Hath not a Copt eyes? A Record of Coptic Tragedy
[First Written - August 14, 2013 )
I have been thinking about writing this post for 2 weeks. Since yesterday only, nearly 20 Coptic churches and several Copt owned community and commercial buildings were destroyed and torched to the ground in Egypt by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Leaked reports over the past weeks said that they even tried to assassinate the Coptic patriarch several times. Since the overthrow of the democratically elected Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi, his supports who are anti-coup and pro-democracy stated clearly that Christians in Egypt are not safe any more.
Copts are the largest indigenous Christian minority in the Middle East and the Muslim world, for some reason we do not have an accurate number for the Coptic population in Egypt, but most of the sources estimate it between 5 to 15 million, some other sources claim the number is way higher. Since the military coup of 1952, Copts were left to face four major issues; not being able to build churches, exclusion and discrimination from government, enforced government controlled civil laws and violence against them. This long post is to view the former and current situation of the Copts, if you are only interested to read about the current situation, I suggest you skip to the last section.
**Kindly note: The attacks documented here against Copts are few ones that I have selected to include in my post, there are dozens of other reported and documented attacks on Copts since 2011 till today.
COPTS PRIOR TO THE 2011 REVOLUTION
Before the establishment of the modern Egyptian republic in 1952, Copts were allowed to participate in public activities and practice politics, at that time Egypt witnessed two Coptic prime ministers; Boutrous Pasha Ghaly and Youssef Pasha Wahbe who survived an assassination attempt preformed by another Copt; Erian Assad who was a member of the political opposition. Back then, Egypt was thought to be the leader of modernity in the Muslim world, with a Coptic prime minister and a Jewish treasury minister, Egypt had a promising secular modern future and Copts were starting not consider themselves a religious minority but an Egyptian national fraction. In 1952, a military coup overthrown the playboy monarch Farouk, dismantled the government and established the first republic. Since the establishment of the republic, Copts became just a non-Muslim minority living in a Muslim country, excluded from political and public activities and the state expected them to behave like a minority, in other words to take it quietly. Copts were excluded from any important government position in important government establishments. The government made it clear that Christians are mistrusted. Copts were not able to build their churches, the government made it nearly impossible to get a permit for a Coptic building site. Coptic scholars and prominent professionals were excluded from universities and government ran institutions (The school of medicine in Cairo University has a particular black record of practices against Copts). The government did not just exclude Christians but also harshly discriminated against them and Copts were to start a big immigration wave to the new world where over a million Copt are now living in the US, Canada and Australia.
In the late 1970s the patriarch of the church, Pope Shenouda III, sought to amend the position of the Coptic community with full equality with their Muslim fellow citizens, but president Saddat did not like it. In Sept 1981, the trial ended in a presidential order to excommunicate the Pope from the church and house arrest him, the decisions were announced in a violent speech from Saddat accusing Pope Shenouda of trying to impose himself as a national leader, in that speech Saddat openly said; "I want to remind every one that I'm a Muslim president of an Islamic country."
The tragedy of the Copts is not new, Copts have been the victim of radical Islamists violence since the rise of modern militant Islam in the 1970s along with negligence and discrimination from the state. Throughout the 1980s till the mid 1990s, Copts were one of the main three targets of Jihadist Islamic groups in Egypt. During that time, Jihadist Islamic opposition of ex-president Mubarak targeted the victims thought to hurt the Mubarak's regime the most; western tourists, Christians and government officials. Targeting of tourists will serve the purpose of creating a western dissatisfaction with Mubarak, targeting the Christians was to cause international embarrassment for the regime being not able to protect non-Muslim minorities. After the government tough crack down on Jihadist groups in Egypt by the mid 1990s, tourists and government officials became safe again, yet not the Copts.
With radical violent Islam becoming mainstream Islam globally by the end of the last century, attacking Christians was not done anymore by Jihadist Islamic groups, but by mass numbers of Egyptian Muslims who are enthusiastic about destroying those who do not believe in their mighty Allah. Attacks on churches during masses and events were a common incident. In Nov 2000 Muslim mob attacked a Christian and tried to force him to denounce his Christian faith and pronounce the Islamic testimony, and when he refused he was beaten to death. Feb and Apr 2001 the ICC reported that Muslim mobs burned down a new church and 35 houses belonged to Christians. On April 19, 2009 a group of Muslims opened fire at Christians killing two in Koos town. In March 2009 thousands of Muslims attacked a church in Ain Shams city, almost killing all who were in it. In 2010 a gunman opened fire from an AK-47 on a crowd exiting a church in Assyut killing 7. On 2011 new years eve a major church an Alexandria suffered a suicide bomb scoring tens of dead and wounded, days latter a member of the police force opened fire in a train in Samalout killing an old Coptic woman and injuring another 7. Attacks on lives and properties of Copts became a daily routine, along with new phenomenons like kidnapping minor Coptic females and forcing them to convert and marry Muslim men, a way to support the Muslim population and suppress the numbers of the Coptic one. A criminal practice which is worryingly wide spread in upper Egypt. The government does too little to prevent any of this, as a matter of fact it supports it most of the time. Police does not investigate attacks on Christians and usually closes the cases without identifying the attackers. A 16 years old Copt female who are kidnapped to marry a Muslim older man will not be returned to her family by the police, actually the police will make sure that she stays in the hands of her new "Muslim family" and get a restriction order against her Coptic parents.
COPTS POST TO THE 2011 REVOLUTION
Following the euphoria of the 2011 revolution, the Copts were filled with hope. The overthrow of the 80 years old military dictator was seen as a the marking of a new chapter in the life of all Egyptians which was proved to be true, but in a different way than they had expected. The lives of Copts in Egypt were about to get a lot worse. The attacks on Copts within the past two years are a lot more and a lot worse than the Copts ever seen before; churches burned down to the ground while police forces are watching, military armored vehicles running Coptic protesters over, Copts beaten to death by mob, priests shot to death in public and its about to get a lot worse.
In 2011, the year of the revolution, number of attacks on Copts rose dramatically causing a major wave of fear and immigration of Copts out of Egypt. In Mar 5, a church was set in fire in the village of Sole and Christians were forced to leave the village. In the same month a group of radicals took off the ear of a christian in Qena. In Abou Qurqas El Balad, one Christian Copt was killed, an old woman was thrown out of her second floor balcony and ten Copts were hospitalized. Coptic homes, shops, businesses, fields and livestock were plundered and torched. May 7, Muslim mob attacked the St. Mary Coptic church in the Imbaba neighborhood after rumors about a Christian convert woman being held at the church, Muslims attacked the church and the christian homes around it with AK-47s, locally manufactured shot guns and Molotov cocktails leaving 15 dead, damaged churches, homes and shops. The Army reportedly this year attacked 3 Coptic monasteries firing teargas and gunshot at Coptic monks.
The worst major attack on the Copts in 2011, known as the Maspero Massacre of Oct 9th, was not by a Muslim mob but was carried out by the Egyptian military forces on peaceful Coptic protesters at the Maspero building area resulting in 28 deaths and over 200 injuries. I personally witnessed this horrible incident. You can read my accounts of the Maspero Massacre here.
By new years eve, 93,000 Copts have already fled out of Egypt. 2012 was not less of a violent year, with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, Islamists got a stronger and freer hand to act. In the village of Dahshour, in a deal to prevent further Muslim attacks on Christians sponsored by members of Salfist party Alnour and the Muslim Brotherhood, as many as 100 Coptic Christian families were forced to leave their homes, and the authorities did nothing, At least 16 homes and properties of Christians were pillaged, some were torched, and a church was damaged during the violence. Christian families living in the Sinai also fled their homes in 2012 fearing the rise of Islamic groups in the peninsula. Many Copts decided to flee the country all together, Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Ross said that no fewer than 100,000 Copts had left Egypt since the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, a fact confirmed by human rights groups although the Egyptian churches have not been able to verify the figure and have described it as exaggerated.
In 2013, all hell broke loose. The Muslim Brotherhood represented not only itself, but all the groups and fractions of political Islam wishing to grasp power in the name of Allah. Six months only after the MB assumed power, it was clear that it was not going to keep it for long, with catastrophic policies and idiotic approach to the public, the MB was successful in turning the people against it in a period as short as 6 months. The anger of the public was so clear, and the army was never a fan of Islamists anyways. The Islamists felt threatened and they started to attack. Since Jan 2013 Islamic group carried out a big campaign of murder, sabotage and kidnapping against the army forces stationed in the Sinai, to threaten them from intervening in their business.
The Islamists warned the Coptic community too, that if the Islamist president goes down, the Copts will go down as well. Attacks on churches, shooting priests on brought day light and burning Copts properties were common news daily. Islamic figures ,more than once, warned and threatened Christians on TV screens. Wagdie Ghoniem, a pro MB Muslim scholar, posted a video on youtube saying "A message to the church of Egypt, from an Egyptian Muslim: I tell the church — by Allah, and again, by Allah — if you conspire and unite with the remnants [opposition] to bring Morsi down, that will be another matter…. our red line is the legitimacy of Dr. Muhammad Morsi. Whoever splashes water on it, we will splash blood on him." Copts in AlMinya started to receive letters telling them "businesses, cars, homes, schools, and churches” might “catch fire." In June, Assem Abdul-Majed, a former convicted terrorist, and AlJamaa AlIslamyaa group leader, a group which supports the MB and is sponsored by it, on the TV broadcast from the Muslim TV network AlHafiz, threatened the Copts that if they have joined the protests to overthrow Morsi they will be exterminated. Many supporters of Morsi were caught on videos uploaded to youtube, swearing to Allah that they will burn and exterminate all the Copts and their churches if Morsi was gone. For months the Copts watched and listened to a promise of a holocaust to them, accompanied by weekly attacks on them, their churches and their properties with no attempt from anyone to reassure them or guarantee their security. The Egyptian army was busy plotting to overthrow the lunatic president, The UN did not express any concern and the US government was more preoccupied with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Only the Copts were left to face their fate, as they always did.
To give you a better idea on what Copts go through, here is some of the events that happen in a typical week not including major incidents:
Feb 26th: 11 years old female Coptic girl Meriam Makram was beaten at school because she had a Christian tone on her cellphone. A Jihadist group issues a video threatening to bomb churches with car bombs.
Feb 27th: The siege of the archdioceses of Bani Souif by Salafist Islamist mob. The kidnapping of two Coptic doctors Samuel Louis and Shenouda Malak.
Mar 1st: Muslim Salafist mob sieges St. George church in Koum Imbo. The kidnapping of a 100 Copts by Libyan militants because they were thought to be preaching to Muslims.
Mar 2nd: 4 Copts shot to death in Borg El Arab because they were said to build a church.
MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD AFTERMATH
The Muslim Brotherhood is gone, forever. I know that many people don't want to believe it, especially those who are sitting at Washington D.C and those at the Washington Post, but it is the truth. The Muslim Brotherhood is gone as much as Mubarak is gone and they won't be coming back. In Washington they still deny that, but they are not the ones who pay the price, the Copts are. Since the fall of Morsi, Copts suffered from attacks almost on daily basis. Most of the Copts suffering from the attacks are the ones who are already suffering from deep poverty, living in government abandoned villages in upper Egypt. The Muslim mob used to fake a reason for attacking the Christians, something like abducting a woman or a sexual affair between a Muslim girl and a Christian guy, but now, they don't even try to fake reasons as they just attack the Copts. One incident 10 days ago in AlMinya, Muslims attacked Christians because one Christian guy was listening to a pro Military song. There is no reason necessary at all for a US supported Islamist to attack Christians. In Sinai, one Coptic priest was shot dead in Rafah in brought day light in a busy market street, another Copt was found beheaded in the same area.
Please do not forget for a minute that those ruthless violent pro-Morsi Islamists are the ones described in western media as "pro-democracy" and "anti-coup" peaceful protesters, as if it was merely a liberal modern democratic educated group of people engaged in a process of political disagreement. The Middle East has a much different cultural framework than the west and it is idiotic to apply western notions of modern politics and democracy to it. Political Islam is not a political ideology that can be integrated into the western democratic system. The MB pro-democratic protesters as I'm writing this, in this very moment, are burning down over 20 Coptic churches and attacking the poorest and weakest Christians who live in the poorest villages in upper Egypt. The MB is promising martyrdom for those who die for Morsi. What part of that undemocratic lunatic fanatic delusional movement is hard to understand for the western governments?
Yesterday the military decided to finally crack down on the sit-ins of the pro-Morsy Islamist, a plan which was declared two weeks ago. When the army and police started to carry out their plan, the Islamists hit back not just the army, but the Copts as well. In less than 24 hours about 16 churches, houses and community buildings were torched all over Egypt. Egypt is cleaning house and the Copts are paying a heavy price. While the world is disputing the current turmoil in Egypt and Washington mourning the falling martyrs of the Msulim Brotherhood, the Copts are facing the worst nightmare. There once lived a great Jewish community in Egypt, which none of it is left today and the great heritage of Egyptian Jewry was lost forever. Today, we are faced with a similar serious threat. The world is preoccupied with the current political turmoil in Egypt, trying to decide who has the right to rule while no one is giving attention to the ongoing catastrophe to an indigenous ancient Middle Eastern sect. One of the churches burned today by MB pro-democracy supporters was the Prince Tadros church in AlMinya, an ancient church from the 4th century which contained historical ancient manuscripts on Orthodox theology. Are you ready to accept such a loss? Are power and money more important than human life and human history? Tough days are coming ahead for Copts, tough days but no call for help to make but Kyriallison[*]
[*] Kyriallison is a Coptic word which means "God have mercy", a prayer used by Copts frequently.