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The Copts Will Fight

But they won’t win.

5:29 PM, Oct 12, 2011 • By LEE SMITH
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In the aftermath of Sunday’s bloodbath, the White House issued a statement from President Obama urging “restraint on all sides” and lamenting the "tragic loss of life among demonstrators and security forces." It seems the president was basing his erroneous assumption on early charges made by the Egyptian media that security and military personnel had been killed as well as Copt civilians, claims Egyptian officials retracted Monday. Only Copts were killed.

And yet despite their losses, it is difficult to imagine that Egypt’s ancient Christian community is about to recede into the shadows. Sunday’s events are proof not only of the army’s brutality and much of the majority Muslim community’s hatred of their non-Muslim neighbors, but also of a now-mobilized minority’s courage and pride. This Coptic awakening has been several decades in the making.

“If the Kurds are the Middle East’s most neglected minority,” says Tadros, “the Copts are the loneliest.” The Copts are proud of the fact that in spite of the Arab conquests and other violent encroachments on their community they did not fall like other long-forgotten and long-gone regional minorities. And in contrast to other surviving minority groups, like Lebanon’s Maronite and Druze sects, the Copts lacked influence abroad, which is to say they have been relatively separated from Western Christendom. They received little help, or even friendship, from London during Britain’s 72-year-long occupation of Egypt, and have been able to count on little support from Washington over the years, despite a substantial number of Coptic immigrants scattered throughout the United States.

Still, the international community’s indifference hardly spares Copts the contempt and suspicion of many of their Muslim compatriots, while the country’s elite ignores Muslims’ open hatred of Christians and instead blames Israel for Egypt’s sectarian strife. (Here, the “moderate” Islamist candidate for president Abdel Moneim al-Fotouh says Zionists were behind Sunday’s events.) One popular iteration of this conspiracy theory holds that former head of Israeli military intelligence Amos Yadlin openly bragged about Israel’s success in “promoting sectarian tension” in Egypt. It seems this bogus narrative first appeared on an Arab Israeli website, where Hezbollah picked it up before it hit the mainstream of Egypt’s Muslim community. Of course, Yadlin never said anything of the sort. “It’s total nonsense,” he told me in Washington, where he is a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “What Israel wants, and what I want, is a stable and democratic Egypt that will contribute to the peace and betterment of the greater Middle East.”

The fate of the Arab Spring shows just how difficult this is going to be. What we’ve seen revealed over the last eight months are the numerous sectarian tensions that are usually obscured by the world's focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict. But now the banner of Arab resistance under which for instance all Syrians once rallied is no longer relevant in a state where the ruling Alawite minority slaughters the majority Sunni opposition—with the support of Syrian minorities, including the Christians. In Bahrain, the Sunni government targets its Shia population, and in Lebanon and Iraq, the Shiites and the Sunnis are only for the time being deterred from going at each other’s throats, again. The Arabs may have no peace with Israel; but neither do the various sects and ethnicities (Sunnis, Shia, Kurds, etc.) commonly rolled into one and described by the blanket term “Arab” have peace with each other.

Tadros argues that even as Copts served in Egypt’s wars against the Jewish state, the community never had an issue with Israel. “Arab nationalism was an ideology that many Orthodox Christians from Syria and Lebanon pushed,” he says, “but not the Copts.”

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