By Maged Atiya –
Samuel Tadros, a chronicler of modern Egypt and its Copts, opens his new op-ed for the New York Times with a passionate and moody warning from a friend: “At this rate Copts will be extinct in 100 years. They will die, leave, convert or get killed”. Many Copts disagreed with this sentiment, both privately and publicly. There seems to be a serene faith that it is God’s plan for Egypt to remain a Christian country, and that no evil human plot can contradict that.
In a 2013 review of Tadros’s book “Motherland lost” this blogger noted “more painful than contemplating how Copts might fare when shorn of Egypt is the thought of how Egypt might fare when shorn of the Copts”. This still holds true. The very act of exterminating Christianity from Egypt will so painful, so wrenching, certainly for Copts, but more so for Egypt. The country left behind, if it can be called that, will be a desolate wasteland, a place so hellish for its Muslims that it will make Somalia seem like a well-run Scandinavian polity.
A memory that insists on recognition is that of crowds marching on Friday June 2 1967 in support of Nasser’s pre-1967 war sabre rattling. “Today is Friday, tomorrow the Saturday people, day-after-tomorrow the Sunday people”. Half a century later the Islamists seeking the downfall of the Egyptian state express similar feelings in barely altered forms. The response of the great majority of Copts is to pray for the dead, bury them, forgive, hope for peace and expect more violence. This is commendable but short of what is required.
It will be necessary to fight back, not with weapons, but with tools far superior; insistence on cultural and material achievements, a reaching out to potential friends and women and men of good conscience, and a forceful demand for a new compact with the country that many Copts believe God entrusted to them, and its shambles of a ruling elite.
Today is Egypt’s “come-to-Jesus” moment. Egypt, as a state and a society, must do all it can to hold onto the Copts or risk becoming a failed state that fails even at failing. The urban dictionary defines the “come-to-Jesus” moment as “An epiphany in which one realizes the truth of a matter; a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something; coming clean and admitting failures; realizing the true weight or impact of a negative situation or fact; acknowledgment that one must get back to core values; moment of realization; an aha moment; moment of decision; moment of truth; critical moment; moment of reassessment of priorities; turning point; life-changing moment.”
The reality of May 26 2017 is that gunmen took children out of a bus, attempted to make them read religious confessions, shot them dead and then robbed them. The children were guilty of being born into the wrong religion.The gunmen escaped, and are unlikely to be captured, because they blend in with a larger population that sees their actions as scarcely different from an accepted social norm.
The Egyptian state, well-armed but hapless, anticipated its failure to capture the gunmen by launching an air attack on neighboring Libya. While many Egyptians must have winced at this atrocity, few will take up the cause of fundamentally altering the society and the state it produces. The murder of children is an embarrassment and an annoyance, but not a cause for reflection and an urge to change, at least not yet. The community on the receiving end of this violence has little to lose by altering the current practices. The Jihadi violence is not insurmountable, but the current strategy of begging the government to do its duty and protect its citizens is short of the mark.
While the Copts are bearing a disproportionate part of the violence aimed at altering society and bringing down the state, they are not given a chance to bear a proportionate part of what is necessary to secure the future of both. The “ask”, to use the common parlance of Washington DC, should be something more substantial than condolences and a few bombing raids on Libya. We can start by asking how many of SCAF’s generals are Copts, or how many Governors are Copts, or how many high police or State Security officials are Copts. We all have eyes to see and fingers to count on. Anything less than a proper response and a determined effort should render any self-proclaimed leaders unworthy of support.