Cairo Clashes: The Chronicles of Egypt’s Copts

Cairo remains tense after clashes left at least 24 people dead and over 270 injured in the worst violence in the Egyptian capital since the country’s revolution in February.

An overnight curfew was lifted on Monday but scores of people have been arrested, and a heavy security presence remained on the streets near Tahrir Square (the iconic landmark that witnessed the glorious days of the Egyptian revolution).

Sunday clashes followed Egypt Christians (Copts) protests over the recent destruction of a church near the southern town of Aswan, but actually there was more to these protests than just another case of demolishing or setting a church on fire (this was the third incidence in a row, of demolishing Coptic churches, in less than 8 months after Mubarak was toppled).

Barely a few weeks to the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections and after months of political debate and turmoil, it has become obvious that the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Islamists (Salafists) are bound to gain the lead in the upcoming vote, thus devouring the biggest chunk of the next parliament seats and tightening their grip over the legislative house.

And since the Islamists front, which obviously struck some sort of a deal with the military, has made no secret of their intention to apply the Islamic Sharia law that could undermine the citizenry of the Copts and reduce them to second class citizens, the Coptic community grew not only insecure but also frightened of the perilous prospects of a gloomy future.

So the thousands of Copts in Sunday’s rally were not expressing their anger over the demolition of yet another church; rather, they were expressing their fears over threatened belonging and identity and over the failure of the interim government to protect them and their places of worship.

Never throughout the 1400 years of co-habitation with Muslims in Egypt had any church or monastery been attacked before.  That’s why this whole new cycle of persecution and discrimination against the Christian minority has been a very alarming precedent for all the Coptic community in Egypt.

What went wrong?

Copts of Egypt are enduring through threatened identity crisis for years now.

Many no doubt wondered what on earth had happened to the celebrated Tahrir revolution of civility, nonviolence and solidarity as they watched the violent late collisions between Egypt Copts and the soldiers of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).

Disturbing scenes certainly, but they were neither unexpected nor totally spontaneous as some like to portray them. In the historical course of most revolutions, moments of exceptional unity and sacrifice do not last long. Once the common enemy is gone, unity gives way to the reassertion of differences and sectarian interests; old coalitions collapse, new solidarities and ideological differences emerge and even plots and schemes by another enemy begin to play out.

At such times of political instability, the challenge, of course, is how to handle the old demarcations and emerging differences. In post-Mubarak Egypt, the rise of radical Islamists, a security vacuum and sectarian violence have always been the most feared obstacles to a smooth transition to a democratically elected government, whatever that means.

But with SCAF siding with the Islamist front while dragging its feet on getting the police forces back on the Egyptian street and properly functioning again, the Christian minority (10% of the Egyptian population) remains in limbo.

Copts in history

Egyptian Christianity, of course, predates Islam – which was brought by the Arab conquest of Egypt in 639 AD, and became the majority religion. Some Egyptians embraced Islam voluntarily for its promise of justice, many did so to avoid jizya (taxes) while still others to acquire equal social and political status with Muslims.

By the 10th century, Muslims outnumbered the Christian population, and Arabic replaced the Coptic language as the official governmental language. In the 12th century, the church adopted Arabic as the official clergical language.

“Like or not, we are the true landowners,” yelled the protesting copts.

Hardline Copts, in exile and at home, consider themselves a distinct ethnicity – with a unique ancestry, religion and way of life – that are now being treated as a second class population and suggest, moreover, that they are, in fact, the “true, original Egyptians.”

With that hardline concept and reasoning in mind that the Copts never dared or allowed, if you will, to take it outside the church premises, the Coptic protesters in their Sunday march defiantly roared, “Like or not, we are the true land owners.”

This was the first time for Egypt Copts to let go of their prudence and discretion and maybe also their long buried hostility.  Frustrated by SCAF lax handling of the violence and frequent targeting of the Coptic churches, and since no one was prosecuted or held accountable for the previous two attacks, the Copts set off this huge rally with a bit of a grudge against SCAF.

Left out

In Egypt today, the key responsibility to ensure sectarian peace lies with the country’s elite (the military council, the intelligentsia, the remnants of Mubarak’s regime, Islamists, and Coptic leaders) … and, of course, regional and international players, namely Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel.

As for the intelligentsia and the liberals who have being outweighed by the rise of the well organized and obscenely financed Islamists, thanks to the Wahabbist Saudis, and are so busy and exhausted trying to secure, by any stretch, the minimum number of parliament seats even if that meant some secret deal with the Muslim brotherhood, they actually have no time for the Copts’ dossier.

The Coptic leaders, feeling insecure after Mubarak’s stepping down and also feeling left out while the Islamists and the remnants of the old regime split the booty of the transitional period, had no choice but to consider asking, or, rather, begging for international protection, an option long advocated by hardline Copts in exile especially in the United States and aided by Zionist organizations … and that required nothing more than some bloody confrontation with the Egyptian security forces during which Coptic victims would fall down in front of the whole world.

Judging from the latest statements of SCAF in which they explicitly announced that the council will not approve of a civilian president to be the future supreme commander of the military forces and with Field Marshal Tantawy insinuating that he might consider running for the presidency, we can understand SCAF’s need for more escalation of riots and unrest as a pretext to sort of prolonging the interim period for may be another two years during which they could cling to power and shift the country into military rule.

For the time being, both the United States and Israel prefer the military council being in command rather than to hand over the rule of Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood with their known pro-Palestine agenda and their unpredictable stance on the Camp David peace accords, even if that means turning a blind eye to SCAF security forces getting so out of control as to run over peaceful protesters with their armored vehicles exactly as Mubarak’s security apparatus used to do.

False flag

When it comes to Egypt, the Israeli role doesn’t stop at the wishful thinking of an observer but extends into deep and covert involvement. I mean, we all remember the state of bewilderment and confusion that followed the Alexandria church bombing last Christmas night that left around 20 dead and 90 wounded, but the classified documents found in the headquarters of the raided state security apparatus proved that the whole thing was a false flag operation pulled to implicate some Gaza-based militants and help Israel tighten its siege on Gaza and incriminate Hamas as a terrorist organization.

What is similarly puzzling about the peaceful Coptic march that suddenly turned violent is the testimony of various eyewitnesses that confirmed that plain-clothed unknown assailants managed to infiltrate the rally and on reaching the final destination of the march they were the ones who started throwing stones, Molotov cocktail bottles and even shooting live ammunition at the military security forces taking down two soldiers — and from then on the scene turned into the chaos and violence we have all witnessed.

Obviously those were trained agent provocateurs that easily infiltrated the peaceful Coptic march and orchestrated this whole mess. What consolidates this thesis is the swift and widespread rumor that followed on the internet social media and on the Egyptian street stating that Hillary Clinton, the American foreign secretary, has declared that the United States is willing to help the Egyptian military council to protect the Christian minority in Egypt.

Of course, the next day this breaking news was refuted as false statement, but still this whole thing, regardless of the hidden motives of both the Copts and the Egyptian military, smells so much like a false flag.

Dr. Ashraf Ezzat is a medical doctor who writes articles about ancient Egyptian history, ancient Near Eastern history, comparative religion, and politics, especially the Arab- Israeli conflict. He can be contacted at: Read other articles by Ashraf, or visit Ashraf's website.