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May 28, 2016

This week, we witnessed yet another cowardly attack by the Muslims of Egypt on the peaceful Copts; this time, as often, in Minya Governorate. A Muslim mob attacked the Copts of the little village of Karm, sacked and torched their houses and properties, undressed an elderly Coptic woman in her 70s, and paraded her naked in the streets of the village. This followed a false and unsubstantiated claim that the son of the woman had an affair with a Muslim woman. The Muslim woman, who denied the accusation, had requested divorce from her husband. And, wroth with her for her request, this man accused her of having an affair with the Copt; and he led the attack against the Copts with the Muslims of the village. The police and security forces knew about the intended attack before it had happened as the Copts had warned them of the planned attack a day earlier. They did not take action to protect the Copts of the village; and as the attackers, the following day, ransacked and looted and burned, and attacked the Copts, the “law and order” apparatus in the village stood still to watch.

After the attack, the governor of Minya went to the media, and denied that an attack had happened, or tried to minimize it, even denying that the Coptic elderly woman was humiliated in public. President Sisi, came out to condemn the attack and said that the criminals must be prosecuted. Eight Muslims were arrested but we still have to see the outcome of that. In the past the attackers were often released after a while or passed as “mad”, and, therefore, irresponsible of their actions.

President Sisi must not take the Copts for granted. In 2013, the Copts were prominent in the uprising that called for the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood regime, and supported Sisi in taking over the reins of power in Egypt. The support of the Copts was crucial and still is. But he must not rely on that support for good – Coptic support is not unconditional.

The dynamic relationship between allegiance and protection is rooted in any social contract: no protection of the people, no allegiance. In the Muslim attacks on Copts there are always three levels of responsibility:

  1. The Muslim attackers, always fired by an Islamic zeal.
  2. The local “law and order” apparatus, made almost always of Muslims only, often collude with the attackers or stay passive while the attacks are underway.
  3. The state and the ruling regime, which almost always fail to prosecute the attackers or hold the local authorities responsible for their failure to protect the Copts. And by applying pressure on the Coptic Church, force the Copts to accept “reconciliation” outside the courts and spin the events to make them be seen as sectarian strife between Copts and Muslims, and not attacks by Muslim against Copts.

Here again, we see the three levels of responsibility in demonstration: the Muslims of the village attacked; the police and security forces failed to protect; and the regime tried to calm down the situation by covering up and forcing the Copts to accept reconciliation without holding anyone in authority responsible.

It is about time that Sisi thinks of his position: the Copts supported him in his ascendancy to power, and they know that that gives them power as they proved to be a crucial factor in Egypt’s politics. If Sisi does not deliver by protecting them against the Islamists, the Copts will simply withdraw their support, and his position will be seriously weakened.

And this is the message to President Sisi: protect the Copts or face withdrawal of our support.

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