Haaretz reminds us that amid violent clashes occurring throughout Egypt between the supporters and opponents of deposed President Mohammed Morsi, Coptic Christians continue to suffer oppression there.
The Coptic community comprises about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million. The Copts live primarily in Egypt’s largest cities, Cairo and Alexandria.
The expressions of violence have led to the deaths of dozens of Coptic Christians, and the incineration of Coptic churches. Christian women have been beaten, forced to wear hijabs, or forcibly converted to Islam. A hijab refers to the veil worn by a Muslim female beyond the age of puberty. It can also refer to any covering of the head, face, or body of Muslim women or men.
Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have publicly condemned the abuse of Copts. As president, Morsi had appointed numerous Copts as ministers and advisers in his government. In June of this year, Morsi met with Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, the Patriarch of St. Mark Diocese and spiritual leader of Egypt’s 8 million Christians. The meeting included Ahmed el-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. The Al-Azhar Grand Imam is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority in Sunni Islamic thought and Islamic jurisprudence. Morsi had praised the role played by al-Azhar and the Coptic Church in bringing about stability and security in the country. The Imam and the Pope in turn pledged their dedication to serving Egypt’s best interests. (State Government Service of Egypt)
Since then the Muslim Brotherhood has directed acidic criticism at Pope Tawadros for approving the removal of the president and for attending the conference at which General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the armed forces commander, announced the suspension of the constitution.
The main group antagonistic to the Copts has been the Salafi movement, a conservative Islamic group that recently joined the liberals in coalition against Morsi.
Salafists are part of a tradition known as salafiyya, an Arabic word derived from the terms “al-salaf al-salih,” which mean “the venerable ancestors.” Salafiyya has to do with returning to the roots of Islam and restoring traditional beliefs and practices. The group’s view of “true” Islam is not shared by the more than one billion Muslims in the world.
In recent violence, one person was killed, 23 wounded, and Coptic homes burned in the tourist town of Luxor in south-central Egypt. The Egyptian army has been guarding the local church, to prevent it from being set alight.
On Saturday, a Coptic Christian priest was shot and killed in the coastal city of El Arish in the Northern Sinai. This is the first sectarian attack since Morsi was deposed. The shooting was one of several operations by Islamist insurgents, including exchanges of gunfire at four military checkpoints.
In Cairo, Copts have been frightened by the release of a YouTube clip shown on Egyptian television, featuring a pro-Morsi demonstrator wearing a niqab, who threatened to burn all the Christians in the world. This resulted in the dispatch of a large police contingent to the Copt neighborhood in old Cairo on Saturday morning. Interestingly, the niqab is a cloth completely covering the face and neck and is worn by women in certain ultra-conservative countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman
The oppression of Coptic Christians in Egypt may have intensified since the 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, but it is part of Egyptian history.
In the 1990s Egypt’s Islamic insurgency was initiated in large part by veterans retuning from Afghanistan, following the Soviet withdrawal in 1986. Veterans brought combat experience and revolutionary fervor to underground groups such as Jammat al-Jihad. The insurgents attacked and murdered Coptic Christians and burned Christian shops and churches. (See Martin Meredith, The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence)
Jamaat al-Jihad, which means “the Islamic Group,” is a radical offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its members collaborated with those of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Jamaat al-Jihad is suspected of engaging in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hosni Mubarak in 1995. Egyptian Islamic Jihad is a militant Islamist group that merged with al-Qaeda at least by the 2000s. It was the guiding force of al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations, including the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. (Council on Foreign Relations)
Contrary to the notion that hatred of Christians is embedded in Islamic belief, Islam regards Christ as a prophet of God and maintains that the revelation of the Prophet Muhammad did not cancel the messages and insights of previous prophets. The Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, adjured the condemnation of other religions and forced conversion. When Islam came to ascendancy in the seventh century, it extended its protection and support to the Jewish and Christian communities in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. (See Karen Armstrong, A History of God).
The persecution of Coptic Christians amid revolutionary changes in Egypt, is not part of mainstream Islam, and is contrary to the teachings of its Prophet and its Holy Book.
By: Tom Ukinski