“The Muslim Brothers (MB) and the Copts…repercussions of confrontation and dialogue” is the title of a recent book by Watani journalist Robeir al-Faris.
The book begins with a verse from the Bible, “Blessed be Egypt my people”, and another from the Qur’an, “Enter Egypt safely”. Following the two verses Faris cites MB Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef’s notorious remark: “Toz fi Masr we abu Masr”(“Damn Egypt and everything that has to do with Egypt”). Very aptly, these three lines are cited under the title: “No comment”.
In 192 pages, “This is a documentary study of others’ writings about the MB,” Faris says. Nevertheless, he gives his viewpoint of the topic in a somewhat long preface under the title: “Prior to confrontation or dialogue”. Faris stresses that the MB bases its vociferous demand of an Islamic State on the Constitution’s second article which stipulates Islam as the State religion and sharia or Islamic legal code as the major source of legislation. He quotes various Muslim and Coptic figures on the topic; intellectual Abdel-Moniem Saïd reminds of when sharia was applied in Sudan with dire consequences—including the decapitation of many accused of crimes such as theft. Faris concludes by citing an incident which carries special significance, that of a 1977 interview of top church clerics by a journalist who claimed to work for the prominent Cairo daily al-Ahram, and who then printed the interview replete with countless misquotations, in the mouthpiece of the MB al-Daawa. This prompted a strongly-worded joint denial from the interviewees—Bishop Gregorious of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Archbishop Stefanous of the Coptic Catholic Church, and Rev Barsoum Shehata of the Evangelical Church—who openly condemned the journalist’s behaviour.
The first part of the book is concerned with “Confrontation”, and includes chapters on: The beginnings of the movement; “Mother of terrorism”; What ‘homeland’?; Fatwas on Copts; and a chapter on prominent MB figures such as Mohamed Abdel-Qudous. The second part deals with “Dialogue”, and includes a report by Nasser Sobhy, a Watani journalist who was involved in attempts at dialogue with several Islamic entities, not only MB members. Sobhy writes that he felt the MB’s stand on Coptic—and Baha’i—issues was intentionally ambiguous. He concludes his report by calling for more dialogue and better understanding, stressing that a large portion of Egypt’s Muslims hold misconceptions about Copts, due to a lacking awareness of who they really are and a frequently absent interaction with them.
The book provides an addendum which includes photocopies of documents of Coptic complaints to the prosecutor-general against the MB.
Mother of terrorism
The author suggests the MB, since its establishment by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, is the source of all Islamist terrorist movements. He points out how the MB military wing is considered a pivotal tool since it is a practical manifestation of the principle of jihad (Islamic struggle).
The period from 1945 to 1948 witnessed the most violent political incidents and assassinations at the hands of the MB, as well as secret planning and operations against foreigners, Jews and Copts in Egypt.
Following the 1952 Revolution and President Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s severe clampdown on the MB as a consequence of their attempt on his life, the group went underground. However, several other Islamist groups emerged from under the MB cloak, many of them violent ones. And ever since President Anwar Sadat encouraged Islamist movements in the 1970s—presumably to counter the leftists who caused him a permanent headache—they have thrived. They directed their terrorism against Copts as Church and individuals and, even though the MB regularly denied any connection with the violence, it continued to nurture terrorist thought. Today one of its sons, Ayman Zawahiri, sits at the top of the most notorious terrorist organisation in the world—al-Qaeda.
It is no secret that the MB embraces the thought that a Muslim’s faith is his homeland. Faris cites the 1997 Al-Ahram Weekly interview with the then Supreme Guide Mustasfa Mashhour in which he said Copts were not to join the Egyptian army [their loyalty cannot be trusted if the army were to go to battle against non-Muslims] but were to pay jizya—the tax historically imposed by Muslim rulers on the non-Muslim population—instead. He also prints in full the interview Akef gave journalist Saïd Shueib in which he said that a Muslim Malaysian would be more acceptable as a ruler of Egypt than a Copt. And it was then, when the journalist alluded to Copts and Egypt, that Akef made his notorious postulation: “Toz fi Masr”
The author introduces the controversial figure of prominent MB member Mohamed Abdel-Qudous. Abdel-Qudous used to publish advertisements in Watani, congratulating Copts on their feast days, while at the same time hosting—in a salon he holds—the figures most derideful of Christianity.
The book offers a chapter in which articles by several Egyptian writers, Muslims and Copts, about the MB are printed. It is obvious that the author had in mind the need to expose the MB’s dual standards in that they frequently give polished statements designed to present them in a tolerant image, but in reality they promote and practise opposite policies.
Documents of complaints filed by Copts to the prosecutor-general against the MB include one presented in 2006 by the Coptic lawyer Seti Zaki Shenouda against the fatwa stipulating that it was the religious duty of Muslims to destroy churches.