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EGYPT: Ordinary Muslims, too, share blame for violence against Christians


Amr Hamzawy is an analyst with the Carnegie Middle East Center.

Egypt is in need of collective redemption in the wake of the Alexandria bombing.  Egyptians must separate themselves from talk of conspiracies plotted by foreign terrorists. Let them instead take a hard look within and acknowledge that terrorism has a sectarian face.

Carnegie logoTerrorism exercises violence in societies that provide fertile ground for sectarian conflicts, as in Iraq, or likewise as it is being cultivated in Egypt today.

Egyptians must discard the deceptive displays they mechanically regurgitate each time blood is shed in crimes of sectarian violence. Championing national unity and flaunting it with kisses of priests by sheiks is baseless. Muslims who speak of their Christian brothers often do so incredulously.

Copts’ refusal to accept the condolences of government representatives to senior members of the All Saints Church is not an act to be feared. Rather, it is an explicit expression of a frustration gripping many Christians who are ruled by a government resigned to their discrimination.  Public institutions fail to soberly consider the root causes of such vehemence, and are lax in their responsibility to provide them with protection.

It is true that with the absence of democracy, the regime oppresses Egyptians of every color and creed. All citizens, Muslims and Christians alike, are subject to political marginalization dependent upon on the whims of state bodies and influential people. Yet, in claiming that Muslims and Christians share the same fate, Muslim Egyptians are denying the fact of that Copts confront legal, religious, and political discrimination that is unique to them.

Some laws have been recently introduced with the goal of promoting equality regardless of religious affiliation.  Despite these measures and other attempts by the authorities to shut down satellite channels accused of fomenting sectarianism, the government remains impotent to combat sectarianism. 

Conversely, some are mistakenly shifting the blame solely onto the government for its failure to build a society free of sectarian tension, and where all citizens are created equal. Indeed, the government bears a share of the responsibility in perpetuating discrimination. All Egyptians, however, particularly the Muslim majority, have come to generally accept the idea of Copts as inferior and as second-class citizens. 

In fact, discrimination is not only ignored, it is flourishing to the point of damaging the national fabric.

As the overwhelming majority, Muslims bear most of the responsibility to preserve the values of diversity, tolerance, equal treatment and coexistence. Yet the Muslim majority seems either unwilling or unable to assume this role. Positive signs do sometimes emerge, as when Muslims protected Coptic churches on Jan. 6, Christmas Eve, a week after the attacks at All Saints.

Amid Egypt’s increasing religiosity, however, broad segments of Egyptian Muslims have become overwhelmed by unfettered extremist discourse in the media. It should come as no surprise when Copts respond to such aggression with the equally exclusionary message, “Egypt is our country and Muslims are guests.”

Copts struggle against legal restrictions on the construction and maintenance of churches while Muslims are freely allowed to build mosques. Coptic representation in parliament -– only a handful of Copts were elected in November 2010 elections to the new 508-seat People’s Assembly -– is close to zero despite comprising an estimated 10% of the population. The president’s ruling National Democratic Party named only 10 Copts as candidates out of a total 800 running in the parliamentary race. The government and ruling party have come to accept Copts’ systemic marginalization.

Acts of sectarian violence are on a terrifying rise across Egypt. Those in power make arrests and reproduce the customary speeches. The regime focuses on foreign conspirators as the culprits, and extols national unity without introducing any real policy changes that affect the Christian population. Judicial bodies in Egypt are empowered to bring those guilty of violent crimes to justice, but the courts have often failed to render conclusive verdicts. Such outcomes offer the public the tragic impression that Christians and their places of worship are legitimate targets for hatred.

If they truly seek to rescue Egypt from sectarian violence and restore the humanity of their society, their treatment of Copts as second-class citizens must stop. 

The regime must introduce political, legal and procedural changes to guarantee Copts’ security and religious freedoms, as well as to increase their representation in government.  As part of a long-term society project, civil society organizations and liberal media must work to restore Egypt’s heritage of tolerance and secular citizenship.

-- Amr Hamzawy in Beirut

Editor’s note: The post is from an analyst with the Carnegie Middle East Center. Neither the Los Angeles Times nor Babylon & Beyond endorses the positions of the analysts, nor does Carnegie endorse the political positions of The Times or its blog.

Photo: Egyptian activists hold a banner with a crescent and a cross representation reading in Arabic 'one god, one dream, one destiny, one population' during a June 7 gathering in Cairo. Credit: Ahmed Khaled/European Pressphoto Agency 


Comments () | Archives (25)

It's a lawless country. Hundred if not thousands of people get killed without ANYONE getting tried. I am sure everyone remembers the Ferry sinking in the red sea as it was crossing from Saudi Arabia to Egypt. What became of the Captain who abandon the ship? Survivors reported being in the water for 24 hours before they were picked up. They reported that as the ship was on fire, officers were instructing passengers to go back to their cabinets as they were getting on the few life boats available. Some even claimed that some of the passengers were locked in their cabinets as the ship was sinking.

So are all white Americans responsible for the racial discrimination against non-whites that exists in this country? Are all non-Muslim Americans responsible for the countless arson attacks on American mosques in 2010?


There is not a single case in the history of Egypt where a Muslim was put to death for killing a Copt, although there are 100s of Copts killed by Muslims for no other reason than being Christians. Even the highly publisized Massacre of Nagah Hammadi where the killer received a death sentence by a court last week, I would argue that he got the sentence for killing 6 copts and 1 muslim, and yet to see if the grand Mufti would approve hanging him?

3 Days ago a Muslim policeman shot 7 Copts killing one of them on a train, already Egyptian media and officials were quick to dismiss the case as a lunitic (the usual explanation given for such cases) although one of the victims explains vividly his actions seemed to single them out from the rest of passengers for not wearing the Islamic hijab and wearing a cross. Of coarse he'll never get the death sentence, but let's see what would the court say? If he gets the maximum punishment (I doubt) that would be the first case.

Hany, Thanks for your replay, true Canada is one of better places in world as far as human rights are concern, nevertheless there are no such thing as a "perfect" country, one can wrongfully find negativity toward any subject if one tries!

"Canada does have to deal with some issues of human rights abuses that have attracted condemnation from international bodies, such as the United Nations. For example, some provinces still allow the use of religiously segregated schools. The treatment of Canada's First Nations people or Aboriginal Canadians and the disabled also continues to attract criticism."

The criticisms made in the above article are vague and self contradictory. On the one hand the author speaks about the Christian-Muslim unity in the aftermath of the Alexandria bombings, the efforts by Egyptian society to promote unity between the two communities, and the laws passed by the Egyptian government to combat discrimination.

One wonders, then, how exactly ``ordinary Muslims'' share the blame for the heinous attacks on Christians, especially given that the perpetrators of these incidents are currently in the process of being sentenced, often to death.

Nedal, although I have all the respect to the Moderates in Egypt, but the fact is they are very few and none influential, they would never have the same impact Islamists have over Egyptians, that's why I insist democracy would be disatrous in Egypt, and will bring a Hammas like government. There are no easy solution in the short term for the mess we are in. Again, nothing good would happen unless Islam itself is reformed, that is my solid belief. Reform or face a clash with the rest of the World. Scary but it will happen.


Where a bit closer now than when we started. I actually think we run the risk of extremism should we allow true democracy to prevail specially without educating the masses first. My question is what choice do we have? Do we agree that the current course/status is not sustainable? If so, than we should try to help moderates change it now, before extremists get the upper hand.

I am firm believer of separation of church (religion) and State, while I am somewhat suspicious of the Moslem Brothers, I am down right scared of others like Jihad. If the intellectual/academics and the upper echelons do not embrace moderates to form a democratic opposition to the current ailing gov't/system, we do run a risk of Taliban like take over. I am hopeful that moderates would prevail.

On a seperate note, Kefaya had a nice representation from across the polictical spectrum (moderates, copts and others). George Ishaq was my History teacher in high school.

Joe, I think any objective person would have the ability to decide for himself about the seriousness of a government or a nation to a achieve a goal unless of coarse that person is a believer in relativity.I lived 23 years of my Life in Egypt, 15 years in Canada, I think I can tell the difference. Enough said.

Nedal, I was clear accusing the "teaching" of Islam to the mess the world are in right now, teaching/interpretations of religions change or reform to serve the time. Islam reform (wahabism) took Islam in a much worse direction, Islam needs reformation to be more tolerant religion. I reject your analysis of holding Us (Copts) and the rest of the world to an Islamist agenda to control Egypt, as I explained democracy brought hammas, Islamic Iraq, Taliban to power, in other words it served the islamist agenda minus human rights for minorities. If you are sencere help reform Islam just like many honest Muslims around the world.

% Hany,
There is a difference between "succesful protecting it's minorities" and "serious in their efforts of pursuing better human rights records." since no government will say they're kidding about improving their human rights record, nevertheless can you name specific countries since "Most Western countries" won't give us much lead to do research on their records and maybe learn a thing or two from their policies!

Continuing to accuse Islam for the way some Moslems act, will not solve any problems. Like similar arguments in the past (i.e. Accusing Christianity of the atrocities of the Holocaust or the Spanish Inquisition), No agreements will be reached nor will we ever find solution to the problems we had at hand. Lets move beyond accusation to what needs to be done to bring us back from this abyss.

I would be willing to exchange education for democracy as the single most pressing issue to change MANY of the problems including extremism that Egyptians are facing today, BUT even that can not be achieved with the current dictatorship/system. Every thing is corrupt at it's core. Current government has failed in providing basic education, health care or economic opportunities to its citizens. This leads to poverty and desperation which leads to extremism.

Democracy is the only solution. I would start with education, but again it seems so far away without putting accountability in place first.


Most Western countries are serious in their efforts of pursuing better human rights records. I know you mentioned Indonesia as an example of an Islamic nation tolerant towards minorities (Probably because President Obama keeps saying that) However, the fact is 80% of indonesians want to implement a law to ban all none Islamic house of worships from Indonesia, I think that says it all!

@ Nedal Elfar - your premise is rediculous, Turkey expelled all the Greek Orthodox when it expelled all Greek speaking persons from Turkey - separation not protection. You are just an appologist for Islam.

@ socalmaverick - no, Islam has a philosophy that classifies minorities explicitely as inferior - 'dhimmi', and subjects them to oppressive taxes and treatment as part of the religion, and its worse for people other than 'people of the Book' Xtians and Jews - death to animists and Buddists. If you subscribe to Islam, you subscribe to the 'dhimmi' concept and take and have license against these minorities that can result in personal benefits and advantages, including but not limited to monetary and sexual advantages as well as the right to enslave orphaned Jewish children and force their conversion.

% Hany G,
Perhaps you can tell us which counties are successful at protecting it's minorities, since no one can prove a negative!


1. Egypt was not "more democratic" in the past - it had its dictator just as it does now. What was different was Islamism was not in vogue, but rather Pan-Arab nationalism.

2. Egyptians have become more "Islamist", that is easily observed with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.

3. And do you know what? If it was a democracy, the Brotherhood would probably be running the country.

4. The current regime will not let this happen, which is probably a good thing for the Copts

5. Thus, I don't see how a people, who have subscribed to a brand of xenophobic (no matter how long copts have been in Egypt, they are still Dhimmi status in Islamic thought) Islam, are free from blame!

They planted the seeds, and are now reaping the benefits. Just as in Iraq, where Islamism has replaced the "secular" pan-arabism of the first half of the 20th century, where Christian populations have dramatically decreased in size, the same has happened in Egypt.

It is the people who choose their beliefs, not the government.

Even if I agree that Turkey is RELATIVELY better with it's human rights records standards when it comes to treating minorities, I don't think it is because the teachings of Islam as much it is because of Ataturk's "teachings" (Militant secularism). Now with Islamism spreading in Turkey things will revert back and go inline with the rest of Islamic world. There are recorded incidents of shooting and killing Muslim converts to Christianity in Turkey by Islamists.

Nedal/Joe, None of the Islamic countries listed (Indonesia, Turkey, Malisia) are succesful protecting it's minorities from hate and violence please do your research. Islam as been taught in it's current form is the problem, nothing will be fixed unless teaching of Islam is fixed itself.

When will America open its eyes and see the destruction in Egypt. May God be with the Copts all over the world, and especially Egypt, as they are discriminated and persecuted.

To both RSTY and Hany G: I am in total disagreement with Hany on "the problem lie within Islam". I think the suggestion is provocative, so let’s agree to disagree on that. I would argue that Turkey might be an example of a working democracy with majority Moslems and well respected/protected minorities. Gaza is not a country it's part of a divided and occupied country that has international pressure to insure it’s failure. Iraq has failed to protect its Moslems as well as it’s non-Moslems. No Body is safe in Iraq. Decades of brutal dictatorship followed by the US invasion are not the place to test Islam, Moslems or anyone else.

My friend RSTY, I agree with much of what you are suggesting. I certainly am not suggesting not holding criminals responsible. They should be caught, tried and executed. That is not the issue at hand, the issue is how did we get here? To that end, I suggest that Egypt was far much less sectarian when it was more democratic. I am talking pre – revolution. I was not around then, but I think we would all agree it was more democratic, prosperous and less sectarian.

"Unfortunately Freedom and democracy proved fatal mistake for Islamic countries, unless of coarse you have an example for a single succesful Islamic democracy?"
Surely one of these countries should meet your approval: Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey!
To be fair, religion is just one part of problem in democracy since all countries do inject their religious rituals in to laws of their states in one degree or another, even some EU nations consider US government to be unnecessarily too religious!
Nevertheless majority of Moslem countries were under colonial rule by western nations until last century, 'perfect' democratic countries as we know them today took several hundred years to mature in to where they're now, and more importantly there are few nations which are older than Athenian city/state coined "democracy" and having difficulty to merge part of this system in to their own culture since they were the super power and prosperous with unparalleled human rights laws of their day in a days when democracy was a system for wealthy Athenians to rotate leadership positions among themselves without voting right for their citizens and never mind their slaves!

@Nedal Elfar

Egypt was never a democracy, yet in the past (and by past i mean pre-muslim brotherhood, pre-pan-islamism, during the times of pan-arabism) violence against Copts was not as severe!

So in the equation we have: no significant change in government, but a significant change in the society! Thus, yes, Egyptians are to blame. It's best for everyone not to use the excuse of waiting for a democracy to hold people accountable, since a democracy isn't likely to happen without a significant change in the peoples' way of thought.

After all, a democracy is made BY the people. If the people haevn't reformed themselves to create a democracy, then it's the people's own fault! Unless of course you were talking about a sham american-imposed democracy? Somehow I don't think so.

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