Egypt's Mythical 'Foreign Hands'

A Coptic church near Aswan in Upper Egypt was attacked and burned by a Muslim mob, inflamed by the fiery words of their imam. This has happened with increasing frequency since the February revolution in Egypt.

The church, originally built in the 1940s, was undergoing badly needed renovations and some expansion. According to Sharia, it is forbidden to build or repair a Christian or Jewish religious building in a Muslim-ruled state. Some local Muslims demanded that the new building could not have either domes or a cross. When the rebuilding went ahead according to plan, they set the church on fire.

That is not so unusual. What happened next, however, was quite different. When Christians in the capital Cairo demonstrated in protest, they were attacked. At least 27 were killed; more than 250 were injured. Rather than investigate -- including the question of whether soldiers had committed many of the murders -- the government rushed to blame foreign provocateurs, declaring they were seeking to divide Egyptian society.

This is an old theme in Egypt, and one that is certainly surviving the overthrow of the Mubarak regime.

As a child growing up in Cairo I was taught to fear those unidentified hands, sometimes called fingers, messing with the internal harmony of Egyptian society. I was warned not to pick up toys or candy from strangers or things left on the streets, because they might be placed there by those hands. Later, I heard that any unrest, protest, demonstration, and even rise in prices of goods was the action of those hands. Even the failed attempts at steps toward democracy in Egypt were always destroyed by those foreign hands because, we were told, that would bring the inevitable escape of Egypt’s sovereignty from the firm grip of foreign colonizing forces.

Those hands knew no limits. They were even accused of sending women stricken with HIV to lure Egyptian youth into acquiring the disease; of directing sharks to swim across the Red Sea from Eilat to Sharm El Sheikh; of blowing up tourist sites in Sinai to scare away tourists; and even of starting the Egyptian revolution in January 2011.

Inconsistently, they were blamed for keeping Mubarak in power for thirty years to maintain Egypt’s failed state in perpetual limbo, and afterwards for bringing him down to tinker with Egypt’s stability.

In other words, those hands were omnipotent, ruthless, and determined to destroy Egypt’s present in order to guarantee its gloomy future. The reward, of course, was the predominance of the ever-greedy imperialistic forces of the West, or more recently of the Judeo–Christian alliance against the ever-victimized Islamic states.

But lately, and since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took over both the legislative and executive branches of the government, we have been incessantly hearing about those “foreign hands that mess with our transitional period.” It has become the common refrain in the almost daily announcements or decrees.

Those hands have gone as far as to incite hatred between Muslims -- who constitute the overwhelming majority of Egyptians -- and the Coptic Christian minority in order to fracture the internal peace of the country.