Magdi Khalil

Magdi Khalil

Egypt, Extremism, Featured, Human Rights, Islamist Politics, Religious Freedom

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In the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring,” the Copts and the Christians of the Middle East have lost the most. For Christians, the revolutionary uprisings became a nightmare due to the emergence of Islamist forces hostile to democracy. From the outset, the late Pope Shenouda III believed that the Egyptian January 25, 2011 revolution was an Islamist revolution, and for that reason, he cautioned the Copts against participating in the protests. The civil Coptic forces did not listen to his call, however, and participated in the revolution nonetheless. From January 25, 2011 until the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak on February 18, 2011, Tahrir Square was an example of national unity, but the situation changed immediately afterwards with the emergence of Islamist forces that had been hiding behind the democratic and revolutionary slogans.

In the difficult period after the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) gained control of the government, the Copts witnessed the reawakening of their history of persecution. The former guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammad Mahdi Akef, declared in a public lecture that “There are no rights for the Copts except what was included in the Qur’an,” referring to the people of Dhimmah who paid the jiziyah tax (a tax paid by non-Muslims living in Muslim territory). This was the system in place in Egypt from the time of the Islamic conquest in 642 AD until it was annulled by former Prime Minister Mohamad Said Basha in 1855. Effectively, the Guide expressed that in his view, there are no rights to citizenship in a state governed by the MB. Furthermore, Brotherhood leaders have declared more than once in remarks directed toward the Copts that if they do not wish to live in an Islamic state, they should leave Egypt.

Since the MB’s establishment in 1928, the group has sought to pressure Jews and Christians into leaving Egypt in order to establish an Islamic Caliphate. They nearly succeeded in emptying Egypt of its Jewish population after a series of bombings that targeted Jewish companies and homes in 1948 and 1949. With the MB’s ascendance to power in 2012, its leaders began to dream of displacing the Copts. Approximately one hundred thousand Copts left Egypt during Morsi’s year in power, but that number is insignificant when compared to the size of the Coptic population, which is nearly 15 million people. For this reason, the Copts participated extensively in the uprising against Morsi on June 30, 2013, as the country stood up against the advancement of a religious state.

It seems as though not a day goes by without a Copt being killed, a Coptic girl getting kidnapped, or property of Copts getting destroyed or stolen. More than 500 Copts have been killed in separate incidents since the January 25, 2011 revolution, and nearly 500 Coptic girls have disappeared. To this day, their families have no information about what happened to them. In addition to this, more than 100 churches and Christian institutions have been burned down or destroyed in the same period, among them the 80 churches and Christian institutions that were destroyed on August 14 after the Brotherhood-led sit-in at the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque was broken up. On that day, a sweeping attack on churches and Coptic homes took place at the hands of Brotherhood supporters, and numerous churches and Christian institutions were burned. Among them was a 1400-year-old monastery in Dalga in Minya Governorate and a church that was ten centuries old.

This series of attacks against Copts has reached a level of violence the likes of which has not been seen in Egypt since the year that Napoleon entered Egypt in 1798. The following are just some of the many acts of violence: In March 2011, Salafis sentenced Ayman Anwar Mitri, a Copt, to having his ear cut off; On March 8, 2011, the army shot at Coptic protesters in Manshiyat Nasser in Muqatam with live ammunition, leading to the death of 11 Copts and dozens injured; On October 9, 2011, the military attacked Copts protesting at Maspero and 27 Copts were crushed to death by armored personnel carriers; On April 13, 2013, Coptic man Saber Hilal was burned alive in al-Khasous in Cairo; On March 28, 2014, Copt Mary Sameh George was killed in Cairo after being stopped by some MB members who, after seeing a cross hanging in her car, attacked her car from all directions, pulled her out of her car, and tortured her before shooting her.

Since the era of former President Anwar al-Sadat, the Egyptian state has participated in crimes committed against the Copts, both in its negligence and its complicity. The absence of justice and impunity is the salient feature in all of the crimes committed against the Copts, and since the fall of the Brotherhood on June 30, 2013, the Egyptian state has pretended to protect the Copts from the Brotherhood, but the reality is that the policies followed during the Mubarak era are still in effect.

For three decades, the Copts lived under the persecution of the Mubarak era, in which they were subjected to more than 1,500 assaults, and the severity of attacks against them only increased after the fall of Mubarak. During the Brotherhood’s rule, the attacks became more barbaric, and since the fall of the MB-led government, the Copts have been paying the toll of the conflict between the military and the Brotherhood.

What the Copts need, what all of the Christians in the Middle East need in this critical period, is special consideration and protection from the international community as persecuted religious minorities and indigenous groups who are nearing extinction in the Middle East. For this reason, more than 300 Middle Eastern Christian activists will meet in Washington on June 26 and 27 under the auspices of the Coptic Solidarity Organization, in order to issue an international appeal for help in this ordeal that they collectively face in the land of their fathers and grandfathers. Perhaps this international gathering will represent a starting point for an effective international movement to protect and preserve the existence of these religious minorities in the nations that they have inhabited for thousands of years.

Magdi Khalil is the director of the Middle East Freedom Forum.