When the British occupied Egypt they imagined that the Copts would be the Egyptians’ weakest link, the soft spot that would facilitate colonial control. It took Lord Cromer many years before he was finally convinced that there is no difference in Egypt between Muslim and Christian. As he would observe in his memoirs after leaving Egypt, the Egyptian people live together without discrimination or friction; one heads to the mosque in the morning, the other to church. High commissioners who followed did not heed Cromer’s lesson and would start again at square one in their bids to bring Egyptians to their knees using that old game of “divide and rule”. The 1919 Revolution delivered the message, again, that this ruse will not work, and it drove it home in a powerful way.
This lesson has long been ingrained in the Egyptian collective consciousness. When the crusading Franks landed on our shores at Damietta, Egyptians rushed to fend them off. Among them were many Coptic volunteers, driven not only by their desire to defend their homeland but also by the determination to defend their faith, which the fanatic crusaders had transformed into an insidious political weapon in order to occupy the country. This was why the famous Salaheddin Al-Ayoubi — Saladin — would abolish the jizya (the poll tax or protection tax levied on non-Muslim communities), which is another reason why he is recalled with such high esteem in the annals of world history.
When Mohamed Ali Pasha began to lay the foundations of the modern Egyptian state in 1811, one of the major cornerstones of his vision was a truly national army, as opposed to a force based on sectarian, tribal or other such affiliations. In the spirit of an army of Egyptians and for Egyptians, Said Pasha, (Mohamed Ali’s heir as governor of Egypt) decreed that there would be no discrimination in recruitment. Thus Egyptian Copts were recruited alongside Egyptian Muslims into the nascent national army and the principle of equal citizenship came to prevail as the basis for the interaction between the state and the affiliates of the three divinely revealed faiths, as remains the case today.
It was only natural for “Islamists” to follow in the footsteps of their makers, the British occupation authorities, and base their strategy on the same racist notion that the Copts are Egypt’s weak point. So the Muslim Brotherhood also adopted the tactic of abusing and attacking Copts, in order to embarrass the government and as a key to expanding its influence and control over Egyptian society. Accordingly, the colonialist instrument, born right beneath the occupation authorities’ noses in Ismailia, began to burn churches, one in Suez, another in Zagazig, etc. Coptic Archbishop Bergius had no doubts that Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna was behind these attacks and he accused him, openly, of giving the order to burn the church in Zagazig.
Not long afterwards followed the campaign to paint crude remarks on the walls and doors of Coptic homes in Shubra, Cairo. This attack, in the late 1940s, had just been preceded by another: a wave of arson attacks against stores owned by Egyptian Jews, in an attempt to exploit popular anger against the UN resolution for the partition of Palestine in 1947 and the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. It has been established that the Muslim Brotherhood was behind all these acts of sectarian violence and hatred.
The foregoing information is not cited for the pleasure of reciting historical trivia. It is indicative of the designs and stratagems of a whole array of terrorists of various stripes. This comes as no surprise, as all Islamist movements and organisations are offshoots of the mother Muslim Brotherhood, nurtured on its hate-filled ideology and marching in its same violent footsteps. In that terrorist crest in the 1980s and 1990s, terrorist groups plundered Coptic shops and property, which they somehow conceived as justifiable in their warped ideology. Imagine a group — any group — sanctioning theft and pillage of the property of other people in the same society so that it can use the “proceeds” to fund its terrorist activities. The terrorists went on to attack Christian houses of worship and Egyptian Christians themselves in parts of Upper Egypt and Fayoum.
The Islamic State affiliates in Sinai, aka Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis or, if you prefer, the Sinai chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, are on a similar rampage. The names may change as rapidly as they breed cells and cluster organisations, but the mentality and behaviour is the same. Once again one is reminded of Mohamed Al-Beltagi’s speech from the Rabaa Al-Adawiya podium in the summer of 2013, echoing Khairat Al-Shater’s threat that Sinai would become the playground for their “brothers” from all parts of the world unless the Muslim Brotherhood were reinstated into power so that they could resume inflicting their oppression on us. “Either we rule you, or we kill you,” was the spiteful message.
Since that day, Egypt has been waging its “second war of attrition”. The first was against the standing army of a foreign country with which we were engaged in a long military confrontation. The history of that war is familiar to all. This time, we are confronting an international organisation with branches in more than 60 countries, with sleeping cells that it summons into action with the press of a button and with armies of Internet trawlers and e-brigades that wreak their havoc in cyberspace. These forces are the main threat to our national security and the wellbeing of our society today.
As we are at war, in the fullest sense of the word, we understand that there will be casualties, but we will sustain the resolve to defeat terrorism. The rest of the world has begun to wake up to the reality that this war affects everyone everywhere and that the terrorists are bent on open battle against us and the whole of humanity. Although Egypt had long sought to alert the world to the magnitude of the danger, our warning was not taken seriously until only recently, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in France, Belgium, Germany and elsewhere in Europe and the West. Now the US has an administration with a president — Donald Trump — and other officials who have the courage to say the taboo words: “The Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation.”
The attacks against Copts in Arish signal that the terrorists have reached their final stage of madness. They targeted officers and soldiers of our army and failed, and the officers and personnel of our security agencies and failed. On 1 July 2015, they attempted to occupy and carve out a portion of Sheikh Zuwaid to use as a headquarters and operations platform but, again, the soldiers manning the Rafah security installation repelled the assault with the well-known bravery of our armed forces. Now, as their last resort, the terrorists are using lone wolves to attack Copts, no doubt imagining in doing so they are avenging themselves on us all and causing us to cower in fear. However, the Egyptians have faced worse than this before and won. In the 1919 Revolution, the Egyptian people — Muslims and Copts, men and women — stood up against the might of Great Britain, an empire on which the sun had never set and which had just emerged victorious from World War I. Just as we defeated the colonialist stratagem of divide and rule, we will continue to defeat this ruse as applied by their agents and surrogates from Hassan Al-Banna to the present day. The attackers, today, will go the way of Lord Cromer, Kitchener, Al-Banna, Sayed Qutb, Shukri Mustafa and others, while the Egyptian people — Muslims and Copts — will remain.