In Selected Opinion

By Henry Srebrnik – Summerside Journal-Pioneer, July 9, 2018, p. A4

The mission of Coptic Solidarity, located in the Washington DC region, is to increase awareness of the situation of Copts in Egypt and to solicit the support of international public opinion and policy makers.

The Copts are over 10 million strong and have lived in Egypt for two millennia. They are the largest Christian and largest non-Muslim community in the Middle East.

Discriminatory state policies and political violence have historically marginalized Copts, particularly in many cities of Upper Egypt and in the Nile Delta area.

Though they are descended from the aboriginal Pharaonic civilization, many Egyptian Muslims think of them as “foreigners.”

Attempts to address this are usually met with denial by Egyptian media and government are under-reported.

Sometimes Copts drawing attention to these injustices are portrayed as agitators out to tarnish Egypt’s image.

I attended Coptic Solidarity’s ninth annual conference, held in Washington June 21-22, which addressed the theme of “Egypt’s Copts: Faces of Persecution,” and presented a paper on Nazi anti-Semitism.

I was on a panel with Edward Clancy, the New York-based Director of Outreach, Aid to the Church in Need, a papal-sponsored charity; and Father Philemon Patitsas, of the Holy Metropolis of Atlanta, and St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Naples, Florida.

A host of other academics, social activists, and American and Canadian politicians and bureaucrats, addressed the meetings.

As well, two Hungarian officials, Dr. Laszlo Szabo, the Hungarian ambassador to the United States, and Tristan Azbej, Hungary’s Deputy State Secretary for Aiding Persecuted Christians, a government department now located within the Prime Minister’s office, provided views on how Christians in the Middle East might be helped.

The consensus that emerged from the conference is that the situation for Copts in Egypt is dire.

Raymond Ibrahim, author of The Sword and the Scimitar, maintained that the Egyptian government and media deny there is a problem. They insist Copts are considered part of the country’s social fabric and thus are not discriminated against because of their faith.

So violence and terrorism directed at Copts are considered an “aberration.” The government, he suggested, engages in deception and denial, “because they don’t want the status quo shaken.”

In fact sometimes Copts acting in self-defence against mobs are portrayed as perpetrators rather than victims. And it is claimed they exaggerate their plight.

Dr. Robert Herman, Senior Advisor for Policy at Washington-based Freedom House, agreed.

Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in office since 2014, independent media have been shut down, and some 40,000 opponents of the regime languish in prison. All legal sources, states the constitution, must be based on Islamic sharia law.

The absence of accountability in government allows attacks against Copts and other marginalized minorities to happen with impunity.

Islamist websites spew hate against Copts on a daily basis while critics are repudiated and their statements are said to be “full of lies.” Copts now face “a shrinking of civic space,” said Herman.

 “A democratic political system is the best way to protect religious freedom” and defend society against “hatemongers,” he concluded.

Andrew Miller, deputy director for policy at the Washington-based Project on Middle East Democracy, went further, asserting that Sisi pretends to be a “saviour” protecting Copts from extremists like Islamic State, in order to advance his standing on the international stage.

Professor Raymond Stock, who teaches Arabic at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA, lived in Cairo between 1990 and 2010. He has translated seven books by Egyptian Nobel laureate in literature Naguib Mahfouz.

Stock, who was deported from Egypt by the Hosni Mubarak regime in December 2010 due to his Foreign Policy article criticizing the government,  told the conference that the 2011 “Arab Spring” that overthrew President Mubarak has been misread.

While it was begun by liberal Egyptians using social media, he said, it was the Muslim Brotherhood, through their mosques, who mobilized the thousands of people, congregating in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, who eventually made it a success.

After a few days, asserted Stock, “they completely owned the movement.” This is certainly a viewpoint that has rarely appeared in the mainstream media.

Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.

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