Sunday, May 8, 2011

Protect the Copts

Nestled into the Egyptian landscape
More and more, all that is separating Egypt from descent into a total abyss is the simple existence of its indigenous Christian population. The continuing (it did not start in the past few months, but rather has been ongoing for centuries) efforts to plaster over Egypt’s Coptic community has far-reaching implications for the direction of a post January 25 Egypt. But for the presence of many millions of Copts (it’s ridiculous, we don’t know how many), the continuum of the Muslim Brotherhood – Salafists (don't know their numbers either, but there are too many directly and indirecly sympathizing with them) would have a far clearer path to imposing their regressive monopoly over Egyptian society. Ideally, one would not have to revert to such simplistic and anti-modern notions of nation building, but the depressed state of Egypt leads to this conclusion.

Egypt must pull itself out of this mess by recognizing the very real cultural, let alone political and economic, discrimination that has become so accepted. The Islamizing of state institutions, laws, language and life generally goes by practically unnoticed, unless it results in deaths and burned churches, when the response is a predictable, superficial and short-lived statement of unity, followed by an inevitable return to the same, exclusionary practices. The world too has a role to play in this. Instead of reinforcing the forces of suppression through a badly-defined prism of Western engagement with the “Muslim World”, the United States and others must be speaking to universal values of liberty and individual rights.  President Obama’s broad-brushing of the state of the Copts in his much trumpeted, yet weak speech at Cairo University, combined with his hopelessly misguided accommodation to the Muslim Brotherhood, must be substituted with a consistent policy for Egypt, and the region at large, that puts the protection of individual rights - political, legal and socio-economic - front and center.

Egypt’s regression since the 1950s correlates directly with Nasser’s xenophobia, turning Egypt from a cosmopolitan, tolerant, Mediterranean beacon into an inward, reactionary and stagnant society. The Copts are too numerous and integrated into Egyptian life to be expelled in the way of the Jews, Greeks, Italians and others, yet for Egypt to emerge into a democratic society, its Christians must be recognized, cherished and protected as equal citizens with equal rights, and not simply tolerated as a necessary nuisance.

All Egyptians deserve better.

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