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By Coptic Solidarity

Several countries introduced a resolution that the UN General Assembly adopted on May 28, 2019 making August 22 the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.  Coptic Solidarity commends this initiative to honor victims of persecution and those participatory nations such as the US, Canada, and Poland who have committed significant governmental resources to protecting members of minority faith communities and to promoting religious freedom for all.

It is worth noting, however, that nations in which some of the worst violations of religious freedom are occurring—including Egypt, Pakistan, and Nigeria—were among the original sponsors of the resolution.

In the case of Egypt, for instance, the obvious irony is that the Egyptian government is responsible for one of the worst attacks on religious believers, Copts, simply because they protested the closure of a church—just one of many since. In what is now known as the “Maspero Massacre,” 28 individuals (27 Copts) were murdered in 2011 without warning by the Egyptian military, which used live ammunition and ran over peaceful protestors with armed personnel carriers; 327 were injured. To date, there has been no accountability or justice for the victims. In addition to the Maspero Massacre, numerous other Copts and members of minority faiths have been killed in service with the Egyptian military, and by Egyptian fanatics who have escaped consequences due to the government’s inaction.

For this reason—and in an effort to raise awareness for those being killed for their faith and make known that impunity perpetuates more violence against Copts—Coptic Solidarity initiated the annual Modern Coptic Martyrs Remembrance Day (MCMRD).  It is intentionally observed near the anniversary of the Maspero Massacre each October; the 4th MCMRD will be hosted again in Washington, DC in October.

The Egyptian representative who spoke on the introduction of the new UN resolution used this occasion apparently to lambast Western xenophobia—without once acknowledging the real, violent, and sometimes even fatal persecution his own nation’s Coptic citizens habitually experience over their religion.  As a report covering the UN meeting says:

The representative of Egypt also voiced concern that millions of people around the world
recently have fallen victim to stereotyping, racism, discrimination or acts of violence based
on their religion or belief.  Spotlighting the concerning rise of right-wing ideologies, he said
some political groups and parties organize incitements and take advantage of unjustified
fears and distortions to achieve their narrow political objectives.  Those actions have led to
an unprecedented rise in racism, discrimination and xenophobia, including against
migrants.  Stressing that the phenomenon is not limited to a particular race or religion, he
added that the recent horrific attacks underscore the international community’s
responsibility to undertake genuine efforts to address hate speech, including in modern
media outlets.

Such hypocrisy was further underscored by a PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life report that appeared some two weeks after the Egyptian representative made his remarks.  It notes that:

One of the consistent takeaways from a decade of tracking is the relatively high level of government restrictions on religion in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which has ranked above all other regions each year from 2007 to 2017. The new study shows that the Middle East has high levels of restrictions across all four categories in 2017, but the gap in government favoritism is particularly large: The average country in the MENA region scores nearly twice as high on measures of government favoritism as the average country in any other region.

Indeed, the report also finds that of the 20 countries in the Middle East, 19 have a preferred religion and 17 have a state religion. Islam is the preferred religion in all of these countries except for in Israel.

While initiatives such as this new UN day honoring victims and survivors of religiously motivated attacks is an important cultural marker, the benefit will be limited as long as countries such as Egypt continue to deny their very obvious complicity and fail to provide justice to victims. As the oft quoted verse from Matthew 7:5 says, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
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