The Politics Behind Egyptian Christian Anti-Semitism
by ASHRAF RAMELAH
July 15, 2011
Bishop Musa, Coptic Bishop of Youth in Egypt, stated in a recent interview with Egyptian magazine Rosa le-Youssef (June 15, issue #1827), that Copts in Egypt are in no need of protection from anywhere outside of Egypt because Copts are protected “through Allah and their Muslim brothers,” – “brothers” I believe refers to a tiny percentage of Muslims in Egypt who are liberal and secular, believe in freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and willing to live peacefully among Copts. In addition, Bishop Musa mysteriously stated that “he has information that unveils attempts by the Israeli Secret Service to spy on the Egyptian church as part of its spying in Egypt.” Along with this, rumor has it that Coptic Pope Shenouda is now planning to meet with Muslim Brotherhood leaders, the religious fundamentalists who have formed a new political party and seek to limit freedom by installing Sharia law.
Equally perplexing is Bishop Musa’s statement regarding ongoing requests made in recent months by Copts outside the country urging international protection for the Copts within Egypt. There are varying opinions about how this would actually materialize, but in any case the Bishop is apparently against assistance in any form. The Bishop boldly cautions Copts and sympathizers in the Diaspora who divulge the brutality of Copts inside Egypt and speak up for foreign intervention on their behalf. He deems them perpetrators – a term normally reserved for Muslim aggression.
As a former member of the Coptic Orthodox church in Cairo, I respect Bishop Musa’s authority in his position as leader of the Coptic youth. However when His Eminence departs from church matters and assumes political leadership, he crosses a line which impacts the dignity of Christians and damages the stability of the Coptic people. Because the fragile position of the Copts within Egyptian society is further agitated by naive political stances of the church fathers, church leaders must remain strictly within the boundaries of the church.
The Bishop’s comments accusing the Israeli Secret Service of spying on the Egyptian church are very troubling. Where is his evidence to substantiate this, and why would the Jews do so? Maybe he also thinks Israelis collaborated with Muslim thugs to bomb the Saints Church of Alexandria or forbid the completion of Al-Omrania Church, or perhaps the Jews singlehandedly carried out these atrocities against the Copts. How absurd! What we know for certain is that there has never been a single Copt killed or attacked by an Israeli in Egypt nor any record of Coptic girls kidnapped by Jews and forced to convert to Judaism.
The Coptic Orthodox church of Egypt, beginning in 68 AD from the teachings of Saint Mark, stood firmly in defense of their faith for 1,900 years incurring tremendous sacrifice. The Coptic calendar is known as the Martyr Calendar for its testimonial to the enormous numbers of persecuted Copts throughout Egypt’s history. In considering the strength and longevity of the Orthodox church, the Bishop is correct when he says that Copts are protected by God.
Modern history illustrates Coptic oppression by a corrupted legal system that allowed Muslim hatred against Christians to perpetuate, and in most recent post-revolutionary days we see an unleashed wrath against Copts in the destruction of church and private property. Coptic clergy are primary victims of brutality.
The position of church leadership should be to teach Biblical scripture in order to empower followers to establish a collective political will based upon these teachings. It has been a mistake not to urge the Coptic people to engage in political activity and fight for their own political voice. The role of church hierarchy is to keep strictly within the faith mission in order to grow and mature the seeds of belief already planted within the believer. Had clergy adhered to spiritual matters alone while edifying the church body, the Christian minority would have had secular political leadership in place before the revolution erupted this year.
Instead, we now have church authorities, who are ill-equipped for civic leadership, unwittingly placing the church in a tenuous position and lead it down a very dangerous path. As clergy began offering gratuitous opinions in the public sphere, often contradicting Christian doctrine, it has opened up opportunities for state interference in church matters. This renders the church vulnerable. Rather than remaining silent on issues outside their purview, church leadership engages in a public discourse that lacks honesty and prioritizes politics. By stepping outside the spiritual authority entrusted to them and building a power base through public commentary that deviates from the sacred life of the people, the clergy effectively departs from the religious interests of the church and abandons their divinely-ordained role as protector of the flock.
For example, in the past the Coptic Orthodox church politicized the decision to prevent divorce in the case of couples who were married in the church. Since the Coptic Orthodox church strictly forbids divorce, a gentleman’s agreement was reached between the clergy of both the Orthodox church and the Evangelical church to forbid Orthodox couples seeking divorce to join the Evangelical denomination which does allow divorce. As a result of this decision, many married individuals seeking divorce were forced to embrace Islam in order to be divorced from each other. This ridiculous legal trap set by trusted religious authorities needlessly and irresponsibly ruined the lives of many desperate individuals. Time would indeed reveal that a deteriorated Christian marriage is a mere picnic in the park relative to the loss of individual freedoms under Islam, especially for women.
Another example from recent history is the issue of visiting the Holy Land of Israel. During the time of Sadat’s visit to Israel in 1977 the church decreed that Copts were forbidden to visit Israel until joined by Muslim brothers. This shameful directive hooks Copts to the behavior of Muslim anti-Semites and goes against every teaching of Christianity. Above all, Christians know Old Testament prophecies and the story of the Jewish people as a part of the Holy Bible and an integral part of Christian doctrine and faith.
What are the motives, if any, behind such politics set in motion by the church? Why does the church continue to compromise its own integrity and weaken itself by siding with Muslim interests? By interfering with Coptic Christian advocates outside Egypt and voices generating awareness for human rights pleading on behalf of Copts, the Egyptian Orthodox church inside Egypt distorts the truth and favors Islam and the Muslim majority. Who in the church gains by this and what is the benefit to Copts? Why would the clergy waste time at the table with the banned and outlawed Muslim Brotherhood?
In defense of the church, one might point to the enormous pressure under which the Orthodox church functions as a target of hatred and never-ending hostilities, but this fact also begs the question of why in the first place the church shifted from its spiritual role to one of politics, which has led to its current dilemma of needing to have more and more answers to complexities beyond its scope. Church preference should be to adhere to the scripture “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God, what is God’s.”
Ashraf Ramelah is founder and president of Voice of the Copts.org, an international human rights organization, and has appeared on the Israel National Radio Tamar Yonah Show and the Jay Sekulow Live! Radio Show. He is closely watching the developments in Egypt as human rights deteriorate for the non-Muslim minority.