A Christian-free Egypt is not beyond imagination

The massacre of 21 Coptsat a New Year’s Eve mass has been called ‘a watershed moment’.

The Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg blogs:

“I’ve been struck over the past couple of days by the lackadaisical coverage of what seems to be the most important story coming out of the Middle East right now — The Salafist war on Christians in the Middle East is intensifying fairly rapidly, with profound consequences not only for Christians in the lands of their faith’s earliest history (keep in mind that Christianity had planted itself in Egypt well before the birth of Muhammad) but for the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities in the greater Middle East”.

Helloooo, Jeffrey! We have been here before. Where were you when the Jews – also in the region well before the birth of Muhammad – were being systematically deprived of their rights ? Where were you when the Jews were ‘ethnically cleansed’ from the Middle East and most of North Africa, to the point where the 80,000 Jews of Egypt are down to double figures, the 150,000 Jews of Iraq down to single digits, and no Jews live in Libya or Algeria?

If the massacre at the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria tells us anything, it is that the Jews of the Middle East were not driven out as a backlash – in revenge for the creation of Israel, as is often argued. Pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism long ago sounded the death knell for non-Arab and non-Muslim minorities. The former had to acquiesce to being stripped of their identity and language (Kurds and Berbers), while the latter were squeezed out of public life by violence and systemic discrimination (Jews, Eastern Christians, Mandaeans and Baha’is).

The marginalisation of the Copts has closely mirrored that of the Jews. In their heyday, Copts and Jews reached the very pinnacle of office (although Egypt’s Coptic Prime Minister Boutros Ghali Pasha was assassinated by a Muslim fanatic). Like the Jews, Copts were 90 percent of civil servants and played a key role in Egypt’s intellectual and cultural life. They were in the forefront of the Egyptian nationalist movement in the 1920s and 30s, and the Wafd party’s symbol was the Muslim crescent and Christian cross intertwined.

Coptic Prime minister Boutros Ghali Pasha – assassinated by a Muslim fanatic in 1910

The Muslim Brotherhood targeted both Jews and Copts for attack from the 1930s on, but the officers’ coup led by Nasser in 1952 put paid to Coptic integration while driving out the mass of Jews, Greeks, Armenians and other non-Muslims. Political parties were banned and Egypt became increasingly Islamised. Attacks, church burnings, abductions and forced conversions since the 1960s have driven thousands of Copts to leave Egypt for the West.

Nevertheless, there are more Christians in Egypt than there are Muslims in Saudi Arabia. There are twice as many Christians in Egypt as there are Jews in Israel. There are 10 to 15 million Christians in Egypt, four times the size as the powerful Christian community in Lebanon.

Yet, these 15 percent of Egyptians only account for 1.5% of civil servants. They are excluded from the higher echelons of the army and from the justice system. A non-Muslim cannot become a head of department. Neither can he become a teacher of Arabic, nor an obstetrician.

Of 444 members of Parliament, there is only one Christian.They are allocated no time in the official media, while Islamic religious instruction is everywhere. To build or repair a church requires a presidential decree, seldom given.

What is new, in the wake of the New Year’s eve massacre, is that a Christian-free Egypt has become a realistic prospect.

Hani Shukrallah, an Egyptian journalist of Coptic origin and the managing editor of the Egyptian Al-Ahram weekly, published a scathing op-ed entitled “J’accuse.” He accused the Egyptian regime of failing to combat Islamist extremism, and of even nurturing Salafist Islam in the hope of undermining the Muslim Brotherhood. He also condemned Egypt’s “supposedly moderate Muslims” for their growing bigotry and hostility towards the Christian community. They practised double standards, loudly condemning any Western measure they perceive as anti-Muslim, while turning a blind eye to the flagrant persecution of Christians in their own country. Finally, he condemned the liberals and intellectuals, both Muslim and Christian, for keeping silent in the face of the violence against Christians:

“….The massacres continue, each more horrible than the one before it, and the bigotry and intolerance spread deeper and wider into every nook and cranny of our society. It is not easy to empty Egypt of its Christians; they’ve been here for as long as there has been Christianity in the world. Close to a millennium and half of Muslim rule did not eradicate the nation’s Christian community, rather it maintained it sufficiently strong and sufficiently vigorous so as to play a crucial role in shaping the national, political, and cultural identity of modern Egypt.

“Yet now, two centuries after the birth of the modern Egyptian nation state, and as we embark on the second decade of the 21st century, the previously unheard-of seems no longer beyond imagining: a Christian-free Egypt, one where the cross will have slipped out of the crescent’s embrace, and off the flag symbolizing our modern national identity. I hope that if and when that day comes I will have been long dead, but dead or alive, this will be an Egypt which I do not recognize and to which I have no desire to belong.”

As Shukrallah says, it will not be easy to empty Egypt of its indigenous people, the Copts. But Egypt is going the right way about it.

Minority rights expert Masri Feki on the Copts (French)


  • In fact, what Copts should do is stress that Arab identity which will get them the support of those Egyptians who view themselves as Arabs first.

  • The best thing Jews can do for the Copts is keep their distance.
    The last thing they need right now is being labeled "Zionists" by association.

    Another thing -and the main one in my view – is that Copts were given the "Arab" identity which demands loyalty to the Arab League (something the fools who call themselves "Arab Jews" don't realize). And so any mark of sympthy to Jews or Israel would be interpreted as treason and punishable.

  • @Eliyahu m'Tsiyon

    the position of pope shenoda not only a religious position but he also have to be a politician specially in this circumstances

    i said it before we have to be Egyptians besides -or before in my opinion- being christians

  • Maybe the testimony that I will quote here can help settle or balance the issue:

    Eli Avidar, chairman of the Forum for a Wise Middle East, was interviewed by Maqor Rishon [7 January 2011] in regard to the recent massacre in Alexandria. He was born in Alexandria and says: "From my childhood I remember the Coptic Christians and their warm attitude toward us, the Jews in Egypt…. The sympathy of the Coptic Christians for Israel and Judaism gives radical Islamic personalities another reason to want ill to befall them. Therefore, the Coptic leader, the Baba Shenouda III, tries to present himself as anti-Israel."

  • C'mon Anonymous, you're killing me here!
    What are you using me for? Translate barks into English?

    مجهول، كنت قتل لي هنا!
    ما الذي تستخدمه لي عنه؟ ينبح ترجمة إلى اللغة الإنكليزية؟

    Don Cox,
    You bery, bery smarrrt man. Me feels you gonna win Nobel price =)

    Why so serious?

  • bataween said…
    Go read my sentence well before make comment here.

    The sentence "You Either with us or against US" your war criminal BUSH and his Co.

    Its not mine Madam >

    Are your English also not good to understand hard to understand?
    Don't be evil in this world

  • It seems that everyone who believes in a monotheistic religion hates everyone else who believes in a monotheistic religion.

  • Two enemas! Well said, anonymous.
    If were not so paranoid, you might notice I am not deleting your comments.

  • Eliyahu m'Tsiyon
    Your comment full more of garbage you did not answer my my question you still jumping here and their making nonsense thoughts and statement.

    Over all you but your excuse on my english.

    Answer my simple word did I said babylonian Arab? show us here.

    As let and right this your creation of your master
    "Either with us or against us"

    Madam the world not can be build on two side facing one by of two enemas fighting forever as your mindset.

  • On the horrid event in Alexandria, I note that some commenters here and elsewhere want to blame everybody but the Arabs for what happened. The line goes like this: Before European intervention in the Ottoman Empire, everything was fine for the non-Muslim minorities. This is simply false as attested by various observers. For one, Karsten Niebuhr who toured Egypt and Aden several decades before Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. Niebuhr reported how Jews and Copts were treated in humiliating fashion in the 18th century.

    At the same time, I agree that sometimes the Euro powers played a destructive role, harmful to the non-Muslims. This was not when they were trying to help or protect them but when they encouraged Muslim powers and/or movements against local, native non-Muslims, as Germans helped in the Armenian genocide of WW I, as Britain allowed the Farhud to proceed in Baghdad in 1941, as the UK acquiesced or even encouraged the Arab attacks on Jews in Israel in 1920, 1929, 1936-38, and in December 1947 to May 1948.

  • Anon, reading over your comment, I think that maybe you didn't claim that Nebuchadnezzar was an Arab. But –with all due respect– your English needs some help in order to be unambiguously understood. Be that as it may, Saddam Hussein used to claim that Nebuchadnezzar was an Arab, I believe. You suggest that Nebu… was an imperialist or empire-builder. Now by saying that Nebu and his Babylonians were not Arabs, you correctly imply that the Arabs of the 7th century conquered Iraq [Babylonia] and made it part of their empire. So the Arabs were imperialists at that time and the Arab nationalists today are still imperialists. The problem is that most of the Euro "Left", who like to see themselves as "anti-imperialists," don't want to see that. And this is just fine with the EU which supports Arab nationalism for its purposes, using the Euro "Left" to build up support for Arab imperialism among Euro public opinion. IN short, the Euro "Left" is a tool of the EU for shaping their own public opinion. If this is exaggerated, it is not by much.

  • Two point here for those who twisting historical factual or they have their minds and hearts Faull of hatred that prevent them from really understand others “ Arabs”
    One of the Anonymoi seems to believe that Nabuchadnezzar was an Arab. That shows how distorted the Arab and pro-Arab

    Where did you read that our genius lady show us I did said that Babylonian Arab?

    But let not forgot that your garbage keep telling that Jews are tribe and they have lived before Babylonians on the land with your support for their fake dream as old as old as Babylonians.

    So as Iraqi we are most deserving that our heritage and our history be our source of our nation not faking this by making lies like Eliyahu m'Tsiyon’s ilks

    As usual, anonymous, you have misunderstood what I wrote.

    Obviously simple to find excuses by saying that, let remind you of with another thing also with “out of date” reply then deleting all my comments.

  • I did not forget it, Andrew. The sad thing is that the last time this unity between Copts and Muslims took place in Egypt was when they persecuted Jews…

    'Palestinians' had the same problem a few years ago. I remember a statement that was reproduced on a newspaper or blog. It was something like "there are no more churches to burn"

    A few years later they started killing eachother (nothing new, but they used to be more discreet)…

  • Thanks for alerting me. The conspiracy theorists are claiming that Mossad is behind this tragedy too. Makes a lot of sense (not)

  • Bataween
    Fifty years ago this coming Monday night, the Pisces, a yacht carrying Jews fleeing Morocco, capsized off the coast of Spain. 46 passengers drowned.
    The name of the boat was later changed to "Egoz".

  • Sylvia, you think it's unlikely that Egypt will be Christian-free, but it happened. As you rightly point out, the Christians disappeared from Morocco and Yemen in the 12 to 13th centuries. From being a majority, they were wiped out.

  • To address the topic I don't think Egypt will be Christian-free any time soon. However, there may be tough days ahead for the minorities in Egypt depending on who wins the elections.

    Personally, I think the Muslim Brotherhood is behind it. We – Jews of Arab countries – went through this every time political elements sought to challenge the existing regime, question its legitimacy, and destabilize the country in their bid for power. The basic principle is that a regime unable to protect its minorities is unfit to rule. So you attack the minorities to prove exactly that. With the added bonus that the loyalists get to loot, to grab the homes and businesses of those who flee for a piece of bread, not to mention that jobs will be vacated.

    Calling them islamists, salafists, extremists only obscures the picture. Not too long ago the perpetrators of those same crimes against non-<uslims in their midst were called Arab nationalists.

  • vardit

    don't forget we -as a minority- are running in 2 lanes.
    as christians we want to achieve full equality with the majority.

    as Egyptians we want to save our unity as and build up our country .

  • One of the Anonymoi seems to believe that Nabuchadnezzar was an Arab. That shows how distorted the Arab and pro-Arab view of Middle Eastern history was. Nebuchadnezzar was a Babylonian. They had their own language, a Semitic tongue. Probably Akkadian But they were not Arabs. Only Arab nationalist liars like Saddam Hussein called him an Arab.

  • This Debbie girl is a little over the top but I kinda liked it!!!
    Giving grades like '2 and a half Marxes' or '1 Reagan' to movies. . . well it's funnier than SNL and Eretz Nehederet. . . hhh
    I read those posts and I don't think anyone made this claim. Joseph blaims Copts for turning Egyptian Muslims even more antisemitic, not for starting it. And the blogger, at one point, accuses them of being responsible and even leading some of the progroms. But no one claimed Copts introduced anti-semitism.

    These minorities don't share Bataween's opinion about boats and solidarity (at least not when it comes to Jews). Except for Maronites and a few others, they still side with Muslims every chance they get. Some are coerced, but seems pretty clear that Middle Eastern Christians have a side. My only doubt is: is that the Muslim side or it's just the opposite side of the Jews?

  • the Jews – also in the region well before the birth of Muhammad – were being systematically deprived of their rights ?

    So did you blame arabs for this for you claims before 1400 years ago?

    what about also you blame arab for the Nabucodonosor II (c. 630-562 a. C.)for his military operation to bring Judea and Samara under his control. just like any empires we saw in our modern history?

  • so that's where the talking is going

    i want to put that right
    if you don't believe in this you're such a joker
    Jews consider both Christianity and Islam as a big lie , the same Christians consider Islam . while they look to the Jews as the killers of Jesus Christ
    Muslims consider jews as their eternal enemy and christians as lower standard creatures
    so there's a sort of racism is about religion
    in history you can find crimes for all of them

    BUT in the same society the human being should respect the other to be able to treat him to be able to LIVE

  • Morocco and Yemen were the two countries where Jews suffered the most up to the 20th Century. Interestingly, those are the two countries where Christian presence has been totally eradicated since the 12th/13th century.

    On the other hand, there is no doubt that both Christian and Muslim anti-semitism share a common Egyptian pagan origin – of all places, in Alexandria. We see that clearly in Josephus' 1st century rebuttal of the Greek pagan clerics of Egypt. So to attribute the introduction of anti-semitism to the Copts is a stretch.

    Other than being of very poor taste considering the circumstances.

  • A token Coptic minister ( you forgot Boutros Boutros the grandson) or two does not excuse the political marginalisation of the Copts in general.
    If you think that the Jews were drive out of Egypt by the Lavon affair you'd better do a bit of research yourself.

  • Lost you at "Jews were 'ethnically cleansed' from the Middle East."

    Jews lived peacefully in Egypt until the mid 50's until the dirty Zionist plan (Lavon Affair [1]) was uncovered. The aim of this covert operation was to incite violence and destabilize the country.

    Jews owned land, businesses and were one of the wealthiest Egyptians back then. If anyone kicked them out of Egypt, it'd essentially be israel.

    As for your criticism of Egypt today, I only noticed a picture of an assassinated prime minister: Boutros Ghali. Youssef Boutros Ghaly is today's Finance Minister. But you didn't come across that in your 'research'.

  • I think it is unfair for Debbie Schlussel to say the equivalent of 'a plague on both their houses' – Muslim and Copt – and 'the Copts had it coming to them' for their antisemitism.
    I'm not denying that the Copts have been always been theologically anti-Jewish. In fact all eastern Christian churches are: they never signed Vatican 2. You can also argue that much antisemitism – ie the Syrian blood libel – was instigated by Christians.
    But all minorities are in the same boat in the Middle East, and should show solidarity with one another and fight for pluralism and minority rights. I feel for Andrew and his friend who was caught up in the massacre and is in hospital.

  • Sorry, she does not say that Copts were more anti-semitic and violent towards Jews than Muslims.

    She says they're the "most viciously anti-Semitic Christians in the Mid-East", among other things.

    Just to make things right

  • I asked you because I saw a couple of posts on Debbie Schlussel's blog where she accuses Copts of being even more anti-semitic and violent towards Jews than Muslims.
    She mentions Coptic Pope Shenouda III and some others.

    And a reader, who claims to be an Egyptian Jew, accuses Copts of introducing "virulent anti-semitism" in Egypt:

    "I read your article about Muslims killing Copts in Egypt….as i was born in that country…78 years ago…and lived there 26 years…i know enough the attitude of Copts about Jews!
    Copts were the one that introduced virulent antisemite in Egypt…. becoming more effective when Christians came to that country from Syria and Levanon
    I dont pretend that Muslims were not antijews…but not so much as they are today!
    Please excuse my english…
    I write much better in french…and in hebrew!"



  • don't know even how , but i wanna do anything to prevent this nightmare
    i am Egyptian christian ,my friend laying now in the hospital for he was injured in the massacre

  • I agree that the Christians in Lebanon do not have the influence they once did, but the power-sharing arrangements give the Maronites more power than their dwindling numbers (30 percent?) deserve. And don't forget that Lebanon is the only state in the Arab world to share out power between 17 sects.
    I would say that relations between Copts and Jews, as indeed with Muslims, were very good among the educated Middle class during the colonial era. They often all went to Christian schools together. Some Jews ended up converting to Christianity.
    As minorities there is a sense of kinship between Jews and Copts, though theologically, however, there was some antisemitism.

  • "powerful Christian community in Lebanon."

    That ship has sailed.

    If it's not too much to ask, could you tell us more about the Christian x Jewish relations in Egypt?


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