Why Copts?

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (centre R) greets Coptic Pope Tawadros II as he attends Christmas Eve Mass at at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope, in Cairo January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Al Youm Al Saabi Newspaper (EGYPT – Tags: RELIGION POLITICS) EGYPT OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN EGYPT

Karim Girgis

Staff Writer


On July 3, 2013, I was at home with my parents in Port Said, like millions of other Egyptian families, counting down the minutes to the Minister of Defence’s declaration following the 48-hour ultimatum to the Muslim-Brotherhood President, Mursi.

The ultimatum gave Mursi two choices: either to hold early presidential elections, or the military will intervene and take matters into their own hands. Eventually, the latter happened, and this remains Egypt’s reality for almost a century.

Following Mursi’s removal from power and detention by Sisi, Jihadist groups declared war on their ‘treacherous’ security-forces and government officials. The Coptic community became a primary target of Jihadist groups in order to take revenge from the Pope, Tawadros II, as he defended and supported the military’s 3rd of July declaration and their following actions.

That is the major explicit reason for the terrorists’ propaganda against Copts. However, there are other implicit reasons. ISIS aims to destabilize the Middle East’s most populous country by fomenting a vicious sectarian strife, by breaking Sisi’s grip on power through weakening the people’s trust in him.

Last week’s twin-attacks on the Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria that left at least 45 killed and many more injured, is strategically planned to serve the jihadists’ implicit goals, but they are by-no-means foreign to the nation.

On December 11, 2016, a suicide bomber left 26 killed and 49 injured at a chapel nearby Cairo’s Cathedral. Following the military’s violent dispersal of the Islamist sit-ins, on 13 August 2013, crowds of men attacked at least 42 churches, burning or damaging 37, along with Christian institutions.

The bombing of the Church of the Two Saints, in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve in 2011 is considered a critical trigger for the eruption of the revolution of January 25 2011.

Copts did not only suffer from jihadists, but also from the government perpetuating structural and legal violence, traced back to Nasser’s regime of 1956.

Only a few wealthy Copts did not emigrate when Nasser expropriated their properties, and the rest were offered patrimonial protection. Nasser made a deal with Pope Kyrillos VI; the President ensures the security of the Coptic community, in exchange, the Pope becomes the official representative of all Copts.

This unwritten pact between the State and the Church is extremely important as it is the foundation upon which the regime deals with the Church to this day; it has lead to political and socio-economic discrimination and violence against Copts.

Succeeding presidents dealt with the Church based on Nasser’s virtual contract. Sadat increasingly politicized religion, and put Pope Shenouda under house-arrest after accusing him of separatism and conspiring with communists – with no supporting evidence. His era was marked by major sectarian clashes.

Although Mubarak tried to mend ties with the Church, the pact remained unchallenged, and structural violence and sectarian clashes persisted. The scholar Jason Brownlee asserts that “Egypt’s outdated laws and authoritarian institutions have fueled violence and discrimination against the Egyptian Orthodox Christian community…Coptic security is tied to the broader effort to establish a government that treats Egyptians as citizens with rights rather than a problem to be managed.”

President Sisi imposed a three-month state-of-emergency after recent attacks. Egyptians lived under a state-of-emergency for 44 of the last 50 years – did it bring any stability and prosperity?

The law has allowed rulers to imprison rivals and hold mass trials against dissidents. For example, after the order, a court sentenced a lawyer, Ramadan, for 10 years in prison for criticizing the government, under a 2015 law prohibiting the use of Facebook ‘to harm unity and incite violence.’ Shouldn’t the state’s resources be used to combat terrorism and address structural violence instead of tracking Facebook posts?

Why Copts? Simply because, for jihadists, the Copts are infidels conspiring with foreign powers, and an easy target to create a sectarian conflict. For the regime, the loyalty and the votes of 10-15 million Copts are essential for maintaining the status-quo, and to polish the regime’s image for international support and recognition.

In the meantime, terrorism continues to slaughter innocent souls, and the state perpetuates structural and legal violence against Copts. Is stepping-up security by showing off the spreading of tanks and soldiers in the streets enough to protect the Coptic community and deter terrorists? Or should the state address the causes rather than the symptoms of violence and discrimination, against the nation’s Copts?

Let’s hope the regime doesn’t bet on the people’s patience once again.


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