By Lindsay Griffin – Director of Development & Advocacy, Coptic Solidarity
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Since joining Coptic Solidarity (CS) in 2014, I have worked alongside some of the most committed and sacrificial individuals towards pursuing equality for Copts in Egypt. As the resident “non-Copt” of the organization, I’ve had the opportunity to observe and learn much about Copts. Speaking as an outsider, my aim is to provide some insight and motivate more Copts to take advantage of the incredible freedom, power, and opportunities they have outside of Egypt, to support persecuted Copts within Egypt.
During my time with CS, we have struggled to engage more individuals, particularly younger, or second generation Copts in the cause. Each year we ask, how can we engage more individuals, and why aren’t more individuals passionate about helping their brothers and sister in Egypt? During our 9th Annual Conference in June, we hosted a session titled, Our Responsibility Towards our Family in Egypt: Engaging Young Copts in the Diaspora which I encourage all to watch. The younger Copts who participated shared numerous insights regarding this question, which I do not have space to replicate here, but have included a few quotes from them throughout this article.
In short, the majority of Copts who emigrated to the US and other Western countries did so between the 70’s – 80’s under the rules of Sadat and Mubarak. The increasing violence directed towards Copts, combined with systematic discrimination led many with the education and resources to leave and establish better lives for their families elsewhere.
These immigrants had virtually no opportunity for political involvement in Egypt and we have seen that most of these immigrants have not become politically engaged in their new homelands. Their focus has been on employment, education, and achieving the American dream. Their children do no share the experiences of persecution and discrimination of their parents and have formed more global Coptic identities such as Coptic Americans, Coptic Canadians, and Coptic Australians. Often these parents and children share conflicting political views, built on different experiences and views of the world.
“I had served as a Sunday school teacher since I was 16 in Egypt. Then when I went to the US, I served as Sunday school teacher. And when I went to Canada, I served as Sunday school teacher. But at this point in my life, I decided that we have a lot of Sunday school teachers, but we don’t have anybody who has a voice. We don’t have enough communicating voices that speak the language that the rest of the world understands and relates to. And that was the moment when I decided to get involved in Coptic activism.” ~ Ms. Ghada Melek, Coptic Solidarity Executive Committee Member
In addition, Copts are extremely loyal to their church, but for decades the Coptic Church has been pressured, and at times co-opted, to support the Egyptian government to the detriment of the Coptic people. Many Copts have grown to rely on the Church to represent them politically, convoluting the Church’s spiritual role.
Thus, despite being highly educated and wealthy, there is an absence of Copts in the diaspora community who support a civil rights movement that aims to achieve equality and religious freedom for Copts within Egypt. The diaspora community gladly donates to the Coptic Church and charities that serve Copts in need, yet shy away from supporting efforts to change the institutionalized discrimination that perpetuates Copt’s second- class status.
“Coptic Christians have transcended our political and social restraints in Egypt and especially for second generation Coptic people. Coptic Americans, we are raised with an innate American value of separation between church and state…We have an easier time understanding and digesting institutions that aren’t necessarily backed by the church but can have the same interests as the church, namely the protection and prosperity of the Coptic people throughout the world.” ~ Ms. Marianne Melleka -Boules – Editor-in-Chief, Coptic Voice
CS operates on a small budget, which constrains the amount of work we can do. We have tried numerous approaches and techniques to reach out to engage more to join the cause. I personally have traveled to several states, presenting our mission to Coptic communities, encouraging involvement and listening to feedback. Often, Copts approach CS with criticism and suggestions, and when asked to get involved to implement their ideas, they have many excuses why they can’t help. The sad reality is that most are content to criticize from afar than to get involved and serve.
For the past 14 years, I’ve worked on behalf of persecuted Christians around the globe. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with various diaspora leaders such as Greeks and Armenians, to learn from their experiences and success. As a direct result of these encounters, CS launched our Annual Modern Coptic Martyrs Remembrance Day, to ensure that modern Coptic martyrs are not forgotten and to continue striving for justice, no matter how bleak the prospects appear. Of note, other indigenous Christian communities throughout the Middle East support Coptic equality and utilize opportunities to advocate for Copts.
The Coptic situation will not improve in Egypt without the involvement and support of Copts in the diaspora. For the first time, Copts in the diaspora have a historic opportunity to take advantage of their freedom in Western society and adopted countries to utilize modern technology to unify themselves, create awareness, advocate, and effect change for Copts in Egypt. Diaspora Copts have the intellectual and financial resources to lead this movement. However, the largest inhibitor to Copts achieving equality is their own political apathy.
I call on you to become engaged. Whether you participate in an advocacy campaign, call your legislators to ask them to support Coptic equality, donate to Coptic Solidarity, share about these issues on your social media accounts, or in any other way. Take a step today to become involved. We need fewer arm chair criticizers, and more humble servants.
“I have been given much. Therefore I am expected as a Biblical principle to give as much and that’s why we should be involved in our Coptic causes and we should support each other even sometimes if we don’t agree to the message being delivered the same way that I wanted to deliver that someone is I making an effort and someone is going beyond their normal day -to- day comforts to advocate for us.” ~ Dr. Jonathan Adly – Founder, History of the Copts Podcast
Non-Coptic partners and individuals will play a supporting role in this civil rights struggle, much like white Americans did during the US Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and ‘60s. But Copts themselves must be the ones to lead their own civil rights struggle and ensure it is done in a way that reflects Coptic history, culture, and values.
“We have an immense talent pool and if we don’t tell that story who’s going to tell it for us, it will be the wrong story that will be told. The same resiliency and hard work that allowed us to survive as a people in Egypt is the reason why we flourish in the world when we don’t have opportunities denied to us.” ~ Dr. Mark Eid – Coptic Solidarity Executive Committee Member