There is a difference between knowledge and realisation. As a child, I grew up hearing that the Coptic Church was a thoroughly Egyptian Church, and was oppressed. For 50 years I tried to understand the connection between ‘thoroughly Egyptian’ and ‘oppressed’.
The realisation dawned on me only very recently. Some three weeks ago, more than 120 Coptic institutions and property: churches, schools, shops, businesses, and homes were attacked, plundered, burnt and left in ruins. Hundreds of Coptic families were displaced and made homeless. The attacks were the work of Islamists, led by the Muslim Brothers (MB), in retaliation for the participation of the Copts in the 30-million strong mass protests which, backed by the army, overthrew Mursi’s Islamist regime in July. The Islamists also targeted other Egyptian institutions, but it was the Copts who suffered the most.
Despite the terror, loss and pain the Copts—without exception—were not overcome by evil, but went by the teachings of Christ: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. They did not so much as complain, nor did they hasten to ask for foreign intervention to protect them like the terrorist MB did. They realised that they were being attacked not merely in their capacity as Copts but as Egyptians; they were being penalised for having exercised, with other Egyptians, the basic right to reject Islamist rule. So they swallowed their agony and did not answer back. They would have gone even further and offered any more sacrifice required of them for the sake of the Egypt they wanted for themselves, their children, and their fellow Egyptians.
The Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Ishaq, and Coptic Evangelical Rev. Dr Safwat al-Bayadi all insisted that Egypt came first; Egypt was more important than the churches, homes or property that had come under attack.
Now I understood why our three major Churches are Coptic first, denomination second. They’re Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholic, and Coptic Evangelical; not the other way round. As in other Churches too, nationality—patriotism—precedes creed, and in no way diminishes faith.
Was this not enough to make me proud to be an Egyptian Christian?
4 September 2013