by M.S. Ahmed (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 5, Muharram, 1419)
The US and its Zionist allies, enlisting the support of diaspora Egyptian Copts, have embarked on a highly irresponsible and cowardly campaign to incite Egypt’s Coptic minority against its Muslim majority. But there are signs that the move is backfiring as both Coptic leaders and the strongly pro-American government of president Husni Mubarak publicly condemn it and tell Uncle Sam to stop interfering in Egyptian affairs.
The campaign is part of a wider anti-Islamic program envisaged in a legislative bill, now passing through the US Congress, which purportedly targets religious persecution worldwide but in reality seeks to ‘protect’ religious minorities in designated Muslim countries. It also comes after the rise of the level of anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments among both Muslim and Christian Arabs as a result of the selective punishment of Iraq for not implementing United Nations resolutions, while Israel is left free to do so, with the Coptic Church in Egypt publicly attacking that policy more strongly than most Arab governments.
The US Bill - Freedom From Religious Persecution Act - was approved by the House Committee on International Relations on March 25 by a vote of 31 to 5 and is expected to be submitted to the full House this month. Senate version is still under consideration by that body’s Foreign Relations Committee.
Sponsors of the bill say openly that it is directed against six specific cases of religious persecution: Chinese persecution of Christians, Bhuddists and Muslims; Saudi treatment of its non-Muslim expatriate work force, and alleged persecution of Christians in Egypt and Sudan.
China has already been eliminated from the list of targeted countries because of US strategic interests there - at least as far persecution of Chinese Muslims are concerned. For instance, the US State department’s annual report on human rights issued on January 30 described China as taking a ‘somewhat tolerant’ attitude towards dissent. The report for the previous year has asserted that all public dissent against the party and the government was effectively silenced. And a high level US religious delegation (which did not include a single Muslim member) began a tour of China on February 10 but did not visit Muslim areas or communities (See Muslimedia Archives: US religious mission to China, a rebuff to Muslims)
U.S efforts to give China a clean bill on religious persecution became clear in late April, when it voted against - and helped block - a resolution in the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission censuring Beijing for serious violations. And the reason? China has greatly ‘improved’ its rights record and Washington is having talks with Chinese leaders for further improvement.
The proposed legislation, clearly directed in the main against Muslims, proposes sanctions to be imposed on those certified to practise religious persecution. Zionist organizations, their allies in Congress and the Clinton administration, and Coptic groups in the US, Canada and Australia are hoping that, when the bill is passed into law, it will enable them to secure an end to US economic and military aid to Egypt - now worth about $2 billion a year.
The Coptic immigrants in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia have emerged as a strong political force to be reckoned with, and use their powerful lobbies to support the US bill and to promote anti-Egyptian political action in the west. Estimated at far more than 600,000, they have arrived in their adopted countries in the last 20 years in search of economic opportunities.
But the unholy alliance between the anti-Islamic Americans, zionists and Coptic immigrants has only succeeded in alienating Copts in Egypt - the very people they profess to help - who do not see themselves as an ethnic or cultural minority but as Egyptians who happen to be Christians. The canny Copts are only too aware that their cause will not be helped by an irresponsible and cowardly campaign directed in their name against Egypt as well as Egyptian Muslims.
Many prominent Egyptian Copts have spoken out strongly against this interfernce against their own country, but it will be sufficient to quote here two of them whose comments cover the issues raised. Edward Ghali Eldahabi, a Coptic member of the People’s Assembly, a consultative group of prominent lawyers and community leaders, and Mounir Abdelnour, a leading businessman, have both criticized the move as anti-Coptic as well as anti-Egyptian in recent newspaper interviews.
Those who are trying to incite foreigners to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs are, in fact, stabbing Copts in the heart; said Eldahabi. Mounir, on the other hand, while not denying that Copts have problems, said they could be resolved internally. ‘Yes, there are problems. But we are not killed in the streets by Muslims, and these issues can be solved within a framework of a national dialogue,’ he said.
But even before this issue came to a boil, Egyptian Copts were sharply critical of US policy in the Middle East, especially the blatant targeting of Iraq and the mollycoddling of Israel. They were in fact led in their attacks by their chief patriarch, Shanoda III, who accused Washington on February 18 of ‘seeking to humiliate all Arabs through their targeting of Iraq.’
The Egyptian government, one of Uncle Sam’s most trusted and docile proxies, publicly called on Washington to stop interfering in its affairs - though in less censorious words than Shanoda’s. Osamah Al-Baz, president Mubarak’s adviser, attacked the US bill and accused unnamed lobby groups of inciting Copts - inviting US Congressmen to come to Egypt and consult Patriarch Shanoda, before interfering in his country’s affairs.
It is true that al-Baz grovelled to the Americans - rather predictably by appealing to the deep friendship and alliance between Washington and Cairo, describing America as a brotherly country and a long-time partner. But he also deposed neatly of Coptic complaints of Cairo’s failure to protect them against what they called Islamic terrorists and of discrimintation. He challenged anyone to come to the streets of Cairo and distinguish between a Copt and a Muslim, and pointed out that the number of ‘Muslim policemen killed by the terrorists is five times that of Copts killed as a result of terrorist acts.’
He might have added that his government has killed more Islamic activists than any other group and Islamic groups are banned and hunted.
He might also have cited the report of the World Council of Churches in New York issued after a visit to Cairo by an investigatory delegation sent by it at the behest of Coptic immigrants - which alleged there was organized discrimination against Copts in Egypt.
Muslimedia: May 1-15, 1998