3 July 2011
Copts in the media
If a blame game is being played out in the Egyptian press vis-à-vis a struggle between Copts and Muslims, there is some foul play going on. Now an article in Al-Ahram daily on 15 June by no less a figure than the respected academic Nasr Mohamed Aref, a political science professor at Cairo University, has accused Copts of serious misdemeanours of which the author shows no proof, and quotes no sources. For a national daily newspaper, this sloppy journalism will not do.
Copts burns down a mosque
“Copts burnt down a mosque in Sohag (Upper Egypt) and they are the cause of sectarian strife,” is the message the reader will infer after reading the article “Sectarian strife and the crisis roots” on page 11 of the edition published on 15 June. Dr Aref started off well when he described the tolerant coexistence between Copts and Muslims in Sohag.
“At the end of the 1970s strangers came to our village; some of them had long beards and short galabiyas. They demolished the shrines of the sheikhs, so our elders dismissed them,” he wrote, but he continues: “At the same time, Coptic teachers came from the city to teach the Coptic children in the village weird things, such as that the Qur’an is distorted.”
It is no secret that in the 1970s the fundamental tide began to sweep across the Egyptian countryside. There were many attempts to kill Copts and burn down churches, not only the shrines of the Muslim sheikhs. There are, however, no historical records that there were Coptic groups appearing in the villages or that they ever propagated that the Qur’an was distorted.
The professor went on to say: “A sheikh from a famous mosque in Sohag criticised the Copts and called them bad names; so a group of Copts gathered and burnt down the mosque, which was built of wood.”
This is a strange story indeed, and one we have not heard before. When did this occur? What was the name of the mosque? Why were no Copts arrested? Does it make any sense that the Muslims accepted it meekly and never retaliated? How can the university professor publish this information in a world-famous newspaper without questioning?
This leads one to wonder in whose interest it is to publish fake incidents that stoke sectarian hatred. There have been several attacks on Copts and Coptic churches in the country, but there have been no reports of Copts ever burning mosques. Nevertheless, Dr Aref goes on to say: “Strange monks from Wadi Natroun went to the Anba Shenouda Monastery in the western mountain, dismissed its monks from the village and prevented Muslims from visiting it.” The “strange monks” the professor speaks of wore black robes similar to those worn by the monks in the monastery. They were monks from the Coptic Orthodox Church to which the monastery is affiliated, the same monastery where, every year from 8 July to 8 August, a large moulid (religious festival) is to this day attended by Muslims as well as as Copts.
The article seems to be suggesting that the security apparatus pampers Copts and leaves them free to commit crimes, and that this is the cause of the sectarian strife in the country. Dr Aref seems to be lifting the curtain to an empty stage: there is nothing here but baseless accusations. He is trying to escape the facts. What about the countless malevolent attacks against Copts, their homes, churches, and property during the last half-century, following each of which the Copts were obliged to surrender their rights in so-called reconciliation sessions? Who and where exactly are the criminals that the authorities have allowed to roam free?
In the 14 June edition of his column in the weekly State-owned Al-Qahira, Mohamed Emara wrote about places of worship. “If anyone were to take a look at the mosques in Egypt during the Friday Prayer each week, they would see that 90 per cent of them are unable to accommodate all the Muslims, so they are forced to pray in the surrounding streets and alleyways. By contrast, we have never seen anything similar in churches. On Sundays, no single Copt prays outside the church.”
If anything, this exposes ignorance of the real situation. It is impossible for Copts to pray outside church because the rituals of a Mass must be held where there is an altar and rounds of incense that must be performed inside the church. Holding prayers in the street may suit our Muslim brothers, but the comparison here is not applicable and cannot be used as an argument.
As for those churches that do not hold an entire congregation, I will give just one example: the Archangel Michael Church in the village of Skeikh Allam in Sohag. This church serves nine neighbouring villages. If one needs more information, one only has to take a tour of Egypt’s villages.
In many cases, churches have resorted to holding more than one Mass on Sundays and Fridays, as well as every day of the week. But even so, congregations spill out into the courtyards in many instances, especially on feasts or special occasions. How can Emara write that there is no church that cannot accommodate its entire congregation, and on which statistics does he base his statement?