Barnabas: Violence against Morsi’s ouster. Christians endangered

July 13, 2013 by  
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Popular protests against Mohammad Morsi led to his removal

Popular protests against Mohammad Morsi led to his removal

Egypt, July 12, 2013: After last week’s jubilant and triumphant scenes in Egypt on the removal of Islamist President Mohammad Morsi, the celebrations are now over and a violent backlash has begun.

Morsi supporters, protesting against his ouster, have come under attack, and they in turn have been lashing out, targeting those who campaigned for his removal and venting their anger against the vulnerable Christian community.

Amid the violence, the country is becoming increasingly polarised, and there are fears that it could potentially degenerate into civil war.

On the one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood is in complete disarray, shaken by Morsi’s abrupt and decisive removal from power. The mass popular movement that resulted in the army’s action to oust him was a crushing defeat for the arrogant Islamists, who had tried to make themselves virtually untouchable.

That was certainly how Syria’s embattled president Bashar al-Assad read the situation, interpreting events in Egypt as a defeat for political Islam:

Whoever brings religion to use in politics or in favour of one group at the expense of another will fall anywhere in the world.

He of course has his own agenda for making such a statement; the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood has been one of the most powerful factions behind the uprising against him. And Morsi had backed the rebels’ campaign in Syria, calling for foreign intervention against Assad. The week before Morsi’s ouster, he had attended a hardline Islamist rally calling for holy war in Syria and for Egyptians to join the cause.

Several leading Brotherhood figures in Egypt have been detained and arrest warrants issued for hundreds more, sparking fears among the group’s supporters that they have returned to the status they had under former President Hosni Mubarak, when the movement was banned and its members hunted down.

FIGHTING BACK

On the other hand, the Brotherhood in Egypt does not seem to have been humbled by its very dramatic fall and is not bowing out graciously. And that is understandable. Morsi was elected in a fair vote, and the Brotherhood has been arguing for democracy and legitimacy to be upheld. This argument may prove persuasive to Western governments, which are yet to come out clearly in support of one side or the other.

The killing of at least 51 people at a Muslim Brotherhood sit-in protest near a barracks in Cairo on Monday (8 July) was a key event that is likely to influence how the Egyptian people and foreign governments respond to both sides. The Brotherhood said its members were fired on by the army as protestors were performing dawn prayers, while the army said it had responded to an armed provocation.

Islamists often play the victim card as a means of gaining greater influence, and if they are perceived as the wronged, innocent party, they are likely to attract support both at home and abroad.
The Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, has called on Egyptians to stage an uprising in response to the killings, against “those trying to steal their revolution with tanks”. It also called for international intervention to stop further “massacres” and preventEgypt becoming “a new Syria”.

The country is dividing sharply along Islamist versus non-Islamist lines. On Saturday (6 July), one of the most prominent Sunni clerics in the Middle East issued a fatwa saying that Egyptians should support the ousted president. Egyptian-born Youssef al-Qaradawi, who now lives in Qatar, said that many scholars from Cairo’s al-Azhar Islamic university agreed with him.

The hard-line Salafist al-Nour party, which had backed Morsi’s removal, withdrew from talks to choose an interim prime minister after the shooting of his supporters.

Senior Christian and Muslim figures have expressed support for the army-sponsored transition. The leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros, has been fiercely criticised by the Muslim Brotherhood for giving his blessing to the removal of the president and attending the conference at which armed forces commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the suspension of the constitution.

It seems highly unlikely that the Brotherhood is going to be placated by a political solution; the group this week rejected interim president Adly Mansour’s timetable for new elections and plan for constitutional changes.

The question is just how bloody is their fight-back going to be? We could be looking at another Syria scenario. Islamist militants from around the world have flocked there to help in the battle against President Assad; will Egypt be the next destination for jihadists in search of a fight?

CHRISTIANS TARGETED

Church buildings have been targeted in the wake of Morsi’s removal

Church buildings have been targeted in the wake of Morsi’s removal

Such a prospect bodes extremely ill for Egyptian Christians. Their counterparts in Syria have been targeted by Islamist fighters; they have been subjected to merciless kidnappings and killings, and many thousands have been forced to flee their homes.

The plight of Egyptian Christians worsened under Islamist rule, and there have already been a number of retaliatory attacks against them in the wake of Morsi’s removal. Many supported the Tamarod (“Rebel”) movement against him, and as a vulnerable minority, they are an easy target for enraged Islamists seeking revenge.

Attacks against Christians began almost straight away, with homes, businesses and churches being targeted in a number of areas.

On Wednesday 3 July, Islamists targeted churches and other Christian property in the village of Delgia, Minya province. One church was looted and came under heavy fire. Property belonging to another, including the pastor’s house and otherbuildings, was looted and burnt down. The pastor was at home at the time but managed to escape with the help of neighbours by making a hole in the roof. Christian-owned homes and businesses were also attacked.

Anti-Christian violence broke out in Luxor on Friday (5 July) following the death of a Muslim man, who had allegedly been in a fight with a group of Christians. Armed Muslims attacked the village of Nag Hassan, burning homes and shops belonging to Christians. Four Christians were killed and others injured, three critically. Many Christians fled the village in fear.

Church minister Mina Aboud Sharween (39) was shot dead by Islamist militants as he left his church building in el-Arish, North Sinai, on Saturday (6 July).

Christians elsewhere have faced threats and intimidation. One YouTube clip shown on Egyptian television featured a pro-Morsi protestor threatening to burn all the Christians in the world.

As one Egyptian pastor put it, “I feel we pay the price of freedom.”

Christians have nevertheless expressed hope and determination that they will be able to play a greater role in discussions about the way forward for the country.

Atef Gendy, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, said on 30 June:

In the past, previous regimes pushed the Church to give them support, by controlling Christians and calling them not to oppose standing regimes. In the long run, this minimized the effective role of Christians, separating them from the rest of society and depriving them of the liberty to act independently as full, mature citizens according to their faith and conscience. Now we have learned our lesson and refuse to be a tool in the hand of any regime.

We believe that Christians are full citizens, who have the complete right to express themselves peacefully in the way they like. Nevertheless, we call Christians and Muslims as they demonstrate to avoid all sorts of violence or destruction.

The degree to which Christians will be able to participate depends very much on whether the Islamists or non-Islamists emerge ascendant, and that process seems likely to be long and painful.

The early signs are not encouraging. The constitutional declaration issued on Monday (8 July) by the interim president appears to give even greater prominence to sharia in an apparent attempt to appease Salafis. It was condemned as “shocking” by Egypt’s Maspero Youth Union, a Christian activist group, who said that the constitutional declaration was “not compatible with the ideals of the 30 June uprising … that went out for a civil state that upholds religious and cultural diversity”.

Egyptians are learning the hard way that a successful revolution does not end at the removal of the sitting leader. The voices of all sections of society, including the Christian minority, need to be heard and represented if people are going to be able to co-exist peacefully and equitably. That is now the enormously difficult task facing Egypt’s leaders, and it is imperative that they succeed in preventing the country being rocked by counter-revolution upon counter-revolution or possibly even destroyed in a bloody civil war.

– patrick sookhdeo

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