BARAK OBAMA AND WILLIAM HAGUE ON THE MASPERO MASSACRE OF THE COPTS BY THE EGYPTIAN ARMY ON 9 10 11 – WHAT THEIR PATHETIC RESPONSES TELL US? WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT – People use their mobile phones to photograph the bodies of Coptic protesters at a hospital morgue after they were massacred by the Egyptian army on the Coptic Bloody Sunday on 9 October 2011. In total 25 Copts were killed and over 300 injured. Photo: STR / AP
ON 9 10 11 THOUSANDS OF CHRISTIAN COPTS gathered at Maspero, the State TV, which has become a focal point for peaceful protest following the 25 January 2011 Revolution. They were protesting the ransacking of a Coptic church in Aswan; the complicity of the Aswan Governor and his local security forces; and the lack of any response from current Egypt rulers, headed by Field-Marshal Muhammad Hussain Tantawi, in taking an action to address the injustice. The response which the Coptic people, estimated at 15 million strong, got from Egypt’s rulers was unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history: they allowed the national army to attack the an armed civilians which culminated in the killing of over 25 Copts – some of whom were run over by military vehicles, and many bodies tossed into the Nile River in a failed trial to conceal the massacre. In a shocking development, Egyptian TV stations, which are run by the Ministry for Information, presented the attacks in a reverse way as an attack by the Copts against the national Egyptian military, and asked the Muslims of Egypt to get out on the streets to protect their army. Consequently, in many places in Egypt, Muslims set upon Copts and beat them. I do not intend to give full account here of the Maspero Massacre (also called the Coptic Bloody Sunday; the Massacre of the Copts by the Egyptian Army; the 9 10 11 Massacre) – I will simply produce below a few links that can help him in understanding the origin of the problem and the events that had led to the massacre. Here they are:
The following is an excellent article by Mariz Tadros at the Middle East Research and Information Project: Egypt’s Bloody Sunday (published October 13, 2011), which gives a comprehensive cover of the events, and shows the contribution of the Aswan governor, Muslim zealots and the central Egyptian authorities in the crime:
For those who prefer to watch reports rather than read them, here is a selection of them on the deadly violence in Egypt on 9 10 11, the worst that the Copts have ever seen in their modern history:
CNN International: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr-lYgSGNQo
AS YOU CAN SEE, from the many reports on the international media, the Egyptian army’s heinous crime have produced revulsion in the conscience of the civilised world; brought unprecedented sympathy for the Christian Copts of Egypt; and exposed Egypt’s current rulers as possibly the worst since the Mamluke and Ottoman period. But while many in the West were deeply troubled and wanted their governments to act by protecting the Copts of Egypt, some of the responses that we saw coming from the West’s centres of power failed to respond to their peoples’ concerns. The responses of Britain and the United States of America were particularly troubling. Their politicians, sadly, did not match their nations in their outrage as newswires cabled and reported the events of the bloody Sunday in Cairo.
What did President of the United States of America – that great country which the Copts love and look for as leader of the free world – had to say about the massacre of the peaceful and unarmed Copts by Egypt’s army? I will simply copy the White House statement on the event (it calls it ‘violence’ and does not mention the word ‘massacre’):
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release October 10, 2011
Statement by the Press Secretary on Violence in Egypt
The President is deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt that has led to a tragic loss of life among demonstrators and security forces. The United States expresses our condolences to the families and loved ones of all who were killed or injured, and stands with the Egyptian people in this painful and difficult time. Now is a time for restraint on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt. As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities – including Copts – must be respected, and that all people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom. We also note Prime Minister Sharaf’s call for an investigation and appeal to all parties to refrain from violence. These tragic events should not stand in the way of timely elections and a continued transition to democracy that is peaceful, just and inclusive.[i]
What about the other great country and beacon of freedom – the country that once ruled Egypt – the United Kingdom? Did her Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, say anything? Nay. His Foreign Secretary, Mr William Hague, however, has shas had something to say; and he published it in the website of the British Embassy in Cairo. Here it is:
Foreign Secretary concerned by Cairo unrest
10 October 2011
Foreign Secretary William Hague urges all Egyptians to refrain from violence and support the Egyptian PM’s call for calm.
In a statement, the Foreign Secretary said:
“I am deeply concerned by the unrest yesterday in Cairo and condemn the loss of life. I urge all Egyptians to refrain from violence and support the Egyptian Prime Minister’s call for calm. It is essential that all sides calm the situation and engage in dialogue. The freedom of religious belief is a universal human right which needs to be protected everywhere. The ability to worship in peace is a vital component of any free and democratic society.”[ii]
And the diplomats in Cairo translated Mr William Hague’s statement into Arabic:
وزير الخارجية قلق جدا تجاه الاضطرابات في القاهرة
10 أكتوبر 2011
ناشد وزير الخارجية كافة المصريين الإحجام عن العنف وتلبية نداء رئيس الوزراء المصري الداعي إلى التهدئة. وشدد على ضرورة صيانة حرية المعتقدات الدينية باعتبارها حق إنساني عالمي.
في تصريح له يوم الاثنين، 10 أكتوبر، قال وزير الخارجية ويليام هيغ:
“أشعر بقلق شديد جراء القلاقل التي شهدتها القاهرة يوم أمس، وأدين وقوع ضحايا. إنني أحث جميع المصريين على الإحجام عن العنف وتلبية نداء رئيس الوزراء المصري الداعي إلى التهدئة. ومن الضروري أن تتخذ كل الأطراف خطوات فورية لوقف تصعيد الأوضاع والدخول في حوار.
إن حرية المعتقدات الدينية حق إنساني عالمي ولا بدَّ من حمايتها في كل مكان. كما أن القدرة على ممارسة العبادة بسلام واطمئنان تعتبر لبنة حيوية في بناء أي مجتمع حر وديموقراطي.”[iii]
THE BASIC FALLACY in Mr Obama’s and Mr Hague’s statements is that they presented the massacre of the unarmed Coptic protesters by the heavily armed Egyptian army as if it was a clash between equals in strength and responsibility. They thus immorally equated the innocents with the criminals; victims with aggressors; Coptic civilians protesting flagrant injustice with the unrestrained Egyptian army, its leaders and the Islamists of Egypt. Anyone who would read the statements, and doesn’t know the truth of what had happened at Maspero, would conclude that the Copts were attacking the Egyptian army, and killing its members, in as much as the Egyptian army was attacking, and killing, the Copts. He would think that the Coptic protesters were armed, that they shot at the Egyptian soldiers, and that they killed some of them – which is exactly what the official Egyptian version of the events was, but which could not be proved; and has, in fact, been rejected by eyewitnesses, human rights organisations and the international media.
Anyone else would have unqualifiedly condemned the attacks on the peaceful Coptic Christians by the Egyptian army and the zealot Muslims of Egypt. Taking number of victims out of the debate, the aggression, failure and complicity of the State – represented in its rulers, governors, army, police, security forces, media and fanatic supporters – that the civilised world has seen in the Maspero Massacre is reminiscent of the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989 and the Rwanda Massacre in 1993. The world, particularly after the massacre of the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda, in 1993, is supposed to be more active in condemning any massacre of the sort, regardless of the number of the victims. As the world history has often shown us, a smaller massacre ignored can often lead to large scale massacres, involving hundreds of thousands, or even millions, if the international community failed to condemn it in the strongest possible words. Mr Barak Obama and Mr William Hague must know that their weak words, and misrepresentation of the event on 9 10 11, play at the hands of the Muslim Egyptian leaders, who, knowing that they could literally get away with massacre, will continue their oppression and persecution of the Copts and repeat the attacks against them. But I will let Keith Koffler, a veteran White House reporter, speak for me about Mr Barak Obama’s pathetic “now is a time for restraint on all sides” (and, perhaps, also about Mr William Hague’s’ “I urge all Egyptians to refrain from violence” and “It is essential all sides calm the situation and engage in dialogue”):
Obama Calls for Restraint by Egypt’s Christians
President Obama has responded to the Egyptian military’s massacre of Coptic Christian protestors in Cairo Sunday with a pointedly even-handed statement that calls equally on Christians and the military to show restraint.
“The President is deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt that has led to a tragic loss of life among demonstrators and security forces,” Obama said in a statement released this week. ”Now is a time for restraint on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt.”
Incredibly, Obama is not only equating the deaths of peaceful protestors and their killers, but he is suggesting that Egypt’s increasingly persecuted Christian minority should show as much “restraint” as their tormentors and refrain from vigorously objecting to the growing abuse.
More than two dozen people, most of them Copts, were killed as security forces attacked demonstrators protesting the burning of a church.
The Egyptian military has denied the killings, but news reports, eyewitness accounts, and videos posted to the Internet contradict the claims, with footage showing armed personnel carriers ramming through crowds of protestors and a soldier firing at them. The dead, according to forensic reports, were either crushed by being run over or were shot.
Three soldiers are also said to have died, but this appears to have occurred as protestors were fighting for their lives. There can be no mistaking that this was a slaughter of civilians.
The church burning was only the latest in an escalating series of attacks by Islamists against Christians and their churches.
Obama’s statement does say that “the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities – including Copts – must be respected.” But the moral equivalence given to the demonstrators and military signals that the White House is not yet serious about curtailing the anti-Christian violence and preempting additional brutal action by the military.
In another sign of unseriousness, Obama notes reassuringly “Prime Minister Sharaf’s call for an investigation,” even though Sharaf has already blamed the violence on a foreign conspiracy.
“It is difficult for us to consider what happened in Egypt in the past hours is due to sectarian strife, but what is for certain is that it is one of the pieces of this plot,” Sharaf said.
Some analysts fear that the Egyptian military may be promoting violence in order to give it an excuse to crack down and increase its power.[iv]
I NOW COME TO THE MAIN purpose of my article: it is no secret that the West, since the signing of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, sees Egypt’s main role as a stabiliser of the regional peace in the Middle East – bluntly, peace between Israel and the Arab world. It is for fulfilling this role that Egypt gets, for instance, $2.3 billion annually from the United States in terms of USAID. As the Suez Canal lost the huge importance it once had, and India got its independence in 1948 from the British Empire, Egypt ceased to acquire the importance it once possessed. Egypt has limited resources of oil and gas, and its influence in the Arab world is overestimated. Its importance at the present stems simply from its geographical position at the south-western boarder of Israel; its huge population; and its large army that can potentially cause trouble for Israel if it went into war mode again.
It must be understood: the West is interested in Egypt because it is interested in the first place in Israel and its survival. For that reason, and for it alone, Egypt’s rulers owe their importance with the West – and so the West suffers, cajoles and supports them, be it Sadat, Mubarak, or Tantawi, in order that they may wage no war against Israel and help to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate peace. Egypt knows what is expected of it very well; and its rulers – those foxes and wolves; those masters of duplicity – try always to cash on it. They have played their role most of the time well, and the last service they have rendered for the cash that runs into their coffers was their help in the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been in Hamas’ captivity since 2006; and the deal to release him was surprisingly concluded shortly after the Maspero Massacre.
But Egypt’s rulers exploit their importance in regional politics further – and in divers of ways. They consider it they have free hand in nearly about everything else. They took it that, if they maintained peace with Israel, the West will turn a blind eye to their dictatorial practices; corruption; human rights abuse of Egyptians; and oppression and persecution of the Copts. And Tantawi’s government understands this no less than Mubarak’s – this explains the continuation of the same old policies, such as torture of prisoners and the persecution of the Copts, under Tantawi.
Gone, it seems, are the days on which the West has had a strong influence in the progress of human rights in the Muslim world, such as the prohibition of slavery and the protection of the human rights of non-Muslim subjects of the Ottoman Empire. It was due to international pressure from the European powers of the time that the Hatt-i Sharif of Gülhane and the Hatt-i Humayun were issued in 1839 and 1856 respectively, inaugurating the Tanzimat era (1839 -1876), and reshaping the relation between the Muslims, on one hand, and Jews and Christians, on the other hand, of the Ottoman Empire that included Egypt. The non-Muslim subjects of that vast Muslim empire could not forget the great services of Her Majesty’s Ambassador at Istanbul (Constantinople), Stratford Canning, in safeguarding their fundamental rights and essential freedoms. His word at the court of Sultan Abdülmecid I was order.[v] Although the United States of America did not form part of the European powers that contributed to the reform of the Ottoman Empire, it soon added its weight to the protection of the religious rights of non-Muslims. So, in 1861, no less than Abraham Lincoln himself interfered with a firm fist to redress the injustice that Faris el-Hakim – an agent of the American Missionaries in Assiut, Egypt – was exposed to; and forced on Said Pasha (1854 – 1863), Egypt’s ruler of the day, to impose freedom of religion in the heart of Upper Egypt.[vi]
It seems that such Western intervention to achieve equality for the Christians in Muslim countries is no more. As the West leaned more towards atheism it started looking at religions with disdain; and religious freedom or the rights of religious minorities in the Muslim lands took a back seat. Other strategic interests emerged, and chief amongst these was oil, that gave Arab and Muslim countries tremendous clout. The West does not want to upset Muslim societies by letting itself being seen as defender of the Christians anymore or else it could risk damaging its trade relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds. One can detect in the West, here and there, now and then, calls upon Egypt to respect the human rights of its religious minority; but all are said in a low tone and without much interest shown. One cannot say that about America, though. The Congress issued in 1998 the International Religious Freedom Act; and since then American emphasis on the importance of religious liberty has been in the forefront of the US foreign policy. Each year the Department of State submits to Congress report on the state of religious freedom in the world. In April 2011, in its annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed grave concerns about Egypt’s record of religious freedom, before and after the 25 January Revolution; and designated Egypt ‘Country of Particular Concern’, which means Egypt could be put under certain sanctions if it did not respect the human rights of its religious minorities.[vii] The Copts welcomed that 2011 Annual Report, and hoped that it would lead to serious pressure on Egypt to stop their maltreatment.[viii] But it has so far proved an empty threat. The human rights of the Copts have deteriorated since the publication of the report in April 2011, culminating in the massacre of the 9 10 11; and the Copts have not seen America moving. The Obama statement on the Maspero Massacre can be considered as a big failure his part in following through America’s own declared policies.
What could explain all that? What dictates America’s political position vis-à-vis Egypt’s rulers, as we have seen, is their success or failure in fulfilling the expected role from them in maintaining and mediating peace with Israel. Everything else is secondary to America’s current administration and can be sacrificed.
The Coptic nationalists have no quarrel with America’s central interest in the Middle East – they recognise with the rest of the civilised world Israel’s right to exist; and they do not subscribe to the hate that fills the hearts of so many people in the Middle East who would rather see the Jews of Israel thrown into the Mediterranean Sea. The Coptic nationalists believe in the Two States Solution; and their wish to see Israel’s right of existence secured is equalled only by their desire to see the Palestinians living in their own state. No one denies the suffering of the Palestinians, but the Jews have suffered for longer, and their suffering has rarely been matched. A people like the Copts, who have equally suffered,[ix] are the perfect people to understand, sympathise and identify with Israel’s quest for security and peace.
What the Coptic nationalists cannot understand is the argument that real peace in the Middle East – for as much as Egypt can be involved in it – can be achieved without paying much attention to Egypt’s progress along the path of liberal democracy; its respect for human rights; and its guaranteeing and recognition of the individual and cultural rights of its some 15 million Copts. In my view, lasting peace with Israel will come only after a real democratic transformation of Egypt has taken shape. Without that, any cessation of hostilities will only be a truce rather than peace. The rising nasty head of Islamism, which is responsible for much of the deteriorating Coptic situation, can end the truce with Israel anytime; the more so, and with much more ease, as the fever of anticoptism[x] inflicts the nation, and is allowed by the international community to spread without hindrance. As one Coptic activist has once written: “Thus is the situation of Copts in Egypt a litmus test for liberalism and democracy in that country, offering the best indicator of the relative strengths of the forces of bigotry and aggression versus those of progress and peace. A liberal and democratic Egypt that respects the human rights of its citizens is an Egypt that can become prosperous and stable. Further, an Egypt that respects international law internally is bound to abide by it externally.”[xi] The Western world must widen its expectations from Egypt’s rulers, and press on them that they must respect the rights of the Copts and protect them against any attacks. There must be a tie between Israel’s security, Egypt’s democracy and respect of human rights, and the protection of the Copts.
But for such strategic shift in the West’s position vis-à-vis Egypt, and the Coptic Question, the Coptic movement must change: it must become professional, political and achieve greater unity.[xii] It must open up and build connections with all who can help its cause. To be clear, we must get involved in a dialogue with all who have some leverage on the policy makers in Washington, London, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Ottawa, Canberra, Moscow, etc. This involves talking to politicians, political parties, churches, human rights organisations, and political lobbies – and, yes, that includes the strong Jewish lobby in the United States. Our aim must be to achieve a strategic shift in the West’s engagement with Egypt – a shift that makes the Coptic Question an important central concern.
[i] See: The White House; President Barak Obama http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/10/10/statement-press-secretary-violence-egypt
[ii] Published by the British Embassy in Cairo. See: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=News&id=666657582
[v] For more on Stratford Canning, read: The Life of the Right Honourable Stratford Canning, Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe, from his memoirs and private and official papers by Stanley Lane-Poole (London; 1888).
[vi] For more, read: Religious Tolerance in Egypt. Official Correspondence Relating to the Indemnity Obtained for Maltreatment of Faris-el-Hakim, an Agent of the American Missionaries in Egypt (London; 1962).
[viii] See, e.g., https://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2011/04/28/the-united-states-designates-egypt-for-the-first-time-as-a-country-of-particular-concern-cpc-because-of-its-failure-to-protect-the-religious-freedom-of-the-copts/
[ix] The Copts have not lost in a short period six millions as the Jews had in WWII; however, they have suffered in myriads of ways oppression, suppression and persecution as Jews have.
[x] For the meaning of anticoptism, see Anticoptism, the Antisemetism of Egypt at: https://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/anticoptism-%d9%85%d8%b9%d8%a7%d8%af%d8%a7%d8%a9-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a3%d9%82%d8%a8%d8%a7%d8%b7-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d8%b9%d8%a7%d8%af%d8%a7%d8%a9-%d9%84%d9%84%d8%a3%d9%82%d8%a8%d8%a7%d8%b7-the-antiseme/
[xi] Egypt – Persecution. Disappearing Christians of the Middle East by Imad Boles; Middle East Quarterly;
Winter 2001, pp. 23-29.
[xii] The writer thinks that the Coptic movement at the present is unprofessional and fragmented. Furthermore, it is weakened by those who see the conflict as theological – a fight between Christianity and Islam; thus losing much support from the moderate Muslims, internally, and the much secularised Western societies that view the world in a different way, externally.