Egypt’s Coptic community has been ignoring the threats against it from some of the country’s Islamist leaders, writes Michael Adel
Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood and its allies have been telling the country’s Copts to keep off the streets during the protests planned for 30 June, with Assem Abdel-Maged, a senior figure in Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya Islamist group, telling the country’s Christians that “if you go down into the streets on 30 June, you will bring black days onto yourselves.”
The signs suggest that the ruling Brotherhood is scared of the prospect of millions of Egyptians, among them the country’s Copts, taking to the streets to denounce its rule.
Last week, President Mohamed Morsi invited Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the country’s Christians, to a meeting at Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace in what has been seen as an attempt to put pressure on him. According to high-level Church sources, Morsi wanted to sound out the pope on the 30 June protests.
“I cannot stop the Copts from taking part in the protests because this is a matter of their personal freedom. I have no desire to involve the Church in politics,” the pope is reported to have said.
“Do what is necessary to bring the nation together and work for the peace of Egypt, not to stir up quarrels. I am still hoping to see improvements in the economic and social life of the country,” the pope told the president, as the latter suggested that the Church should advise the country’s Christians not to take part in the protests.
As the pressures mounted on the Church, US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson paid the pope a visit before he went to meet the president, with the timing of the visit raising eyebrows in the Coptic community.
Graffiti has appeared in the Ain Shams and Matariya areas of Cairo, with the wording, in what appears to be the work of Brotherhood members, declaring that the 30 June protests constitute a “declaration of war on Islam by crusaders, communists, and atheists”.
The Coptic community has reacted strongly to the pressures being put upon it. Coptic women have begun mobilising to participate in the protests, and some are already making arrangements for child-care so that they can be free to take to the streets.
“Go down and participate. Have no fear,” was the message that Coptic young people have been sending out through text messages and social media sites. It is a message that has become more widespread following the perceived threats made by the Brotherhood and its allies against Christians.
One woman visited the present writer asking for a signature on the Tamarod petition against President Morsi. Asked why she was giving up her time to collect signatures, she said, “when I heard they were threatening Christians I thought that they should not be allowed to scare us. I am too old to march in the streets, but I want to encourage others to participate.”
Coptic young people are full of energy to change the political, social and economic situation, said Coptic youth bishop Anba Moussa.
“The youth have to express their political views, but without violence, because there are people trying to project a distorted image,” he said, adding that the Church could not deny young people’s right to express their views. Amir Ramzi, president of the country’s Criminal Court, denounced the threats against the Copts, calling on the attorney-general to take action on the matter.
“If anything happens to the Copts, we know who the culprits are. I believe that the threats will backfire, as the Copts are not afraid of the Islamist groups. There are likely to be more Copts taking part in the protests as a result of these threats,” he said.
Youssef Edward, media coordinator of the Anglican-Coptic Organisation, said that “the Copts are Egyptian citizens, and they do not live in isolation from the political realities of Egypt. They feel discriminated against, and they have every right to reject this regime.”
Edward said that the Coptic media had not instructed the Copts on what to do on 30 June. “I believe that the Church is analysing the political and social situation, but it is not offering advice,” he said.
According to Edward, the Copts had suffered over the period of Morsi’s presidency, and they distrusted a regime that failed to offer them justice and equality. He also described the threats against the Copts as an attempt at “psychological intimidation”.