On April 7, Islamists threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at mourners attending a funeral at the Cairo cathedral. The funeral was for four young Copts killed in fighting the previous day and to remember victims of a church bombing in 2011. Young Christians ran outside with firecrackers, sticks, and rocks to defend their church. Soon, gunshots erupted outside. The Christians had no guns.
The police stood aside. One man ran into the cathedral and yelled, “The police are firing [teargas] at us….They’re taking the [assailants’] side.” This accusation is confirmed by the article published in al-Ahram, historic flagship newspaper of the old regime but now free (at least temporarily) of government control.
Notice a detail. The newspaper inserted the word “assailants” into the quote. Unless the young man was speaking an expletive, he was probably saying “Muslims.” The Muslim reporter or editor did not change the word to hide the truth—everyone in Egypt knows what was happening—but to avoid inflaming things further and to assert the point that not all Muslims hate and attack Christians.
As noted above, the police didn’t help the Christians. Four Christians were arrested.
As for the government, the Interior Ministry blamed them for the clash, saying that mourners had smashed cars parked by the cathedral leading to fistfights with local residents. But why would mourners randomly vandalize automobiles merely because they were parked in the neighborhood? It isn’t a credible assertion.
As the police stood aside, 29 worshipers were injured. There is not the slightest doubt that the Egyptian government, now as under the previous regime, will never, ever intervene to protect Christians, who constitute about 10 percent of the population. If the police arrest anyone, it will only be Christians; Muslims will not be charged. The courts will never or almost never rule in the favor of any Christians. Indeed, a high-ranking government official accused the Christians themselves of attacking the cathedral!
No Western protests will change this situation; statements of dismay which may appear from time to time are mere window-dressing. The Islamist regime will get big loans and continued U.S. military aid as long as it does not engage in outright massacres.
Some of the worshipers in the cathedral chanted, Down with the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood regime! The bishop urged calm, stressing three principles: justice would come from heaven; Christians would not flee the country; and bloodshed would only strengthen their religious commitment.
But what can the Copts do except resign themselves to continued persecution; Western apologies and help for their persecutors; and a choice between restraint or worse violence?
One idea of some of those in the cathedral was to march to the defense ministry after the funerals in order to demand military protection for the churches. But others pointed out that they could not depend on the army either since it had been involved in past persecutions and deaths.
This is not to say that the Coptic side was necessarily completely innocent in every case. For example, one Muslim was also killed in the clashes that led to the four Christian deaths. Some Muslim, as well as Christian, property was set on fire during the violence around the cathedral.
Yet it is unlikely that Copts, with a long tradition of survival through passivity and submission (forced by the “dhimmi” status imposed on them), badly outnumbered, and facing powerful forces backed by the authorities are the aggressor or that both sides are equally at fault.
The Brotherhood is running the government; the Salafists are running in the streets. Moderate Muslim Egyptians, like those who run al-Ahram for the time being (as a state newspaper it will soon come under Brotherhood control) are unhappy with the persecution but can do nothing.
Things can only do worse. The world is indifferent; the Western mass media is usually determined to be “even-handed” or to ignore the extent of the situation, preferring to seek alleged oppressors in other, near-by countries.
Meanwhile, a change of regime is approaching in Syria, where the Christian population is proportionately larger than in Egypt. In Egypt, Christians were very active in opposing the old regime; but in Syria they have looked to that same doomed regime for protection. In Iraq, most of the Christians have been driven out; in the Gaza Strip reportedly they have all had to leave.
If you are interested in reading more about Egypt, you’re welcome to read my book Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics online or download it for free.