In Selected Opinion

By Paul Keenan – The Irish Catholic

Tawadros and al sisi

Pleasantries but little protection: Coptic Pope Tawadros II meets with President Abdel Fatah al Sisi

The latest in a litany of ongoing attacks on the Coptic community in Egypt took place towards the end of last month in al Nagameesh, the evidence apparent in the ashes of what was the village’s community centre. Available to all for anything from celebrations to town meetings, the community centre was also regularly in use by the village’s Coptic Christians as a place of worship as they endure the protracted process of gaining permission to build a church of their own.

The feelings of many within the local Muslim community against this became violently known on November 24 with the burning of the centre, driven, it seems, by allegations that the Christians were in the process of converting the site to a church.

Muslim rage, it appears, was only assuaged after Christian businesses and homes in the village were looted, an act adding a much darker dimension than just religious indignation.

More worrying yet, if reports of the timeframe immediately before the attack are accurate, al Nagameesh may well represent an emboldening of those more extreme elements who have watched the Egyptian regime’s lacklustre reaction to previous attacks and feel that their time has come.

It has been pointed out previously, by none other than Coptic leader Pope Tawadros II, that since the administration of President Abdel Fatah al Sisi assumed power in 2014, attack on Copts have been running at approximately one per month. These incidents have covered the entire spectrum in terms of seriousness. (The Washington-based research body the Brookings Institution stated this year that “the status of Coptic Christians in Egypt has for the most part remained unchanged since Anwar Sadat came to power in 1970. Today, there is little Christian representation in government, and sectarian violence is all but commonplace.)

In 2016, violence included a mob attack on a Christian woman who was stripped naked and dragged through the streets of her village when Muslims became enraged at gossip that her son was having an affair with a Muslim woman.

Seven houses were also reportedly burned in that incident. A burning also marked an attack in Naj al Nassara in July when a Christian church was razed. That month also saw the kidnapping of a Christian teenager in Cairo by a Muslim man who demanded her conversion to Islam.

Yet Nagameesh tops these in terms of the dynamics that came into play before November 24.

Despite reports of Muslim rage sparked on that day, it has also been reported that leaflets calling for the centre to be attacked were distributed among Muslims after Friday prayers that day.

And simultaneous to the mob attack on the centre, other groups of men were busy blocking the main road into the village, allegedly to stall the expected arrival of firefighters. Another report indicates a coordinated and successful attempt to cut off the village water supply.

These added elements suggest a most dangerous level of organisation lying behind the violence, and thus a signal of far more than the boiling over of misdirected anger.

This year, as previously, President al Sisi can be expected to demonstrate his solidarity with the Coptic community when he attends a Christmas service – he is the first Egyptian leader ever to have done so. For all that, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that far more than platitudes and cordial exchanges are needed if the Coptic community is to be truly safeguarded in modern Egypt.


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