Why the Failure of Egypt’s 'Secular' Army to Protect Coptic Churches Matters

Expatriate Egyptian Coptic Christian writer Samuel Tadros has just observed how Egypt’s Copts—the country’s indigenous, pre-Arab Islamic jihad inhabitants—have been under siege by a recent spate of Muslim Brotherhood inspired and led church burnings, which punctuates the worst outbreak of anti-Coptic Muslim violence since the era of Muslim Mamluk rule (i.e., the 13th to 16th centuries).

Tadros was alluding to the effects of mainstream Islam upon its Egyptian Muslim votaries, resulting in the inexorable attrition of the Coptic population by the mid 14th century—the indigenous, pre-Islamic majority reduced to a permanent, vulnerable minority by the usual pattern of Islamization, via jihad: massacre, destruction and pillage of religious sites, forced or coerced conversion, and expropriation. This chronic process intensified and reached its apogee in a series of 14th century pogroms and persecutions, described by the great Muslim historian al-Maqrizi:

Many reports came from both Upper and Lower Egypt of Copts being converted to Islam, frequenting mosques, and memorizing the Quran, to the extent that some of them were able to establish their legal competence and sit with the legal witnesses. In all the provinces of Egypt, both north and south, no church remained that had not been razed; on many of those sites mosques were constructed. For when the Christians’ affliction grew great and their incomes small, they decided to embrace Islam.

Egyptian military strongman, and recent putschist, General al-Sisi issued an ecumenical sounding statement pledging that that army engineers would assist in the reconstruction of the devastated churches, as reported on August 16, 2013:

The Egyptian defense minister ordered the engineering department of the armed forces to swiftly repair all the affected churches, in recognition of the historical and national role played by our Coptic brothers.

But these noble-sounding words have rung hollow given the subsequent, ongoing lack of protection the Egyptian military has afforded its “Coptic brothers.” As reported on August 20th, Bishop General of Minya (in Upper Egypt, four hours from Cairo) Anba Macarius was critical of the army’s continued feeble response, claiming their lack of initiative in protecting churches and other Christian buildings engendered the ideal environment in which “crime and terrorism flourish.” Macarius declared:

First we must protect the Christians and the feelings of those who have suffered loss. Now we are calling on the state to protect the churches and the army to come onto the streets.

The morally reprehensible inaction of Egypt’s allegedly “secular” army—failing to protect its hapless and beleaguered Coptic minority—heightens concerns over the direction of this institution under a demonstrably anti-secular leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In a detailed analysis of al-Sisi’s 2006 US Army War College mini-thesis—which had to be obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request—I demonstrated that he is vociferously opposed to the kind of Western secular consensus model of government Egypt so desperately requires. Moreover, al-Sisi’s mini-thesis also espoused ardent Sharia-supremacist views, highlighted by his lionization of the classical Islamic Caliphate system.

Why does this matter, in the immediate term, both morally and strategically? As my colleague David French wrote in a passionate denunciation of the Egyptian army’s current predilections, and concomitant U.S. moral and strategic blindness:

As churches burn, as nuns are paraded through the streets by the Muslim Brotherhood, and as Christians across Egypt fear for their lives in the face of the jihadist onslaught, American policy can and should get very simple, very fast: Not one scintilla of aid until the Egyptian military demonstrates — by deeds, not just words — that it is committed to stopping this wave of persecution in its tracks, protecting the most basic human rights of its Christian citizens, and utterly defeating the Muslim Brotherhood.