Monday, August 19, 2013

Copts Role in Egypt's Turmoil

No more doubt.

Violence that has rocked most of Egypt for weeks now reportedly escalated to include attacks on the country's Christian minority several days ago.  But reports were sketchy, anecdotal, and substantiated mostly by social media, which isn't the most authoritative source for anything.

However, now that the press has ventured into neighborhoods and communities where churches have been burned and Christians murdered, the unconfirmed reports are being confirmed.  And they're painting an ugly picture of Islam's extremists.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, at least 47 churches and monasteries have been set afire, looted, or otherwise attacked by Muslims since August 14.  Granted, although by evangelical standards, the Christian Science religion is itself generally considered to be a cult, its media arm, the Christian Science Monitor, boasts a robust journalistic pedigree, particularly for international news.  It tends to be less sensationalistic than some of its tabloid media brethren, so as long as it's not a theological debate, its reporting can be considered reliable.

If not downright sobering.

It's also worth noting that the term "Christian" can be both general and specific when defining Egyptians who are not Muslim.  Egypt's cultural Christians are called "Copts," as in Coptic Christians.  They make up only ten percent of the population, and are understandably proud of their legacy of endurance through centuries of Islamic dominance.  Some Copts appear to be little more than Roman Catholics who, thanks to Christianity's long presence in Egypt, bristle at an association with the comparatively younger, European papacy in Italy.  These Copts even have their own pope.  Other Copts are more Protestant in their theology, even if many of them appear beholden to a more traditional, ritualistic, and "Eastern Orthodox" aesthetic than we American evangelicals would tolerate in our flavor of Christianity.  A few American denominations have a presence in Egypt, such as the Assemblies of God, but they likely total no more than 30,000 adherents combined.

Nevertheless, regardless of Coptic doctrinal stances on things like redemption, salvation, the lordship of Christ, and even icons and praying to saints, the imminent fact remains that freedom of religion is under fire in Egypt, and that is what should sober us all.

So far, the death toll stands at seven Egyptian Christians who've been killed directly because of their faith.  Homes and businesses owned by Copts were marked with paint during the overthrow of Muslim-Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi, making them easier to identify when the rioting Muslims obviously expected to erupt erupted.  Reporters viewing the destruction can still see the red or black graffiti under the soot in some towns.

In at least one town, the community's local mosque broadcast racist propaganda against Christians and Jews from its loudspeakers to incite Muslims into a rage.  Copts told reporters how unreal it was to watch their (former) neighbors, business associates, and friends turn and torch their homes and businesses.

Sounds like a repeat from Nazi Germany, doesn't it?

Conservative webzine The Blaze has compiled a list of Christian buildings that have been burned, along with photos purportedly of the identified sites, that mirrors a listing that is being updated by the Maspero Youth Union on its Facebook page.  The more liberal-leaning NPR is reporting that the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights group, has documented even more attacks than the Christian Science Monitor:  44 churches, eight Christian schools, two Christian charities, and at least one Christian orphanage.  Britain's Daily Mail claims six Franciscan nuns were captured and paraded like prisoners of war after their school was pillaged in suburban Cairo.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the major mainline media outlets have either remained mum about the attacks on Egypt's Coptic minority, or have only referenced the persecution in passing.  It is eerily reminiscent of the mainstream media's self-imposed blackout of the Kermit Gosnell story, the abortionist in Philadelphia on trial for, among other things, murdering infants born alive after botched abortions.  It took a grass-roots uprising within the pro-life community for outlets like the Washington Post to finally admit they were intentionally trying to ignore the story.

However, considering that of the nearly 900 people who've been killed in Egypt's recent violence, only seven so far have been determined to be Copts, it's easy to see why most of the media has been concentrating on the Muslim-on-Muslim bloodshed.  Saturday's siege by the military on al-Fath Mosque, a prominent structure near downtown Cairo's Ramses Square, where fighters from the Muslim Brotherhood had holed up behind a barricade of chairs, provides an example.  The drama unfolded at an architecturally-significant landmark in the center of Cairo, instead of a more modest structure in a hard-to-reach area.  Hey - some stories are easier to sell than others!

And, as pundits who follow the Middle East are beginning to suggest, the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadis may actually be goading the military into killing or wounding more of them for the sheer publicity of it all.  The more they can lead the Western media into presenting the violence as an attack on true Muslims, the more sympathy they hope to engender among Westerners who are baffled by it all, and need simplistic scorecards to keep track of the upheaval.  Killing Copts and destroying their churches and private property has just been a bonus for the extremists.

Of course, it's no small thing for dozens of facilities owned by a minority religious group to be burned, looted, and otherwise vandalized.  It's no small thing for seven members of a minority religious group to be killed for their faith.  The fact that in both of these cases, the victims are Coptic Christians may help the Muslim Brotherhood build their swagger, and cultivate a greater degree of interest in Egypt's travails among America's church-going public.  Usually, when it's another minority faith suffering some sort of persecution, especially in the West, we evangelicals don't take so much notice of what's happening.  And considering how bent on blood and destruction Egypt's anarchists appear to be, perhaps we should be glad the brutality towards Copts hasn't been worse.  All things considered, it's hard to criticize the media for its lopsided reporting regarding Egypt's religious minority in favor of the violence apparently being staged by - and curiously, both against and for - the Muslim Brotherhood.

It's also worth noting that in several news accounts of the atrocities against Copts, Christians gratefully acknowledged that it was more moderate Muslims who helped pull them from burning buildings and shelter them from the vicious mobs.  Indeed, the fact that Egypt's political and religious tensions come not from Christianity but warring factions within the same faith - Islam - helps explain the very reason for all of this turmoil in such an ancient country.  It also helps portray the complexities that appear to be inbred in this conflict.

All of it is likely too much for our White House and State Department to effectively address, regardless of who would be in the Oval Office.  It does seem curious that after the billions of dollars we've been dumping into Egypt for all these years, we're now effectively barred from exercising any voice in their contentious sovereignty.

Which all points to the One Who has all of this in the proverbial palm of His hand, doesn't it?  How thankful we should be that none of this confuses Him, or gives Him anxiety.

Let us not doubt that He knows His people, among both the Copts, and even, providentially, perhaps among their current enemies.

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