I am not a Christian who would like to think I am of a persecuted religion in the Middle East. In fact, I’d much rather think that the situation I’m in is a byproduct of the political situation of the region, more so than a simple manifestation of hate.
But simply put, that is not the case.
It’s very easy to look at the situation at hand and say: Oh, it’s not that bad. But it is. Recently a Pew Poll (one of the most highly regarded research polls) showed that about half of the Egyptian population have negative views towards Christians. But no it can’t be the truth that in Egypt, where Arabism has sprung from, has sectarian problems and practices discriminatory policies. It just can’t be that sectarian hatred exists in a country with so called “revolutionary youth.” Or is it that we can’t accept that Arab youth can have discriminatory feelings and that discriminatory policies are carried out in their own backyards?
I am not an atheist. And even though I am definitely understanding and tolerant to all other religions, there comes a point where, upon seeing people getting killed for protesting against their church getting burned down, you start to boil inside.
And that’s what happened to me on Sunday evening as I watched Egyptian Copts get murdered on the banks of the Nile, after a peaceful protest against the governor of the Aswan province for issuing an order to tear down what they called a church.
Many people think their struggles extend only for a brief period in time, not knowing that the Coptic existence in modern day Egypt has become synonymous with persecution.
Do any of you know that Coptic schools were nationalized by Gamal Abdul Nasser and never given back to them? Imagine Armenians in Lebanon being forced to give up their schools and not being able to teach their language. And for reference, the Coptic language is one of the oldest languages in the world.
Do any of you know that Copts are not allowed to build churches except by going through drawn out bureaucratic hoops, most of which end up failing? Contrast this with an Egyptian law that states having a Muslim house of prayer in your building exempts you from paying taxes on that building.
Do any of you know that Copts have witnessed many massacres at the hands of fundamentalists, most of which people outside their community have no idea about?
Do any of you know that in Egypt you must write your sect on your ID card, which can lead to discriminatory policies?
It’s very easy to look at the predicament of the Copts in Egypt and turn a blind eye. But turning a blind eye is no longer acceptable.
When the Copts were protesting on Sunday and they started getting killed for doing so, Arab news outlets portrayed them as terrorists. They were portrayed as low lives whose only cause of existence is to stir trouble, which is far from the case. As people who have been burned, killed, tortured… all for the sake of their religion, they sure have put up with a lot. But there’s just so much that a people can take.
And if you thought the portrayal of Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera was bad and thought it might be justified due to their overwhelming ignorance, why don’t we look at how those Copts were portrayed in their country’s state TV. The reporter compared them to the Israeli army and called upon Muslims to defend their country against “them.”
But who are “them”? Aren’t those Copts the reason those Muslims actually have a country to defend?
I don’t want to go into history. But there’s something that is quite simple and clear. Copts are the heart of Egypt. They are the founders of that nation. They are the people that gave Egypt its name and a direct link to its past. Copts are the Ancient Egyptians. That is a fact that cannot be debated.
Yasmine Rashidi, an Egyptian journalist, tweeted the following on Sunday: “Insulted for being Copt. I’m not, but with hair uncovered I’m a target. There is blatant persecution here. Never seen it in this way before.”
She may not have “seen it in this way before” but it was always there.
The problem, however, is not confined to Egypt.
Christians all around the region have been persecuted for a long time just because of their religion. And in the 21st century, is that really acceptable? Is it really also acceptable for everyone to act as if nothing was happening?
If we take a very quick glimpse at Iraq today, it’s very easy to see who is the greatest victim of the country’s current situation: the Christians.
Persecuted and decimated, only very few remain in their country today. The rest of them? Stranded in the land of nowhere, hoping to return to the country they cannot call home anymore.
It is also very easy to look at what many Syrian Christians consider as arguments to keep their political system the way it is and be “persuaded” into thinking it is really the best thing for Christians in the region.
But I respectfully, categorically, utterly and totally disagree.
It is strange though how so many people in the region are silent about such important issues like that of Christian persecution. For many so called “leftists” and “activists” in the Arab world, and outside, the trend is to fight the big bad evil “West” which is seen as “Christian”, constantly stating it is they who oppress. Yet many of them fail to bring up the Middle Eastern Christians’ plight because it is shows hypocrisy in their own cause: Arab society also carries out oppression. “Leftists” and “activists” hold rallies in support of Palestinians, brandishing flags and slogans, yet when Iraqi Christians were driven from their homes “activists” remained silent.
When Copts watched their churches burned and their people massacred, why did they not cry out for them? Why were there not huge rallies in support of these people demanding their equality? Aren’t they suffering the same as Palestinians? Being driven from their homes and their places of worship being destroyed?
People cry and curse every time an Arab is treated poorly in the West, but when people in our own backyard have their houses destroyed or families killed we remain silent. In the West many shout in protest about their Arab identity, yet in the Arab world it is near blasphemy for Copts and other minorities to identify as the way they wish. Western societies are not the only xenophobic or discriminatory societies in the world.
One thing, however, is clear. The ONLY source of protection for Christians in the Middle East – in any country of the Middle East – is political power. There is no way us sitting around waiting for some dictator to protect us, for some tyrant to give us mercy, is a good enough measure of self-preservation.
As a Lebanese Christian, I have seen what the Syrian regime has done to me. I have seen how its tanks ran over our men and women just because they defied it. I have seen how it killed everyone that spoke up against it. I remember how, with my most basic instincts I realized that having this foreign army in my land is wrong, and my parents telling me not to say so in front of anyone. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
And I also remember that it was us, Christians, who asked for their protection – not knowing that it would be the reason we are in our predicament today, not knowing that their greed in our land would take away of our political power and turn us into weaklings.
But the time to regain our political power is here. We cannot accept any politician who thinks that our best interest is with that of a tyrant just because that tyrant is of a minority. We, as Christians, cannot accept the status quo of things anymore because it is obviously not working.
The Copts in Egypt had their say on Sunday. It was bloody. But their word is out there. And it sure feels much better, I’m sure, than to bottle yet another burned church in like it’s nothing. The time to act is now.
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“I don’t want to go into history. But there’s something that is quite simple and clear. Copts are the heart of Egypt. They are the founders of that nation. They are the people that gave Egypt its name and a direct link to its past. Copts are the Ancient Egyptians. That is a fact that cannot be debated.”
No mate even though I agree with you that what happened in Egypt was a horrific crime, nothing pisses me off like someone who throws unsubstantiated claims as if they are facts, just because they suit them. I’d like you to give proof of this claim that the Ancient Egyptians where the predecessors of the Copts exclusively and not the rest of the Egyptians.
while I feel your pain and sympathise with you, you musn’t let the heat of the moment cloud your judgement.
Copts still use the pharaonic calendar, and use a variation of the pharaonic language written in a combination of Greek and Demotic Egyptian characters. They even have their own and preserve old Egyptian traditions. They have been referred to as a people for centuries and mostly intermarry with each other. Other Egyptians probably have some claim to this too but now take on Arab identity and probably have a mix of Arab and Turkish blood.
“Other Egyptians probably have some claim to this too but now take on Arab identity and probably have a mix of Arab and Turkish blood.”
This doesn’t mean that they are not descendants of the Ancient Egyptians though.
“They have been referred to as a people for centuries and mostly intermarry with each other.”
I never said that they are not a people, I think that is clear in my answer. I was annoyed by the claim he made that is all.
Facts are facts. We cannot deny them. Before the Islamic Conquests of Egypt and the Levant, Christianity flourished and Arabic wasn’t a language used in Egypt OR Lebanon and Syria. Give me proof they (The Copts) aren’t the descendants of the Ancient Egyptians?
Like Boulos said, most Egyptian and Lebanese Muslims – even if they have Phoenician or Ancient Egyptian bloodlines – like to identify themselves as Arabs…and often deny their ancient roots. Look at the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon – specifically Central/ Zahle governate – most people have Assyrian and Aramaic bloodlines (Muslims included) but only state they are Arab. With the issue of the Copts, they place more emphasis on their Ancient roots and have preserved it (for the most part), meaning they didn’t just make up that part of their history. Their texts and scriptures remain and the language is still used – who are we to deny it?
All in all, good post Elie. And in my opinion all those responsible for any attacks on any Christian groups of the region should be dealt with HARSHLY. Christians should not be forced to do what they don’t want to do, and have rights taken away from them because of “religion”. As I tweeted earlier in the week – religious founders of Islam (Omar and Salahuddin specifically) didn’t burn down and attack the Christians of Palestine – who are we to do what they did not? I hope the Christians don’t take the actions of these people (be it army or radical groups) as a representation of all Muslims. I, for one, would put my life on the line to save Lebanon’s churches and Christians from any attack.
Kudos, and don’t listen to the FOOLS calling you sectarian. 😉
Thank you for your comment Ali. And it’s precisely that. This is not a sectarian post. This is me looking at my situation in the region and saying: this is not right. This cannot be the way I’m supposed to be living in the 21st century.
1-calling me a fool doesn’t make me one but you calling anyone who disagrees with your POV a fool sure makes you look like one.
2-Since you claim that I said Copts aren’t descendants of Ancient Egyptians, I would like to quote the part in which I said it. (Of course I never claimed they where not)
3-My beef wasn’t with Elie saying Copts are Ancient Egyptians my beef is when he excluded other egyptians from being their descendants.
4-Tell me where in all of my comments above did I condone the crime commited against the Copts? (In fact I called it what it is a and I quote myself “horrific crime”) but hey lets ignore what he wrote just for some childish point scoring, right?
6-Where did I condone the discrimination against the Copts due to their religion or their language? please show me.
7-Where did I call Elie sectarian?
8-Saying facts are facts without backing them up with proof, does not make them facts.
Umm, 1) I did not exclude the other Egyptians from being ancient descendants, etc… I was simply pointing out that them treating the Copts like they did not belong is simply flawed.
As for the other “claims” you think I made, a simple google search suffices to answer.
And Ali was not saying you are the fool nor did he say you called me sectarian. Other people are.
Elie you specifically said that ” Copts are the heart of Egypt. They are the founders of that nation. They are the people that gave Egypt its name and a direct link to its past. Copts are the Ancient Egyptians.”
I replied that all Egyptians are descendant from Ancient Egyptians, Ali suddenly veered the subject into me being pro discrimination against Copts and claiming that I said that Copts are not descendants of AE (if he actually read my commenty carefully he would have noticed)
he can answer the questions if he wants.
PS As for your claims, I can google that Elvis was kidnapped by aliens, that doesn’t make it true.
There’s a difference between googling Copts and getting results about their ancient history and googling Elvis was kidnapped by aliens :p
“As for the other “claims” you think I made”
Care to elaborate then?
The point of my “claim” was to say that the Copts were always there and the way they are portrayed today: parasites who are threatening “their” nation is categorically incorrect.
And where did I disagree with that Elie?
You misunderstood the message I was getting across.
Actually Elie I think you misunderstood my comment because nowhere in my comment did I imply that Copts where aliens or parasites to Egypt, If you tell me you never said I said that then why reply to the comment in the first place?
Your initial comment was that my claims about the Copts being the exclusive descendants of ancient Egyptians enraged you, which is something I did not say. I did not use the word exclusive. Not mentioning the non-Coptic population of Egypt does not mean they are not descendant from those ancient Egyptians. But that fact – regardless of its validity or not – would have been redundant to the idea I was getting across.
Moreover, Boulos is Coptic. He knows more about his community than you and I combined since I believe you’re not Copt and I am not. I trust his judgement on the matter.
Mate, your comment did not ENRAGE me, it annoyed me, allright?
Anyway since you seem to be jumping from point to point every time I answer your points without answering mine, let’s just agree to disagree ok?
PS- Read my answer to Boulos and you’ll find, once again, that I didn’t deny what he said about Copts
You said “nothing pisses me off more…” so I assumed you were pissed :p
pisses as in annoys not……
still didnt answer my points though, neither did Ali.
Anyway gotta go, take care
Ali is supposed to answer your questions :p I addressed the part related to me.
Elie this is an awesome post…very well written and it deserves to be read on freakin national TV. It breaks my heart to see the fate of the coptics, and christians for that matter, in the middle east. It’s the sad truth however that the majority rules,and the majority nowadays, has bigger fish to fry. I’m a chrisitan who grew up in Saudi Arabia , and there was a time when terrorists were carrying out missions to blow up compounds in which foreigners (or crusaders) resided.
I mean yeah, they’re “terrorists,” as in they’re ignorant, probably illiterate, bedouins. But how long can we go on justifying their behavior…?
On the news it always seems to be about the status of Muslims in the West, when the burqa was banned in France…they made a huge deal about it. what about the status of Christians in the East? Anyway i don’t think i can put it half as well as you did in this article..so i’m not even gonna try.
Thank you for your awesome response 🙂
4 people from my hometown – one family – were killed in one of those compound bombings so I know it very well.
Thank you for reading!
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