What of our rights now?
With Easter and the Egyptian Spring feast of Shamm al-Nessim behind our backs, the painful truth remains that this joyous season did not succeed in drawing the Copts out of the vicious maelstrom of religious discrimination at the centre of which they find themselves
With Easter and the Egyptian Spring feast of Shamm al-Nessim behind our backs, the painful truth remains that this joyous season did not succeed in drawing the Copts out of the vicious maelstrom of religious discrimination at the centre of which they find themselves.
A recent seminar on “Copts under siege” was held in Cairo by al-Marssad al-Masri lil-Muwatana (the Egyptian monitor for citizenship) in cooperation with the Consultative Council for Coptic Organisations, to discuss the attacks against the Copts. The most recent such attacks was the one against the Copts in the northeast Cairo district of Khusous, followed two days later by an attack against the Copts who participated in the funeral service of the five Khusous victims, at St Mark’s Cathedral in Abassiya. And, to add insult to injury, several officials in President Mursi’s administration alleged that it was the Copts who had attacked the local Muslims and thus sparked off the violence. This had the effect of rubbing salt into the Coptic wound, and brought on fierce criticism by liberal Muslims who said that the results of the attacks spoke for themselves: did the Copts injure and kill themselves? they asked.
“St Mark’s,” the Coptic activist Kamal Zakher began, “is the papal headquarters for the
Coptic Orthodox Church and, as such, a symbol of the Egyptian Church. President Gamal Abdel-Nasser had contributed to its foundation with the aim of stressing the religious diversity in Egypt, and so that St Mark’s would act as the capital of Christianity in the Middle East.”
Mr Zakher stressed the importance of conducting political investigations in parallel with criminal investigations in regard to the two recent incidents. He recommended that a high standing parliamentary and judicial committee be formed to come up with a detailed report on the attacks.
The lawyer and political activist Morqos Sawiris showed a video recording of the attacks on the Cathedral. The video showed how the Cathedral’s surveillance cameras were smashed and the thugs threw stones at the grieving Copts, all this under the nose and protection of the police who were themselves hurling tear gas canisters at the Copts. The video contained a number of shocking scenes, among them one of a civilian pointing to the cathedral and showing a police officer where to strike. Another showed a civilian, whose face was covered, driving a police armoured truck. The video also very clearly showed police officers pointing gas guns towards the cathedral, and even an extremist, protected by the police, setting fire to the Holy Bible.
Copts under siege
A statement issued by the organisers of the seminar, in Arabic and in English, declared that Christians in Egypt are angry at seeing their rights curtailed, their very existence in Egypt targeted, and their community under siege. The Egyptian heritage of pluralism is under the peril of being confiscated by the ruling regime. The statement stressed that Copts in Egypt were suffering from flagrant, systemised discrimination that kept them from enjoying their full rights of citizenship, especially after the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) came to power. “Egypt’s Copts will remain on their land, oblivious to the pressures made by the forces of darkness to push them outside Egypt. They will continue living in harmony with their fellow moderate Egyptians, and they will hold the State authorities responsible for their protection as full Egyptian citizens entitled to full citizenship rights,” the statement concluded.
Atef Fawzi, a lawyer, called for turning the Copts’ case into an international case, as well as taking the President, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior to court, owing to the repetitive attacks against the Copts, which are
“What could be the ruling regime’s aim by attacking St Mark’s?” Nasri Girgis, an engineer, wondered. “And how stupid of the Egyptian ruling regime, he said, to project an image to the whole world that it was engineering religious persecution.”
Judge Ayman Fouad posed a few questions that highlight the intentional nonchalance of the regime in dealing with persecution of Copts. In almost all the attacks against Copts, he said, no official investigation was conducted and no culprit brought to justice. “Seminars alone,” he said, “can never confront the successive violence against the Copts. “Why is there no criminal pursuit of the media which broadcasts or prints false information implicating the Copts on the attacks against them?” Dr Fouda asked.
“The recent attacks against St Mark’s Cathedral,” Mahmoud al-Alayli, a member of the Egyptian Monitor, said, “and before that against al-Azhar, are proof that the ruling regime has no religious affiliation, but that it just levels brutality and despotism against anyone who dares oppose its policies.” Mr Alayli said he expects another revolution against the ruling regime before long, brought along by the deteriorating economic and social conditions.
Regaining lost rights
The issue deemed most important at the end of the seminar was how Copts can regain their rights? Everyone agreed that the mere condemnation of sectarian violence was no longer enough, and that new ways had to be envisioned to tackle the problem.
The seminar ended with a list of recommendations, the most important of which was restoring the sovereignty of the State; dismissing the interior minister; taking swift action concerning the cases of attack against Copts and their churches, including bringing to justice those involved in cases of disdaining Christianity; criminalising all sorts of discrimination; and appointing a new independent unbiased prosecutor general.
13 May 2013