Egypt’s indigenous Copts are, like the Jews before them, stampeding for the exits. This book review by Michael J Totten in the Wall St Journal of Motherland Lost by Samuel Tadros highlights the colonial power Britain’s disastrous policy of favouring Sunni Muslim fanatics (just as they did by appointing as Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini in Palestine). The effect was to marginalise the Copts.
Britain invaded, reluctantly, when in 1882 a nationalist uprising
threatened European interests, including the then newly built Suez
Canal. British occupation would last 40 years, during which time London
resolved that Egypt had to be governed by Muslims. Thus Lord Cromer, the
head of its occupation, appointed only Muslims to the highest
positions. “A policy favoring Muslims,” Mr. Tadros writes, “would ensure
the country’s tranquility,” since London “viewed Muslims as fanatics
and had little faith in their tolerance should the British appoint Copts
to higher positions.” (My emphasis – ed) In 1911, more than a thousand Copts convened a
conference in Asyut in central Egypt and drew up a list of demands. They
wanted Sundays off work, antidiscrimination laws in the public sector,
minority representation in government, equal access to education. All
Things took a turn for the worse when
Gamal Abdel Nasser and his self-styled Free Officers seized power in
1952. Nasser declared Egypt an Arab country for the first time in its
history, evicted Europeans, nationalized property and industry, and
hitched Egypt to the Soviet Union. Nasser wasn’t overtly bigoted against
Christians. Even so, the Copts paid the heaviest price for his
socialist policies. Confiscated land was disproportionately Christian,
for instance, and almost all of it was redistributed to Muslims.
His successor, Anwar Sadat, junked
socialism, aligned Cairo with Washington and signed a peace treaty with
Israel, but he also sicced the Muslim Brotherhood—the Islamist
organization founded by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt in 1928—on his leftist
opposition. Sadat unwittingly unleashed an Islamist insurgency that
triggered a wave of Christian immigration to the U.S. and Europe in the
1970s, and the Islamists have remained intermittently off their leash
ever since. Where Egypt finds itself now, wedged between the theocrats
of the Brotherhood and the secular authoritarians of the military, can
be traced back to that fateful decision.
The author has no brief for Egypt’s
next ruler, Hosni Mubarak. The former president was, after all, the
civilian face of a military regime that maltreated everyone. Yet there’s
no getting around the fact that Christians have fared even worse since
Mr. Mubarak’s removal, and not only because Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim
Brotherhood regime was both sectarian and theocratic. The army, Mr.
Morsi’s main opponent, also committed acts of mass violence against
Copts in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. In October 2011, for
instance, soldiers opened fire on Copts protesting the demolition of a
church in upper Egypt, killing 23 and wounding more than 200.
Most worrisome is the dramatic upswing
in anti-Christian violence by average Muslims who have often known
their victims as neighbors their entire lives. Churches have been
burned; Christians have been expelled from villages; and Copts have been
imprisoned on charges of blaspheming Islam.
Mr. Tadros’s conclusion is bleak:
After two millennia, the Copts, like the Jews before them, are
stampeding to the exits. “The feeling of sadness and distress,” Mr.
Tadros writes, “is impossible to overcome as I watch the faces of the
new immigrants in my church in Virginia. A church that has withstood
diverse and tremendous challenges is now threatened in its very
Our regular commenter Sylvia has this advice for the Copts:
It’s too late for the Jews, but Copts in Egypt should read very
carefully about Jewish experience (although they already know) and
prepare for that day well in advance.
They should put their property
deeds and securities and liquidity documents and chattel in safe places
and send copies to trusted parties abroad. Update as needed.
They should make a precise inventory of their belongings along with photographs and send abroad.
Plan well ahead of that day when someone wants to force them to sign over their property to them under the usual pretexts.
many people as possible should record all collective properties as well
in their town or villages (schools, cemeteries, churches, communal real
estate, community centers, etc) with photos inside and out.
And more importantly, organize so as not to leave it up to their own Carmen Weinstein to decide what to do with it.
Golden rule: never sell your house immediately after a pogrom or a riot.