Since the violent crackdown in Egypt began on Monday, August 12th, nearly 20 Coptic Christian churches and several Coptic owned properties in Egypt were torched to the ground by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Leaked reports over the past weeks have stated that the Muslim Brotherhood tried to assassinate the Coptic Patriarch, Pope Tawadros II on several occasions. Since the overthrow of the democratically elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, his supporters, who are described as “anti-coup” and “pro-democracy,” have stated clearly that Coptic Christians are no longer safe in Egypt.
Copts are the largest indigenous Christian minority in the Middle East and North Africa, comprising an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s total population. Since Egypt’s military coup of 1952, Copts have been faced with a variety of human rights violations including institutionalized discrimination, marginalization from civic society, and being the victim of acts of violence.
Following the euphoria of the 2011 revolution, Coptic Christians were filled with hope. The overthrow of Egypt’s military dictator, Hosni Mubarak was seen as opening a new chapter in the life of all Egyptians which proved to be true, but in a different way than they had expected. In 2011, the number of attacks on Copts rose dramatically. Coptic homes, shops, businesses, fields and livestock were plundered and Coptic individuals were brutally killed. By the end of 2011, nearly 93,000 Coptic Christians had fled Egypt as refugees.
Two thousand and twelve was no less a violent year. With the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power, Islamists seized their strength and freedom to act. In a deal to prevent further violent attacks on Christians, members of Salfist party, Alnour and the Muslim Brotherhood, forced as many as 100 Coptic Christian families to leave their homes in the Village of Dahshour. At least 16 homes of Christians were pillaged, some were torched, and a church was damaged during the violence. Christian families living in the Sinai Peninsula also fled their homes fearing the rise of Islamic groups. On April 20th, 2013, Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy was quoted in Al-Ahram Weekly saying that, “no fewer than 100,000 Copts had left Egypt since the Muslim Brotherhood came to power,” a fact confirmed by a number of human rights groups.
In 2013, all hell broke loose. Only six months after the Muslim Brotherhood assumed power, it became clear that they were unable to maintain leadership. Many Islamists leaders threatened Egypt’s Copts that if Mohamed Morsi was overthrown, the Copts will pay the ultimate price. Islamic figures publicly threatened Egypt’s Coptic Christians on television and in videos posted to YouTube. Safwat Hegazy, a prominent Islamic scholar, and a leader of the current pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests, 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.”
For months Egypt’s Coptic Christens listened to a promise of extermination, accompanied by weekly violent attacks. No attempt was made by anyone including the Egyptian military, the UN or the US government to protect and reassure the Copts. The Copts have faced their fate alone, as they always have. Attacks on churches, shootings of priests in broad daylight, and burning of Coptic owned properties is common daily news.
Since the fall of Morsi, Copts have suffered from attacks on an almost daily basis. Most of the Copts subjected to violence are also suffering from deep poverty, living in government-abandoned villages in Upper Egypt. While the Muslim mobs used to create false accusations as a means to justify their attacks, today they attack Copts indiscriminately, for no reason at all. In Rafah, one Coptic priest was shot dead in broad day-light in a busy market street, another Copt was found beheaded in the same area, and a Christian man in Al Minya was attacked simply because we was listening to military music.
Earlier this week, when the army and police started their crackdown against Morsi’s supporters, the Islamists reacted by striking back against the army and by attacking Copts, as promised. In less than 24 hours an estimated 20 Coptic churches, houses and community buildings were torched all over Egypt. The Egyptian military is cleaning house and the Copts are paying a heavy price.
Please do not forget for a minute that the ruthless pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood Islamists are the ones described in western media as “pro-democracy” and “anti-coup”, as if they are a liberal, modern, and highly educated group of people engaged in a peaceful process of civil disagreement and advancement. 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 the Middle East. As I write this, the Muslim Brotherhood’s “pro-democracy” protestors are promising martyrdom for those who die for Morsi and scapegoating Coptic Christians through destruction and murder. What part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s undemocratic, delusional ideology is hard for the West to understand? How can Western governments and the media be sympathetic and supportive of them?
There once lived a great Jewish community in Egypt that has been lost forever. Just as 80,000 Egyptian Jews were abused and fled, today Coptic Christians are facing similar religious persecution, yet they don’t have any other home country to turn to. Today, the world is preoccupied with the current political turmoil in Egypt, while ignoring the ongoing catastrophe faced by an indigenous Middle Eastern Coptic Christians. One of the churches burned by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, was the Prince Tadros Church in Al Minya – a 4th century church which contained ancient manuscripts on Orthodox theology. Is the West ready to accept such a loss? Are power and money more important than human life and history?