Egyptians Reject Bishop Thomas Lecture: Coptic Intellectual

Egyptians Reject Bishop Thomas Lecture: Coptic Intellectual

Bishop Thomas controversial lecture at Hudson Institute on the status of Copts in Egypt is still bearing its negative results.   


In his lecture, Bishop Thomas warned against the consequences of the so called  “Islamization and Arabization” of Egypt, and called for solidarity with Copts to counter the two phenomena.


Thomas also said that any Coptic Egyptian feels ashamed when he is called “Arab” and he disclaimed his affiliation as an Arab. He said he is only an Egyptian who speaks Arabic, but his isn’t “Arab”. He also claimed that the Copts converted to another religion due to oppression and to escape from paying taxes. Out of ignorance, he mixed between Christians who converted to Islam and Copt as a language and a sect. He called Muslims as treacherous because they stole the Christians’ culture and pure art and gave them other names.


He finally demanded that Egypt be restored to its Coptic origins, that the Coptic language becomes an official language like Arabic and that a strategy derived from the Jewish strategy be adopted by making the Copts isolate themselves till they manage affairs and powers.


Well, we do not know how they shall manage affairs, in what framework and what they will do after isolation? Due to this nonsense talk- the first of such a kind issued by bishops and a member in the Holy Synod- and due to the silence of the church up till now, and to avoid mixing the speech of this reckless speaker with the national and historical stance of church throughout the Egyptian history, a group of Egyptians, including party leaders, politicians, intellectuals, journalists, university professors and actors issued a statement in which they denounce and reject this unpatriotic speech that does not conform to the church’s  attitude and national history.


Such speeches may only be issued by an extremist affected by those adopting foreign agendas to solve Copts problems, doing this for a personal financial or publicity benefit. However, it’s disastrous that such a speech is issued by a bishop not authorized by the church to do so. Add to this the fact that the Evangelical and Catholic churches rejected his speech and called on the church to hold him accountable for this. There are top Egyptian writers who issued articles denouncing his speech.


Due to this tense atmosphere following the suspicious lecture, Thomas issued a statement to clarify his own view. He stressed that he is proud of being Egyptian and that he is caring for the growth and stability of Egypt . This bishop denied also taking any financial, literary or moral award for this lecture. He said in his statement that stabilizing Egyptian identity is actually a stabilization of national unity and that consolidating the Egyptian identity is actually a consolidation of fraternity and unity. He said that the lecture was a historical narration of Egypt before and after Islam and how Egypt gradually converted to Islam and Arab culture and that talking about the word “Egyptus” and how it is pronounced in Arabic never underestimates the position of Arabic. He also said that he wants people to have the right to choose  their religion, asking: Is it possible to study the cultural origins of the Coptic Egyptians?


Here, we wished the bishop had reconsidered his talk to confirm by means of action not words that he is caring for Egyptian stability. Thomas hasn’t denied- in this statement- any of what he said and he didn’t backpedal on any idea he offered. This statement confirms as a whole that he is interested in the racial, isolationist and sectarian thought.


Is this a caring for the stability of Egypt: to consider Egypt as occupied by Muslims, to consider Arabic and Arabism as insult, to describe Muslims as traitors who stole Coptic art, to speak about Islam as a religion without tackling the Copts’ problems which are the same problems of all Egyptians, to say this everywhere specially outside Egypt and in establishments that show their enmity to Egypt and show their attitudes that calls for intervening in Egyptian affairs? What are the results and atmosphere spawned by these ideas to allegedly contribute to Egyptian stability? To say that he hasn’t received any award for this lecture may be true, but the award is for your providing these organizations with reports that claim oppression and to contribute to create an image allegedly showing that Copts are oppressed to facilitate foreign intervention specially when these reports are issued by a clerical leader, which is the most serious part. This also confirms the reports of America in Arabic News Agency that you received St. Stephen award from the Norwegian Mission for your efforts in talking about the oppression of religious communities in Egypt.


As for the other prize- $50000- in 1999 from Freedom House that you received along with six others who mostly refused the prize because it is suspicious, every one knows the role played by the Freedom House and its relation with the US State Department and its reports every six months.


As for his talk about reinforcing and consolidating Egyptian identity, we say that Egypt is the state of all Egyptians whatever their religions and whatever their genetic origins.


Egypt is the only country which was a melting pot which contained all races and every Egyptian is proud of his Egyptian nationality whatever his origins. However, the talk about consolidating this identity makes us inquire: What are the origins and components of this identity: Is it the Pharaonic, Greek, Romanian, Coptic or Islamic identity?


First of all, the cultural identity never means religious identity. It is rather a mixture of several political factors: economic, religious and artistic factors. In the Pharaonic era, the Egyptian civilization was affected by everything in this age. Other following ages witnessed the same. Every age left for the Egyptians inherited cultural accumulations which with their factors and effects added to the following ages till the modern and contemporary age.


This means that the Egyptian identity is a product of these civilizations that formed the cultural personality of the Egyptian. As a result of introversion and isolation on a specific age, these isolated are affected by this very age. However, it must be affected by other accumulated civilizations. This what was targeted by Thomas and his likes who think that the Egyptian identity is revolving around the Coptic phase only (Christianity), ignoring- along with others- that it is one stage of the accumulated stages and that this Coptic stage is a cultural and human property for all Christians who converted to Islam.


If some others consider the Egyptian identity as Pharaonic, is it belonging to the Christians or is it pertaining to all Egyptians? Is the Muslim Egyptian required to considers the Egyptian identity as a Christian identity, ignoring the effect of the Islamic civilization and age on this identity?


If this isn’t isolation, racism and ignorance of history, what shall we call it?


Without much detail, we still do not know after what Thomas said about Arabs and Arabic whether he underestimates this language. I think he likely means- by not underestimating- that it is the mainstream and official tongue and that he is obliged to speak. As for his belief in one’s freedom to choose his religion, I ask him why do we consider the Copts problem as merely Arabization and Islamization. There is no comment on his question about studying origins of the Copts because it is permissible, can’t be denied, carried out in churches and should be carried out outside them because it is a part of the cultural fabric which belongs to all Egyptians, not only Christians.


Finally, is the bishop authorized to deal with suspicious organizations and awards? How come that he offers reports that may harm the homeland, that don’t solve problems of the Copts, and that may help in a foreign intervention in our homeland?

Is this the job of a bishop? Thomas stays in his church only several days a year. Where is the church law and when will he be held accountable?


*Gamal As’ad Abdul Malak is an Egyptian Christian intellectual. The article was published in AlMesryoon website, and rendered into English by Ikhwanweb.