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What will Protect the Copts?
What will Protect the Copts?
For years I worked in the same clinic as a Coptic dentist and we quickly become friends. He was a good man, honest in his work and in his dealings with people, but like many Egyptians he was completely detached from public affairs and was not aware of most political events.
Sunday, September 27,2009 14:43

For years I worked in the same clinic as a Coptic dentist and we quickly become friends. He was a good man, honest in his work and in his dealings with people, but like many Egyptians he was completely detached from public affairs and was not aware of most political events. As far as he was concerned, the limits of the world were his work and his family. Then the last elections came around and I was surprised to find him away from work. When I asked him why, he said he had gone to vote for President Mubarak.

 I thought that strange and I asked him: “Why did you vote when you know that these elections have been rigged, as usual?” After a brief pause, he answered with his usual candour: “In fact at church they asked us to vote for the president and they organized buses to take us there and bring us back.” I remembered this story when I was reading the recent remarks by Pope Shenouda, who twice in one week has declared his support for Gamal Mubarak as the next president of Egypt. So it’s now clear that the Egyptian church endorses the idea that President Mubarak’s son Gamal should inherit the presidency of our country from his father – a phenomenon which is unique in the history of Egypt and which merits some debate:

Firstly, Pope Shenouda represents a spiritual rather than a political authority as the spiritual head of the Copts and not their political leader. So, with full respect, I maintain that he is exceeding his authority when he speaks politically on behalf of the Copts, and if we are campaigning to set up a secular state in Egypt in which citizens have full rights regardless of their religion, that requires separating religion from politics – the complete opposite of what Pope Shenouda has done. He has used his religious status to impose his political position on the Copts, thereby usurping their right to express their political opinions, which may not necessarily match his own opinion.

Secondly, no one elected the current regime in Egypt and Egyptians did not chose it through their own free will, but the regime obtained power through repression, detentions and rigging elections. Through its failed and corrupt policies it has thrown millions of Egyptians into misery. I have no doubt that Pope Shenouda, like all Egyptians, is aware of these facts. I take this opportunity to ask His Grace: “Does it conform with the teachings of Christ that you should take the side of a corrupt and oppressive political system against the wishes of the people and their right to choose their rulers, that you should ignore the sufferings of the millions of victims of this regime, including those killed through negligence or corruption and those who live in inhuman conditions? Does it conform to the teachings of Christ that you should agree to the son inheriting the whole country from his father as though Egyptians were livestock or poultry?” His Grace the Pope says he does not support a hereditary system but he predicts that Gamal Mubarak would win in presidential elections. But we say to the Pope: “You are well aware that the elections are all rigged, so why have you concealed this fact in your statements? Is hiding these facts in line with the teachings of Christ?

Thirdly, Pope Shenouda is said to support despotism and the inheritance of power out of concern for the Copts because he is worried that democracy would probably bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power. But the truth is that the regime has deliberately exaggerated the role and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood for use as a bogeyman against anyone who calls for democracy, and the more important truth is that despotism will never protect anyone from religious extremism, because religious extremism is one of the symptoms of despotism. Let us recall that at the peak of its power in 1950 the Brotherhood failed to obtain a single seat in parliament in the last free and fair elections before the revolution. The Wafd won a landslide at the time, winning a majority as usual. The Brotherhood’s electoral successes in recent years were not the result of their popularity but came about because people stayed away from the polling stations. If people turned out to vote, the Muslim Brotherhood would never win, but people will take part in elections only if they feel the voting will be free and fair. Fair elections, contrary to the Pope’s fears, are what will eliminate the danger of religious extremism.

Fourthly, Copts in Egypt are persecuted. This is a fact that cannot be denied. But Muslims are also persecuted. All the grievances of which the Copts complain are valid, but if they looked around them they will discover that these injustices afflict Muslims equally. Most Egyptians are deprived of justice, equality, equal opportunities, humane treatment and their human rights, because Egyptians cannot obtain offices of state unless they support the regime in power. There are two ways to relieve the Copts from oppression: either through them joining, as Egyptians, a national movement which seeks to achieve justice for all Egyptians, or through them dealing with the regime as a minority seeking sectarian privileges. This latter option is mistaken and extremely dangerous.

Pope Shenouda’s recent position, unfortunately, sends the regime a message that the Copts favour despotism and the inheritance of power in exchange for the regime meeting their demands, as though the Pope were saying to President Mubarak: “Give us Copts the privileges we demand and then do what you like with the remaining Egyptians, because they are of no concern to us.”
Fifthly, this regrettable position on the part of Pope Shenouda is incompatible with the history of the church which he represents, for the patriotic history of the Copts is a real source of pride for every Egyptian. On the throne now held by Pope Shenouda there once sat a great man by the name of Pope Cyril V, who supported with all his strength the nationalist movement against the English occupation and who had himself taken part in the Orabi Rebellion and the 1919 revolution. When the nationalist leader Saad Zaghloul was in exile, all Egyptians boycotted the Milner commission which the British government sent to contain the demands of the revolution. In order to incite sectarian strife the British occupation appointed a Copt, Youssef Wahba Pasha, as prime minister in place of Saad Zaghloul.

The patriotic church at the time, after a single meeting, issued a statement dissociating itself from the position of Youssef Wahba and asserting that he represented only himself, whereas the Copts, like all other Egyptians, stood with the revolution and its leader. In fact a Coptic student from a wealthy family, Aryan Youssef Saad, threw a bomb at the motorcade of Prime Minister Youssef Wahba to give voice to the nation’s protest at his betrayal. Dar El Shorouk recently published the memoirs of Aryan Youssef and I hope Pope Shenouda finds time to read it, so that he can be proud, as we are all proud, of the patriotism of the Copts. Youssef Wahba Pasha was amazed when he discovered that the man who attacked his motorcade was a Copt like him, and he asked him: “Why did you do that, kid?” Aryan replied without hesitation: “Because you went against the consensus of the nation, pasha.” Overnight Aryan Youssef became a national hero throughout Egypt, and when he was arrested and detained for questioning all the officers and policemen referred to him as the hero. Even the prosecutor general himself, after questioning Aryan on a charge of throwing a bomb at the prime minister’s motorcade, stood up at his desk, shook Aryan’s hand and embraced him, saying: “May God protect you, my child. You are a patriot who loves Egypt. This Egyptian spirit we must restore today so that we can accomplish what we wish for Egypt and what Egypt deserves of us.

” I hope His Grace Pope Shenouda understands that the aim of protecting Copts cannot be achieved by transforming them into a group separate from other Egyptians, in collusion with the despotic regime which oppresses and abuses people. This way of thinking is completely alien to the patriotic history of the Copts. So what will protect the Copts? That will come about when they consider themselves Egyptians before they are Christians, and when they understand that their duty as Egyptians is to join the battle for a just state which treats all citizens equally, regardless of the religion they believe in. Justice alone will protect the Copts. They cannot demand justice for themselves to the exclusion of others, and they cannot obtain it alone at the expense of the Muslims. Justice must be achieved for all and justice comes about only through democracy, for democracy is the solution.

tags: Copts / Egypt / Mubarak / Gamal / Muslim Brotherhood / Parliament / Christians
Posted in Copts  
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