence. But the most flabbergasting part of the statement is his call: “I … urge all to show restraint.” This could be very amusing had it not been so painful: the “violent clashes”, which had ended a couple of days earlier, were actually, as we have already said, an attack by Muslim Islamists aided by the interior ministry apparatus of police. To ask “all”, meaning the Coptic victims of violence and its Muslim perpetrators, to show restraint is bamboozling – it simply ignores the victim-criminal dynamics of such clashes in Egypt. And lastly, he says, “We welcome the news that there will be an investigation into the incident.” This is good, but have you detected any call for a quick, full, open and independent inquiry? Is there any emphasis from Great Britain that Egypt brings the perpetrators of this violence to justice?
I know Alistair Burt, and I know he is a good man, but he is clearly influenced by political correctness. Further, he must be thinking of the national interests of Britain with the Egyptian government and the Islamists in the Middle East and North Africa – these, admittedly, surpass the importance of the human rights of the 15 million Christian Copts. All this is understandable; however, while the Copts and Christians of the Middle East suffer, in part because of such betrayal policies by the Great Powers, we must question the morality of such policies. There was a time when Great Britain made a great contribution to the emancipation of the Christians in the Middle East: the times of The Right Honourable Stratford Canning, Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe. Not anymore, it seems.
Figure 1: The cheerful, hopping Coptic unicorn, from a Sahidic Coptic manuscript in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.
The very prominent Coptologist, Alin Siciu, has recently shared with us a picture of a unicorn which he got in a detail from a Coptic manuscript in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. He dates the manuscript to the 9th century. The beautiful Coptic painting shows a cheerful, hopping unicorn, which one cannot look at without smiling and feeling good. Unicorns are, of course, mystical horse-like animals that are white and with a single, large, pointed, spiralling horn growing from their forehead. They are sometimes depicted with goat’s beard and cloven hooves.
The unicorn (μονοκερωτων) is mentioned in Greek mythology and was described by Aristotle and Strabo. The Greeks were convinced it existed in India. There are a few mentions of the unicorn in the Old Testament. A fabulous book called The Physiologus, which was written in Alexandria in the 2nd century, possibly by Clement of Alexandria, has described the unicorn with other mythical creatures, such as the phoenix, and used them as symbols for Christ: the phoenix which burns itself to death and rises on the third day from the ashes is the type of the Resurrection and the unicorn that only permits itself to be captured in the lap of a pure virgin is a type of the Incarnation. These symbols were taken by the Christian Church, particularly in the West, and used them in art: e.g., the Virgin Mary is often depicted holding the unicorn on her lap.
It happened as Alin Siciu was publishing the Coptic unicorn painting I was reading A Panegyric on Apollo, Archimandrite of the Monastery of Isaac by Steven Bishop of Heracleopolis Magna in its English translation by K. H. Kuhn. This Panegyric, which was written around AD 600, forms part of the Pierpont Morgan Codex, which date to the 9th and 10th centuries. It is composed of many manuscripts written in the Upper Egyptian (Sahidic) dialect and is now kept in New York. Apa Apollo was a Coptic saint who lived at the age of Justinian (527 – 565) – an age in which the Coptic Church was persecuted by the Byzantine Empire that wanted the Copts to comply with the Chelcedonian formula – what the Copts described as the “two natures and two persons doctrine”, which was to them anathema. Coptic churches and monasteries were usurped by the followers of the Imperial faith, and many Coptic monks found themselves forced to leave. Saint Apollo departed from Pbow, one of the largest coenobitic communities in Upper Egypt, and travelled a bit north where he came to a certain mountain where he established a monastery and church, gathering many of the refugee Coptic monks. The Panegyric says in this respect:
… and he [Apollo] then built his holy place like the unicorn. For the Holy Spirit likened this holy community to the unicorn, that is the single horned one, that has his horn straight up to heaven. Even if those that are brought forth from it are many, still all the holy brethren of the community have one single aim, that is the holy way of life, even if the good conduct for which each one strives is different.
Here the ascetic community founded by Apa Apollo is likened to the unicorn. The symbolism rests on the unicorn’s horn that points “straight up to heaven”. Psalms 77:69 mentions the unicorn in the context of building sanctuaries, “And he built his sanctuary as of unicorns, in the land which he founded for ever.” I believe the symbolic meaning of the unicorn in Coptic culture has been taken from the Psalmody rather than from The Physiologus. The Coptic sanctuary should have a purposeful, single aim, even as it allows differences in practice, and that purpose is “the holy way of life”. The unicorn, with its single horn that points to heaven, is the symbol of Coptic ascetic communities – always focused at Christ and Heaven. Furthermore, it always seeks and lives “the holy way of life” in joy: hence the rare lovely, cheerful, dancing Coptic unicorn!
 Published in Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Vol. 395; Scriptores Coptici, Tomus 40 (Louvain, 1978).
 It forms part of Manscript 579, fols. 130v-148r.
 A Panegyric on Apollo; p. 15.
 The Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA). The OT of this Catholic edition was published in 1609-1610, and was taken from the Latin Vulgate which goes back to the 4th century.