IN DEFENCE OF POPE SHENOUDA في الدفاع عن البابا شنودة
The Coptic Christmas celebrations this year have not been entirely enjoyable – thanks to the rogue elements in Coptia who suffer with what I call the Neo-Dhimmi Syndrome, and who went wild in their display of disrespect to the Coptic Church and its leadership, when the occasion was not appropriate and the cause unjustified. About this syndrome I will talk later in detail, but it is basically a syndrome of alienation from the Coptic Church by some Copts who neither understand the religious, historical and national Coptic role of the Church, nor retain any respect for it or its leadership. The attendance of Egypt’s military rulers last night at the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo was not the first time for them to initiate their voluminous abuse of Pope Shenouda – it was just another occasion for repetition of these pernicious and toxic attacks on the Pope which were observed on several occasions before. It is an old chronic hate of Pope Shenouda and the Coptic Church which is acutely triggered every while and then. It is remarkable that their attacks intensify at Coptic festivities, particularly at Christmas and Easter, possibly because it is at these sacred occasions that the Church appears at its strongest with millions of Copts celebrating and united in Christ around it. There must be something that scares them of that.
While the Coptic nationalists have their political differences with the leadership of the Church, they hold them in respect for various reasons – they are undoubtedly important part of our Church; and the Coptic nationalists deeply respect this Church as it is the only institution that has historically sustained our nation and kept it united. Its Coptic nationalist role, not to forget or minimise its other roles, cannot be overemphasised. The way to disagree with the Church leadership is through mutual, respectful dialogue not by hurling insults and abuses on the Head of the Church, who is still loved and respected by the overwhelming majority of the Copts. The irresponsible, rude and aggressive language, and acts, used by those frustrated Copts only help to assist our enemies in undermining our nation and weakening it. It is foolish and dangerous – as foolish and dangerous as the 1954 misguided, and catastrophic, action by the Society of Coptic Nation (جماعة الأمة القبطية) in the kidnapping of Pope Joseph II of Alexandria.
It seems that some Muslims of Egypt, who were previously very cautious about any sort of verbal abuse of Pope Shenouda and the Coptic Church, got the hint and encouragement from these rogue Coptic elements – and they joined the chorus with cymbals and a drum. Some of their comments were very filthy and outraged millions of the Copts.[i] The leadership of the Church may be anything, and it does err politically, but the Muslims of Egypt must understand that it, at least, stands within the Coptic community as the Queen of Britain, for example, stands – the Britons may disagree with her or with the royalty, but they chose their words when discussing matters related to her and the monarchy in general; and they don’t accept non-Britons abusing her. This is because of the symbolic role she represents – she is not just the British head of state; she embodies their history, honour and pride. An insult on the Queen is an insult on the British nation.
It may help the Muslims of Egypt to understand why the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) had been invited to the Christmas celebrations at the Saint Mark Coptic Cathedral in Cairo last night, if they could only understand the following: that the SCAF might have been invited by the Pope, but only in the technical sense – reality is that the SCAF imposed themselves on him as they wanted to use the occasion, attended by local and international media, as a propaganda opportunity for them to appear tolerant, which is mainly directed at the West; that it is traditional matter that at every Christmas Egypt’s rulers are invited – it has happened with previous dictators, some of them oppressors of the Copts, including Farouk, Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak and now Tantawi; that they should not blame the Pope for their frustrations with the SCAF; that the Church, especially at Christmas, is not and should not be Tahrir Square – it is an occasion for good will to all; that it is preposterous and ridiculous for some of them to suggest that the Pope “sold” the blood of Coptic martyrs; that it is inaccurate to say that the Pope was part of the Old Regime – how come when the Church and Copts were oppressed under it?; that they shouldn’t be misled by those few alienated Copts who attacked the Pope and tried to appear “revolutionaries” – Pope Shenouda, in fact, is loved and respected by the overwhelming majority of the Copts; that it is one thing that Copts criticise the Pope but it is another thing that Muslims join the abuse and use foul language against him; that Egypt’s problems and dictatorship are not created or maintained by the Pope – they should look somewhere else for that; that they should better focus on fighting the military and the Islamists, who are the threat on Egypt’s civilianism, secularism and democracy rather than the benign Pope who has no real political power and only wants to see a state of equal citizenship so that his Christian flock may worship the Almighty in peace; and last but not lease, that Christmas is the celebration of the Birth of the Christ, the Saviour of the world as the Copts believe, and not the occasion to score political points at anyone or to insult the Copts by insulting their spiritual leadership.
The problem of the Copts who suffer from the Neo-Dhimmi Syndrome is a serious one – Copts must discuss it and try to understand it better in order that they are able to deal with it. Coptic nationalism predict that those alienated Copts will get more vocal in the future; but, most importantly and sinisterly, they will be used by the enemies of the Copts in their continuing attempts to divide the nation and weakening its Church.
[i] I particularly point here to one twitterer who writes under the name @waelabbas: he described the Pope as شنودة المعرص . But even some Copts used that foul language.