Egyptian Copts consider themselves Arabs

dis: orient

There was another attack on Christians in Egypt at the beginning of June. Even before Easter, two churches were targeted by a bomb attack. Now the country is engaged in a debate full of allegations. In addition, a picture of the mood with young Christians and Muslims from Cairo.

The state newspaper Al-Ahram said 29 dead and 23 injured. Unknown people had shot at a bus occupied by Copts on the way to the monastery of St. Samuel. In his speech, the Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi said: “The perpetrators, i.e. the IS (so-called Islamic State, Red.), want to overthrow the regime in Egypt and spark conflicts between Muslims and Christians. "

There have been several attacks in the past few months. Two bomb attacks rocked Palm Sunday services in Tanta and Alexandria in April. There, Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Copts, celebrated mass. Dozens of people died and more were injured. The terrorist militia IS claimed the attacks for themselves, the Egyptian government subsequently imposed a state of emergency, which has been extended to this day.

The debates return to the question of how Muslims radicalize themselves. It is about inciting imams and Friday preachers against Christians. And the Al-Azhar - an Islamic institute that includes universities and schools - is accused of spreading radical ideas instead of fighting them. On the other hand, criticism of the Sisi regime comes from TV programs that are produced abroad. They accuse the government of being behind the attack in order to implement measures such as a state of emergency under the guise of the "fight against terror", which can suppress any possible uprising. Another discussion is taking place on Facebook. Christians angrily ask why Muslims kill them, and Muslims just as angrily answer that IS does not belong to them and that not all Muslims should be labeled the same. Mutual accusations, insults and insults.

Not a natural conflict The proportion of Christians in Egypt is between six and 15 percent - depending on whether you go to the Central Office for Statistics or to the Church. Religion is written in every Egyptian identity card. Most of the names also indicate a person's religion. Likewise, many Egyptians wear religious symbols or indicate their religion through their clothing. At the same time, the conflict between religions is much less natural than it seems. Because both the Egyptian government and Coptic dignitaries have been staging the differences for many years in order to make political profit from them. The dispute also has an important economic dimension, because unequal access to certain offices and professions fosters and consolidates inequalities. The fact that many people take the religious conflict for granted - as our conversations show - is an expression of the long history of power and influence in Egypt.

"IS has many supporters in Egypt"

Mena Azzam is 27 years old, a pharmacist, Christian and lives in Cairo. He believes that ISIS or a similar militia are behind the attacks. Churches in particular, as in the first attack, are optimal targets: “The terrorist can do that Kuffar (Arabic for unbelievers, Red.) kill to get to paradise. It can spark a sectarian dispute and possibly bring the Egyptian state into international trouble, ”he explains.

Mena believes that many Egyptian Muslims sympathized with ISIS in different ways: Some would even have liked to carry out the attack themselves. Although he doesn't know these people personally, he reads their posts and comments on Facebook. Individuals would express their grief to their Christian friends. But then they asked not to call the dead martyrs because they were Kuffar be. Also, many Muslims would not shake hands with Mena or congratulate him on Christian holidays. "I don't see any difference here between someone who discriminates between people and an IS member who kills people," he says.

As a Christian, Mena feels like a second-class citizen in Egypt: “Look how many Christians work in the secret service or occupy other important positions. How many Christian ministers or just football players are there? ”To build a church, you need written approval from the governor, and until recently even from the president, says Mena.

Christians on the edge of society?

In every society there is a radical group that attracts people from difficult backgrounds or with mental health problems, says Sali Ibrahim. She is 25 years old, a Muslim and works as a freelance translator. Your father is an imam at the Al-Azhar University.

Christians in Egypt generally behaved like any minority: they would live near the church and do their business with one another. There are also Christian groups in every university or company. As far as normal, that is what the Muslims do abroad, too, says Sali.

Sali has hardly anything to do with Christians personally; there is simply no chance of doing that in everyday life. Most of the people in their circle of acquaintances also have no relationships with Christians - “just as some Christians keep to themselves. No enmity, but no friendship either. There are also Christians who avoid contact with the supposedly bad Muslims because they feel oppressed by them. "

In general, Sali believes, Muslims and Christians have no acceptance of one another. She can only guess why. Perhaps the fear of social diversity? In fact, Christians are known to be friendly and punctual. But sometimes Sali fears that all of this is just a strategy: "Kindness to hide the fact that they actually think we are unbelievers."

What are Muslims doing against radicalization?

For Mena, the teachings of Islam, which are also taught in the Al-Azhar institutes, are to blame for the situation. As evidence, he refers to YouTube videos: The first one shows an Egyptian imam. He says: “Prophet Muhammad shouldn't Kuffar hold captive or exchange ... but kill the unbelieving prisoners. ”The second video shows a Saudi Arabian imam known in Egypt. He preaches that Muslims should not enter churches because they are unbelieving. The third video shows the prayer in Mecca. In it, an imam calls on God to desecrate Christians and make their children orphans. The church calls out amen.

Mena says he blames his Muslim friends for not opposing these radical ideas. “Many Muslims say the terrorists are not ours and they are not Muslims. But yes, they are. The Muslim creed already says that we are unbelievers because there is no god but Allah. Therefore, radical Muslims then compete to kill or discriminate against unbelievers. "

Heavy debates A few months before the June attack, Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II said in a speech in Al-Azhar: “The Arab region is suffering from the radical ideology that is now leading to violence, terror and unrest. It is an act of terror (...) to attack other religions and saints and to designate their followers as kuffar (...). ”At the same conference, Ahmed el-Tayeb, Sheikh of Al-Azhar said:“ Who that As a phenomenon of Islamophobia, one cannot overlook the unfair distinction in the global assessment of Islam (...). While the West ignores Christian and Jewish extremism, Islam is alone in the dock. "

"I don't want to have to justify myself"

“And what should I do exactly? I don't know anyone who is radical or who spreads radical ideas, ”says Sali when she hears Mena's question. The attack made her sad, but there was nothing for which she had to apologize to the Christians. “I will not justify myself or my religion if a Muslim carries out an attack. After all, there are more than a billion Muslims worldwide. What do I have to do with it? "

No religion demands killing the followers of another, killing innocent and unarmed people. “Everyone knows that,” says Sali. There are tolerant interpretations and radical ones. "Christians, however, only see the second and say: 'Look, their religion is radical'." For radical Christians, in contrast, nobody would attack all of Christianity. Then Sali thinks for a moment and asks: “Who said that the perpetrator was a Muslim? Maybe he is also mentally ill? "

"There are radical teachings in Islam"

“The attacks only ever hit churches, and IS is behind them. The perpetrator is definitely a radical Muslim, ”says Christina Amgad. The 24-year-old pharmacist who works in a pharmaceutical company has never seen a “terrorist Christian”. They are all just Muslims, she says.

“It may be that a political aspect plays a role. But we Christians are always the victims. "For Christina, Muslims are particularly susceptible to terrorism," because in Islam one finds radical teachings, such as the prophet's statement that one should fight people until they become Muslim. "

Of course there are also good and cultivated Muslims, including friends of Christina. They would rather stick to the following statement of the prophet: “Get on well with Christians and Jews.” But the radical Muslims are becoming more and more, she fears: “Most Muslims regard us disparagingly as Kuffar. So they don't care that we are being bombed. In your opinion, we're going to hell anyway. This sentence is very provocative. I hear it often, also from people with a good education and good jobs, ”Christina mourns.

"That affects everyone"

Attacks and murders happen all over Cairo. “This affects us all, not just Christians,” says Maryam Khalid, a 25-year-old doctor who works in a government hospital and knows Christians as classmates, colleagues and neighbors.

She tells of Attorney General Hisham Barakat, who was killed in a car bomb attack in 2015. And many young people who “disappear” because they are not on the side of the government. From the strict control at every metro entrance. About car thefts on the highway. "There is simply no longer any security here," says Maryam firmly. "Although only Christians are the only ones who are killed because of their religion," she continues.

Maryam participated in online debates. She reacted sharply when Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and the Koran were insulted. Nor could she believe that some Muslims would write that Christians deserved it.

You can imagine that the attack was planned for political reasons, as it was in Mubarak's time: so that people would have to live in fear and never think of rebellion. However, Maryam does not say more about this and quickly moves on to another point of discussion. Even before the interview, she indicated that all conversations on cell phones and social networks would be recorded by the security services.

"As a Christian, I no longer feel comfortable here"

Aljazeera reported recently: Since the attack against the Al-Qiddissine Church in January 2013, in which 23 people were killed and 79 were injured, 42 churches have been attacked since then. Hundreds of Christians were expelled from Sinai after attacks in February 2017.

For Christina it is clear where the responsibility for this lies: with the security services, government, teachers and educators. “As children, we were brought up in such a way that we and Muslims are not equal.” Christian children had to leave the class in religious education classes. Lessons took place for them on stairs or in the school yard, says Christina.

She no longer feels at home in Egypt: “We go to church and have no idea whether we will come back home afterwards. When a stranger comes into church, we panic. That is not normal. ”The bombings have become a ritual like prayer. "I think if we can all ask for religious asylum somewhere, we will."

"Christians are not afraid of Islam"

Maryam also tries to understand the background to the tension and power conflict: “Christians complain that none of them can become president. And they accuse the Muslims of possessing the power and the money of the country, ”she says.

In the eighties, many people went to the Gulf States to work there. From there they came back with an ideology that distinguishes between people. Subsequently, the headscarf became more and more present in Egypt and the separation between men and women. Now it is easy to see who is Muslim and who is not. “It aroused the repressed feelings of Christians,” says Maryam.

In addition, many Christians see Islamic ideology and the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to general security. The international trend of Islamophobia and the focus on any terror committed by Muslims supports the concerns of Christians in Egypt, according to Maryam. "Christians are not afraid of Islam, they just like to think: We are right."