The Coptic Church: Egypt’s Scapegoat

Churches are burning in Egypt today.  The number keeps changing.  It was 40 the last I checked.  Pro-Morsi supporters are taking their revenge on their Christian neighbours, setting fire to their churches, their institutions, their homes and businesses.  Even the 4th century church of the Virgin Mary in Minya has not been spared.  What’s behind all the burning?  Pro-Morsi supporters believe that the Christians in their midst, the Coptic Church in particular, conspired with General El-Sisi to remove democratically-elected President Morsi from power.  They point to the fact that when El-Sisi went on TV to announce that President Morsi had been forced from office, Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Church, stood with him (as did the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar University as well, it should be noted).  Pope Tawadros II’s speech in support of the “roadmap” presented by the Egyptian military was interpreted by pro-Morsi supporters as a sign of Christian collusion in Morsi’s ouster.  And so pro-Morsi supporters are taking their revenge. To see Egypt’s churches in flames now is heart wrenching!

We in the West are so accustomed to viewing the Middle East as a “Muslim monolith” that I wonder how many TV viewers are even aware of Egypt’s very ancient connection with Christianity. It begins with Jesus’ birth.  Matthew relates in his Gospel how Joseph was warned by an angel in a dream to take the infant Jesus and his mother and escape to Egypt.  They were to stay there until God told them otherwise, for Herod intended to search for the Christ-child and kill him.  Joseph followed the angel’s instructions and took Mary and the infant Jesus to Egypt where they remained until Herod died (Mt 2:13-15). It’s not known how long Jesus and his parents took shelter in Egypt before returning to Israel (Mt 2:19-21).  The Feast of the Coming of the Lord to Egypt, held on June 1, is an important feast day for Egypt’s Coptic Christians.  In Old Cairo, the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus is situated, or so it is believed, on one of the stopping points of Jesus and his parents.  

Four decades or so later, Mark the Evangelist, author of the oldest canonical Gospel, arrived in Egypt, as recorded by Eusebius who wrote his Ecclesiastical History  in the first quarter of the 4th century.  Mark came to Alexandria in AD 41/42 or 43/44 and planted Egypt’s first church.  On 8 May AD 68 he was martyred in Alexandria.  The Church of the Holy Virgin at the Monastery of the Holy Virgin in al-Qusuja was the first church built in Egypt.  The monks believe their church was built after Mark’s arrival, sometime around AD 60.  Mark is regarded by the Coptic hierarchy as the first patriarch in their unbroken chain of patriarchs.  Mark’s current successor—and the object of pro-Morsi supporters’ ill will–is Pope Tawadros II, patriarch number 117.

I would argue that the unenviable position in which the Christians, 10% of Egypt’s population, find themselves today–that of scapegoats, namely–is due in large part to President Barack Obama’s misguided embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood.  When President Obama delivered his keynote address on foreign policy to the Muslim world at Cairo University in June 2009, ten members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood were invited and given front row center seats. The official invitations to the ten Muslim Brotherhood members were sent out by Cairo and Al-Azhar  Universities, true, but the White House helped make up the guest list.  Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak, on the other hand, was not in attendance. For some reason unfathomable to many, the Obama administration views the Muslim Brotherhood as  “moderate.”  Is it ignorance or naïveté or something else?  Rashad Hussain, the Obama administration’s envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) assisted Pres. Obama in writing his Cairo speech.  Interestingly enough, this same Hussain has had contact with members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the past.  There is nothing to indicate that the Muslim Brotherhood has abandoned the goals set by their founder, Hassan al-Banna, in 1928. The motto of the Muslim Brotherhood makes their goals abundantly clear:

Allah is our objective.  The Prophet is our leader.  The Qur’an is our law.  Jihad is our way.  Dying in the way of Allah is our highest aspiration.

 Clearly, there is no place for Christians—or secularists, for that matter—in the shari’ah state envisioned by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.  Morsi’s brief tenure revealed where Egypt was heading.  Now General El-Sisi wants to drive the Muslim Brotherhood out of Egypt’s politics.  I say, “Go for it,” and let well-meaning meddlers like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham stand well back     






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