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THE MEDIA INACCURACY IN REPORTING THE VIOLENCE AGAINST THE COPTS IN EGYPT

May 21, 2011

The CNN’s caption for this photo is:Firefighters extinguish a blaze at a church following clashes between Muslims and Christians in Cairo, Egypt on May 8, 2011”. An accurate caption would have been: “Firefighters extinguish a blaze at a church following violent attack by Muslim extremists on Christian Copts in Cairo, Egypt on May 8, 2011”.

THE VOICE OF AMERICA has recently broadcast an excellent interview by Eric Felten on his programme On the Line which he titled “Violence against Copts in Egypt”. His guests in the programme were Qamar-ul Huda and Ziya Meral.

Qamar-ul Huda is senior programme officer at the Religious and Peacemaking Center of the US Institute of Peace.[i]  Ziya Meral is a Turkish researcher on the Middle East, writer and a PhD candidate in Politics at the University of Cambridge, UK; he is also a Fellow at the United States Commission of International Religious Freedom (USIRF), which has recently published a report on religious freedom in Egypt, and branded it Country of Particular Concern (CPC) because of its serious violations of the religious freedom of the Copts.[ii]

Eric Felten

You can watch Eric Felten’s On the Line programme here:

http://www.vimeo.com/24018614

Felten started his programme by asking the following important questions: Will religious violence derail democracy in Egypt? What should be done to protect Egypt’s Christian minority? And how graver threat is religious violence to hopes Egypt will become a functional democracy?

Felton did not answer these questions himself but directed them to his two guests, after an introductory segment that demonstrated the Copts had become increasingly a target for religious violence in Egypt. Qamar-ul Huda didn’t say really anything useful, and it appears that he saw his role only as defending the reputation of the Muslims in Egypt. It is true that not all Muslims were attacking the Copts, and Copts do differentiate between the Moderate Muslims and the Islamists/Salafists  who have been Egypt’s menance in the late period. One would have expected from him more forceful exposition of the violence against the Copts, and his thoughts about how that could be addressed to promote peace and harmony in Egypt. The role of saying the truth, analysing the situation, making a diagnosis and suggesting solutions was left for the brilliant Ziya Meral. To listen to what Meral had to say, one has to watch the sixteen minute video clip.[iii]

 Ziya Meral

One thing which Meral said was particularly important, in my opinion. You can listen to him, at position 09.47-12.02, exposing the mistake of depicting the violence against the Coptic minority in Egypt as a religious conflict, and being presented to the world as a mutual fight and attacks between the Muslims and Christians in Egypt. He said even Western media had fallen into this trap of mistaken reporting. Meral told his viewers that the Copts were under attack; that they were victims; that those Muslims who attacked them wanted to curtail their religious freedom. And this is what was, and, indeed, is the case. Reporters must differentiate between aggressive Islamists who attack Copts, and the victim Copts, who, when attacked, occasionally defend themselves.

One has to just look at some of the Western media reporting after the Imbaba violence on 8 May 2011 in which the Islamists attacked Copts in their church, burned it down and massacred several Copts. The BBC report reads: “Cairo: Muslims and Christians clash in Imbaba” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13325448 ), giving the impression that it was a religious fight between the two, rather than a religious violence on the Copts. The CNN did not even bother to send a reporter to investigate and find the truth, although it had several reporters in Cairo, but merely conveyed the opinion of Egyptian State and its version of the event:

Cairo (CNN) — Muslim-Christian sectarian violence intensified in Egypt this weekend, spurring an emergency meeting of the Cabinet and public exhortations from Coptic Christians for international protection.

At least 12 people were killed and 232 others were wounded in sectarian clashes outside a Cairo church, according to state TV. Officials said violence began over rumors that a Christian woman who converted to Islam was being held at the church against her will.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf postponed a trip to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to discuss the church attack and hold the emergency meeting, according to EgyNews, Egypt’s official news agency.

For the full report, go to: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/05/08/egypt.clashes/index.html?iref=allsearch

The CNN reporter, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, a Muslim Egyptian, who is not known for his fair reporting when it comes to Copts, again follows his lazy and inaccurate reporting when the peaceful sit-in protest by the Copts at Maspero, Cairo, was attacked on 14 May 2011 by Muslims. Again he quoted what the Egyptian State TV had to say, and present the violence as clashes between Copts and Muslims:

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) — Violence erupted in the Cairo neighborhood of Maspero when pro-Coptic protesters clashed with unidentified men, leaving at least two people dead and 60 injured, state TV reported early Sunday.

The demonstrators initially staged a sit-in in front of the state TV building to demand greater rights for the religious minority.

Problems between Egypt’s Muslim majority and its Coptic Christian minority have been on the rise in recent months, with a number of violent clashes reported between the two groups.

For the full report, go to: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/05/14/egypt.clashes/index.html?iref=allsearch

Ziya Meral exposed in the Voice of America’s programme the prejudice, laziness and inaccuracy in reporting of violence against the Coptic Christians in Egypt by some of its Muslims. The media can prevent further violence against religious and ethnic minorities if it reports correctly; it can, on the other hand, help in the continuation of such violence if it does not undertake its responsibility seriously.

The Copts must work professionally to ensure that the attacks against them are not presented as a fight between two equally bad groups. The attacks must be seen by the whole world as they are: attacks by aggressive, intolerant and violent Islamist group against a peaceful, law-abiding and persecuted religious minority. This is a task that they will have to undertake in the coming period as the violence against them is expected to get worse.


[iii] I think Meral made a mistake in saying that the Copts thought they were Arab, but that was a minor mistake.

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