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January 25, 2012

Egyptian anti-government protesters, many of them Copts, gathered at Cairo’s Tahrir Square for the ‘Day of Departure’ demonstration (AFP)

The Coptic nationalists, together with the overwhelming majority of the Copts inside and outside Egypt, have no reason to celebrate the first anniversary of the 25th January 2011 revolution. The revolution which some Copts, indeed the Coptic nationalists, wanted has not happened – we cannot see a civilian, secular democracy in Egypt as we enter 2012. What we see, instead, is a military rule, run by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) working in tandem with the Islamists who want to convert Egypt into Islamic country and impose Sharia law on all.  This is not it that we had wanted. It is fair to say that Egypt, and the Copts, are going from bad to worse – the new reality that emerged as a result of the 25 January 2011 is simply not bright.

Since the coup d’état on 11 February 2011, the Copts have been exposed to increasing number of attacks by Islamists and, more ominously, by the Egyptian State itself, represented in its various security forces. Even official Egyptian media joined in the onslaught as Egypt’s TV channel incited Muslims to attack Copts.

Do Egypt’s new rulers recognise that the Copts are still being attacked? Have they brought the Muslim attackers of Copts to justice? Human Rights Watch tells us:

Sectarian violence in Egypt is not new. For the period from January 2008 to January 2010, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) documented 53 cases, in 17 of Egypt’s 29 governorates. Most were attacks by groups of Muslims on Christians and Christian churches or property. Most of the attacks, EIPR said, were either assaults on Christians for practicing their religious rites or supposed collective retribution for real or imagined offenses for which the Christian community at large is held responsible. ‘Many state officials, security officers and legislators deny the existence of sectarian violence in Egypt,’ EIPR noted, adding that others minimize it.

Since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, the chronic government denial and mishandling of sectarian violence that marked his rule continues.”[i]

A pattern of impunity for sectarian violence against the Copts has been recognised internationally by national and international human rights organisations, foreign governments and United Nations – those who attack the Copts have rarely been brought to justice or punished for their crimes. It is, to be blunt, a Muslim government protecting Muslims attacking Copts.[ii] The evidence for that is overwhelming. The denial of persecution and oppression of Copts continues; and so is the defence by Egypt’s rulers of the system that leads to that and the protection of those who attack Copts. Only idiots – and there are many of them in Egypt – fail to realise the seriousness of the situation or comprehend that this matter of affair pushes the Copts only to extreme options. The Maspero massacre, on 9 October 2011, (see below) is particularly serious – its significance must be compared to that of the South African Sharpeville Massacre, on 21 March 1960, when the Apartheid police attacked peaceful black demonstrators, killing 69 people.

Let us just try to list some of the major attacks on the Copts since 11 February 2011:[iii]

Atfih, March 4, 2011: A crowd assaulted and torched the Church of the Two Martyrs in the town of Atfih, 15 miles south of Cairo.

Muqattam, March 8, 2011: Coptic Christians in the east Cairo suburb of Muqattam held a march to protest the church arson in Atfih. They blocked a main road that runs by their neighborhood for two hours. A crowd attacked the demonstrators, and fighting and shooting broke out. Thirteen people died, according to the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper and the health ministry. Those attacking the demonstrators set fire to several Christian homes and businesses.

Qena, March 20, 2011: Unknown arsonists set fire to a flat owned by Ayman Anwar Mitry, a schoolteacher, who had rented it to three women. After firefighters extinguished the blaze, Mitry spent the day there on guard, he told Human Rights Watch. Three men he identified as Salafis visited him, he said, and accused him of renting the flat to prostitutes. Later 20 men entered the apartment, beat him, and cut off his ear.

Abu Qurqas, April 19, 2011: A dispute between a Muslim minibus driver and security guards at the house of a prominent Coptic politician, in Abu Qurqas, 120 miles south of Cairo, escalated into an assault by dozens of Muslims on the house and Coptic-owned businesses. Rioting broke out and dozens of Christian homes and businesses were burned. According to Al-Ahram, two people died in the unrest.

Imbaba, May 7, 2011: Muslim residents, identified in the press and EIPR’s report on the incident as Salafis, attacked the Mar Mina and Virgin Mary Coptic churches in Cairo’s Imbaba district on May 7. The mob torched the Virgin Mary church, badly damaging it. The EIPR said that security forces “knew in advance that groups of Salafis had assembled in front of the Mar Mina church in Imbaba, but they failed to anticipate the events – despite evidence suggesting the potential for violence.”

Edfu, September 30, 2011: A group of Muslim residents in the village of Al Marinab, near the town of Edfu in the south of Egypt, set fire to the Church of St. George (Mar Girgis) as it was undergoing reconstruction, destroying the walls, domes, and columns. Those involved in the attack believed the property was a “rest stop” and that Christians did not have a permit to worship there and objected to the height of a steeple that bore a cross and bell.

The Maspero Massacre, October 10, 2011: Copts protesting the attacks on Coptic churches and properties in Cairo were attacked by army personnel – resulting in 27 dead Copts, some gun shot, and others ran over by military vehicles. The official Egyptian TV spread lies about the Copts attacking the army, and incited the Muslims of Egypt to attack Copts.


Now may be the time for Copts to contemplate their split about the 25 January Revolution: it is clear that some Copts, including Pope Shenouda III, did not want Copts to go out and share in the demonstrations that eventually brought down ex-president Mubarak; on the other hand, other Copts joined the revolution enthusiastically from its first day, and many died for it. Differences in opinion on any political matter are normal in all societies. It is, however, sad that some of those who favoured, or joined, the revolution during its eighteen days resorted to attacking Copts who were not in favour of the revolution, accusing them of siding with Mubarak and all that he represented.

It must be recognised that those Copts who stood against the revolution feared the outcome which we can see now. While the Coptic liberal youth, who joined the revolution, were over-confident and believed that the revolution would result in a new Egypt that is civilian, secular and democratic; those who opposed them thought they knew better, and more realistically believed that the only alternative to Mubarak would be a worse rule by the Islamists.

The events which we have witnessed since 11 February 2011 perhaps vindicate the point of view, and position, of those Copts who did not support the revolution. The Coptic nationalists see both situations, the pre- and post-25 January, as bad and not favourable to our nation. More accurately, we think that the outcome of the 25 January Revolution is much worse than what it has replaced. We work only for a civilian, secular, democratic Egypt – in such Egypt there must be no place for the army or the Islamists in politics and public life. However, we realise that Egypt’s bad luck does not predispose her at the present except to one of two alternatives, both unfavourable to the Copts: either rule by the Islamists or rule by the military junta; or, worse still, a combination of both.

But this postscript is meant to suggest a sort of reconciliation, based on mutual understanding, between those Copts who supported the 25 January Revolution and those who did not support it from the start (including Pope Shenouda III). Both Coptic camps, I believe, had the best interests of Egypt, and that of Coptia,[iv] in their hearts.

[i] See Human Rights Watch: Egypt: Don’t Cover Up Military Killing of Copt Protesters Official Denials Suggest Investigation Will be Flawed (October 24, 2011).

[ii] The writer does not hint in any way that all Muslims in Egypt were anticopts.

[iii] Based on Human Rights Watch: Egypt: Don’t Cover Up Military Killing of Copt Protesters.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. mindthehat permalink
    January 26, 2012 7:24 am

    Great piece Dioscorus. I cannot agree more with you that the Copts need to reconcile their differences and advocate a common cause.

  2. Dioscorus Boles permalink
    January 26, 2012 2:38 pm

    Thanks, Mindthehat. It is my belif that the Copts who did not want Mubarak ousted did not do that because they loved his regime but only because they feared the alternative – Islamist rule. Those who shared in the demonstrations against Mubarak did not want to replace him by Islamists but thought a third alternative might be available. Now we know that in Egypt, as it stands, there are only two possibilities: either the Islamists or the military (or, as I said, a combination of both). The third option of a civilian, non-Islamist, democratic rule is not possible perhaps for some time.

    This realistic reading of Egyptian politics may just make Copts who had previously fought over the issue of Mubarak come together, knowing that they are not really different.

    As for us, the Coptic nationalists, we shall all the time take this as our objective: an Egypt that is civilian, secular and democratic – an Egypt where we as a nation enjoy our individual and collective rights without hindrance. If that is not made possible for us, and it is indeed made more remote by the recent ascendancy of the Islamists to power, then the only other option left for us will be to work for an independent Coptic State.

    I believe we have not reached that stage yet, but I can see that it may become our only option soon if matters in Egypt are allowed to deteriorate further. I repeat here for the benefit of the Muslims of Egypt, particularly those moderate Muslims with whom we agree on how Egypt should be governed: if we are pushed for that separatist option, then the Muslim Egyptians who have elected the Islamists to power should have themselves only to blame for a permanent territorial division of Egypt.

  3. Coptic Nationalist permalink
    January 27, 2012 2:02 am

    Couldn’t agree more Dioscorus. I would add that in order to have a strategy and achieve our goals, we need to be organized. It is disappointing to see a nation like the Coptic nation without a political leadership. I thank God for the wisdom of our church leaders, but we still need a secular leadership that would speak on behalf of the Copts in non religious matters, that would set up goals and strategies for the Coptic nation.

  4. Dioscorus Boles permalink
    January 27, 2012 4:04 pm

    I absolutely agree. We must develop our own political theory of the “two ends and two swords” which other Christian societies had to develop in the past. There are of course differences between our political situation and that of societies, mainly in the West, that managed to sort out the relationship between Church and State. The main differences are that we are not a sovereign nation; that we don’t have our own State; that we live in a state which is dominated by Muslims.

    I actually think that our Church’s involvement in politics, in the way we know, is a symptom of our oppression and control by a Muslim dominated state. If you look carefully at it, our Church is as victim to that state as we all are. And that state seeks always to divide our nation – Coptic nationalists must be wiser and avoid falling in the trap.

    Our hope is that the call of Coptic nationalists will reach the hearts and minds of all Copts, laity and clergy – and that they both will work together to improve our nation’s lot in the spirit of unity and cooperation.

    • mindthehat permalink
      January 28, 2012 9:52 am

      Dear Coptic Nationalist and Dioscorus,

      Although the scientific basis of “label theory”/”labelling theory” is questionable, I shall still use it to make my point. According to one interpretation of that theory, minorities behave according to the label, description, attributes…etc imposed on them by the majority. For the last 70-80 years, the majority in Egypt insisted on using religion as the SOLE criterion that distinguishes between themselves and the Copts. This, in turn, made the Copts ignore all other elements of the Coptic Identity and focus solely on Christianity. A natural consequence of that is the rise of the role of the Coptic church in civic matters.

      In order for this misunderstanding of the Coptic Identity to be reversed, the Copts need to start investing in reviving their language, history, cultural history [ which Dioscorus is working night and day on], and the dormant “lien etroit”. This, to my simple mind, will be the first step to create a collective identity that will automatically produce civic leaders. As a result, the importance of the role of the church as a representative of the Copts may gradually fade away.

      I am aware that the above may be classified as the “long route”, but our struggle will survive us all and may take decades and not months or few years. Let us work hard on learning Coptic, this is the first step on which the Coptic Identity will be based. Please, let us not be hasty, we may be building the most important pyramid in the history of Egypt and every step will require certain sacrifices, but this pyramid need to stand for eternity.

  5. Dioscorus Boles permalink
    January 28, 2012 6:52 pm

    Ditto with all. “Let us not be hasty, we may be building the most important pyramid in the history of Egypt and every step will require certain sacrifices, but this pyramid need to stand for eternity.”

    We shall take the sure, “long route”.

  6. Coptic Nationalist permalink
    January 30, 2012 3:06 am

    Could not agree more with you guys. I am very pleased to exchange views with you. We do need to collaborate.

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