Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egypt’s Christian Women Treated Like Muslims in Inheritance. Until Now?

Nasrallah Kamel
Nasrallah (L) and Kamel (R), both working to address Coptic grievances, find different receptions from the state. Image: Associated Press / Jayson Casper

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 5.

Two stories here, so the article deck is an important follow-up to the headline:

Meanwhile, Coptic activist who insists true religious equality does not yet exist goes to prison on terrorism charges.

Here’s the intro to the first:

Coptic lawyer Huda Nasrallah may have won a great victory for Christian women in Egypt. Last week, a Cairo court ruled in her favor, dividing the family inheritance equally between her and her two brothers.

Nasrallah’s verdict followed the decision of two other courts to reject her appeal on the basis of the sharia law stipulation that a male heir receive two-thirds of the inheritance.

This past summer, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) took up her cause. In a campaign called “Christian on ID card, Muslim in Inheritance,” it claimed millions of Coptic women suffer similarly.

Coptic men are sometimes all too willing to go along with it, Nasrallah told the Associated Press. But she is “thrilled” by the verdict, and hopes it will inspire other women.

“It is not really about inheritance; my father did not leave us millions of Egyptian pounds,” she said. “If I didn’t take it to court, who would?”

And here is the second:

But a few days earlier, Coptic activist Rami Kamel may have suffered a great setback for all Egyptian believers. He was arrested for his reporting of sectarian tension, and accused of joining a terrorist group.

A founding member of the Maspero Youth Union when Egypt’s military tanks rolled over Coptic protesters in 2011, he later documented sectarian strife between Muslims and Christians.

He is now facing charges of joining a terror group and spreading false information, his lawyer told Agence France-Presse. Additional charges include harming public peace, inciting strife between Muslims and Christians, and agitating against the state.

“There is no credible evidence to support these charges,” said Thabet, who last spoke with Kamel a few days before his arrest. Around 10 days prior, security called Kamel in for informal interrogations as a warning to stop his activity.

But Kamel continued, speaking out against the recent arrest of Khalil Rizk, a Coptic labor rights activist charged with joining a terrorist group.

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Middle East Middle East Institute Published Articles

The Decline of Coptic Activism in Egypt

Coptic activism in decline

From my new article at the Middle East Institute:

During and immediately following the 2011 Egyptian uprising, Coptic activism reached new heights. Copts organized and came together to call for protection for their communities and rights more generally. However, particularly since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and the election of President Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, such activism has declined. Today, the number of active, effective Coptic movements can be counted on one hand. This leaves the church carrying the mantle of Coptic identity, allowing the pope to decide whether or not to engage in politics. Thus far, Pope Tawadros has opted to back the new government, and Coptic citizens are following his example.

The article recounts Coptic activism since the revolution, and then introduces the remaining players:

But in terms of traditional political activism, the landscape is quite barren. There are two primary movements that remain: the Coalition of Egypt’s Copts (CEC) and the Maspero Youth Union (MYU). Both are small, with 88 and 40 voting members, respectively. At the height of the Maspero protests before the massacre, the MYU laid claim to the support of over ten thousand, judged unofficially via Facebook conversations and attendance at demonstrations. Today it counts only a few hundred active members.

The article describes the former as aligned with the state, the latter as supportive but wary while clinging to revolutionary ideals.

From the conclusion:

But if the MYU leads, will anyone follow? Copts other than MYU members and supporters view Coptic activism to be negligible in influence and advocate for transcending Coptic concerns. Youssef Sidhom, editor of the Coptic newspaper Watani, speaks for many when he says that the Coptic community must move on from sectarian labels and evolve in two directions. At the grassroots level, he says, activists must transform into community leaders and aid their neighborhood constituencies. And at the national level, they must emerge as politicians and address issues beyond the Coptic cause. While Coptic activists had their moment during the uprisings, Sidhom points to parliament as the coming and enduring challenge in which Copts must legislate rights to support full citizenship and demonstrate leadership on the national stage.

But almost by definition, activists operate outside the sphere of formal power and put pressure on it. Few activists have space to operate these days, as the state has greatly limited the scope of civil society. Time will tell if the CEC or the MYU can muster the influence to capture the favor of the Coptic community—and more importantly, of Egypt as a whole.

Please click here to read the full article at the Middle East Institute.

Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Where is the Maspero Youth Union Now?

Egyptian Coptic Christian holds cross during a demonstration outside Egyptian embassy in Athens

Twenty-three Egyptian liberal activists were sentenced to three years in prison for demonstrating against the protest law on Sunday. Amid the ongoing clampdown on dissent, the common observer can sigh, but be forgiven for asking: Whatever happened to those Coptic youth activists? Did that massacre at Maspero all but end their influence? Or like most Copts do they support the current regime and its policies?

On October 9, 2011, twenty-seven Coptic Christians were killed during a protest against ongoing attacks on churches, the majority underneath the wheels of military vehicles, which plowed through their demonstration. The Maspero Youth Union, born in the spring of that year, was the most vocal and organized of an emerging Coptic activism that was considerably quieter thereafter.

Close observers of Egyptian politics will recall hearing their name here and there amid the tumults of the revolutionary struggle. They most recently appeared in a small candlelight vigil, commemorating the three year anniversary of the Maspero massacre and calling for justice against former top military brass.

But it is not true they have been silent, insisted Mina Magdy, general coordinator of the MYU. They have issued statements to the media, mobilized for elections without endorsing a candidate, and participated in government-sponsored youth outreach. They appeared before the constitutional committee to advocate for favorable clauses and communicated with thousands of Copts through social media.

Andrawus Ewida, head of the committee responsible for MYU work in the governorates, went further. MYU activists, he explained, were a prominent contributing force behind the Tamarrod protests against then-President Mohamed Morsi. But this mobilization was not advertised out of fear that their participation would allow labeling it as a Coptic movement. Affiliated members also carried out documentation of the subsequent August 14 attacks on churches across the nation, he said.

But even granting their continuing activity, the question is fair: What influence do they maintain on the Coptic street? What relevance do they have in the political process? For many Coptic observers, the answer is nil.

Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, lauded the MYU for its role in mobilizing Copts into the political process through their protests. But after June 30, he said, the power and place of demonstrations has declined, and the MYU has not evolved sufficiently into a viable organization.

Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani, agreed. He finds them genuine and positive in demanding justice for the incident of the Maspero massacre. But their composition as a religious-identity based group is not helping the Coptic cause, which is best addressed under Muslim leadership with great intermixing. And in the chief issue of the day—the shaping of liberal alliances in the coming parliamentary elections—the MYU has been absent, he finds.

Save for assertions of their influence among Coptic youth, the MYU largely agrees with these critiques. But the group is currently in a period of reorganization to set themselves right.

On October 17, Magdy won internal MYU elections against a challenge from Ewida, for a one year renewal of his position as general coordinator. He is tasked with reformulating the statutes and bylaws, while parsing the membership list and defining its criteria. He hopes to officially register the MYU with the government, and prepare for formal election of the group’s political office and six other standing committees.

Magdy realizes the MYU is not well connected to political or revolutionary groups, though he forswears participation with the April 6 Movement or the Revolutionary Socialists, due to their ongoing issues with the regime. However, he lends the MYU’s voice to calls to rescind the protest law and free imprisoned activists who protested against it. Ewida adds there is not enough transparency to distinguish between regular protestors and the terrorists of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Indeed, the two candidates for leadership of the MYU had similar perspectives on almost all matters, administrative and political. Besides their stance on the protest law, they argue for full freedom of expression and the regular litany of Coptic issues: building and rebuilding churches and a law against discrimination. Rather boldly, they also advocate rescinding the blasphemy law and regulating conversion both to and from Islam. They insist they do not want to be a sectarian organization, but rather a pressure group on any government.

But even within the election are signs they have a long way to go. Early on during the height of their street demonstrations, the MYU claimed 10,000 members. Now they measure their active members in the hundreds. Only those most active were given the right to vote—twenty-three.

This number included six representatives from the governorates, where MYU representatives operate in Alexandria, Port Said, Suez, and Ismailia. But Ewida contested the election vote, saying procedural issues prevented six others from casting ballots and that members in other governorates were not sufficiently recognized. The official tally was 16-6 for Magdy (with one unable to vote), and the MYU legal committee ruled against Ewida’s appeal.

Ewida described his candidacy, though, as an exercise in educational democracy. He did not plan to win, but wished to have the group experience a true election and witness an opposition. He hopes the results push Magdy to recognize minority questioning of his leadership, to seek group consensus for his decisions, and to be held accountable for efficient MYU reorganization.

For his part, Magdy is eager to see the elections demonstrate something more—a Coptic political group experiencing a peaceful election cycle. This experience, he hopes, will compare positively with so many other post-January 25 entities which have suffered splits and divisions. Perhaps this, above all, is what may win the Maspero Youth Union relevance. Now it is up to Magdy, Ewida, and their activist colleagues to demonstrate the utility of a democratic order.

This article was originally published at Egypt Source.


More from the Maspero Memorial: Video, Pictures, and Anecdotes

On October 10, it was quite an adventure simply to get to the memorial service for the martyrs of Maspero. ‘The church in 6 October City,’ is what both people and press related, and Google Maps said there is only one, downtown. 6 October City is also one of Cairo’s satellite cities, and thus not very easy to access.

But the name of the church – St. Michael’s – did not match the name of the church on Google. I was faced with the choice of having to taxi out and hope it was correct, which would be quite expensive, or discover the routes of public transportation, which would take me downtown and then leave me there. In either case I was not confident the only church in town was the right one.

Wael Saber
Wael Saber

In the end I contacted Wael Saber, described in my earlier article as one of the spokesmen for the Union of the Families of Maspero Martyrs (UFMM), to try and double-check the location of the memorial service. He proposed a solution without which I would have been completely lost. I could meet him at 7:30am in downtown Cairo, where he was arranging a bus to transport dozens of relatives.

Within the controversy described in the article, this bus was good evidence that Saber is indeed appreciated by at least many relatives as the spokesman of the group. More below will contest that claim, but as we weaved out of Cairo and through the expanse of land on the way to 6 October City, we did not quite reach it. Instead the bus veered to the left, out into the desert.

I had no idea where we were headed, but I’m glad I searched Google thoroughly looking for a second church. I did not find one, but on the outskirts of town was a new cemetery, and it quickly became clear we were now driving through it.

The sign reads: Cemeteries of St. Michael, 6 October City. The vast gray expanse behind are the Muslim graves.
The sign reads: Cemeteries of St. Michael, 6 October City. The vast gray expanse behind are the Muslim graves.

The majority of the mausoleum structures were clearly for Muslims, but as we drove through to the back of the cemetery a huge church rose up above the whole area. It was odd to see the massive structure with no comparable mosque nearby. Later, a church employee told me the size was necessary to hold mourners for the funerals held here, especially given that the remains of the martyrs of Maspero often attract a crowd. The church does hold regular mass, he also said, but busses in the worshipers from surrounding areas.

St. Michael's Church. The sign to the bottom left says 'Come to me', with Jesus speaking to Maspero martyrs.
St. Michael’s Church. The sign to the bottom left says ‘Come to me’, with Jesus speaking to Maspero martyrs.

I spoke with him outside the crypt holding the remains not only of the Maspero dead, but also those killed in an earlier attack on a church in Imbaba, Cairo, as well as those killed in a later drive-by shooting during a wedding in the Cairo neighborhood of Warraq. The church was built in 2011, and Saber told me he has papers stating church leadership will rename it to the Church of St. Michael and the Maspero Martyrs.

Inside the crypt of the Maspero martyrs. One must remove shoes before entering.
Inside the crypt of the Maspero martyrs. One must remove shoes before entering.
The plaque reads: The Martyrs of Maspero, with a date of October 10, 2011. One relative explained it is the 10th because that is when the autopsies were finalized, though the massacre took place on the 9th. The phrase above says: Their bodies are buried in peace, and their names live throughout the generations.
The plaque reads: The Martyrs of Maspero, with a date of October 10, 2011. One relative explained it is the 10th because that is when the autopsies were finalized, though the massacre took place on the 9th. The phrase above says: Their bodies are buried in peace, and their names live throughout the generations. Honored below are Nassif Ragi, Michael, Musad, and Wael Mikha’il.

It has been a difficult three years for Egypt’s Christians, but also for her Muslims. At the end of the mass I spoke with Sheikh Ahmed Saber, who is the imam of a mosque near the Maspero Radio and Television building, the epicenter of the Coptic protests and the site of the eventual massacre. Over the course of time he has become a friend – first to the activists, later to the families – and was keen to be present at the memorial service.

Ahmed Saber, with one of the younger relatives of the deceased.
Ahmed Saber, with one of the younger relatives of the deceased.

Unfortunately, he did not have much to say about the course of justice, preferring to make non-politicized statements. Perhaps this was wise – it just wasn’t useful for my article. But he also stated he was there in a personal capacity, not representing the Azhar institution despite his clerical garb. But it was acceptable the Azhar was not there, he said, for the church and Azhar agree upon 99 percent – which is citizenship, human rights, and social justice – and disagree about only 1 percent – doctrine.

Therefore, he said, having official church representatives was the same as having Azhar representatives.

Except, the official church representatives did not come either. Earlier it had been stated that the influential bishops of Central Cairo and Giza would be in attendance, but at the last moment they excused themselves due to travel necessities. This seemed odd to me, but none of the Copts I spoke with were troubled by it, stating both were present at the 2nd memorial service a year earlier. Having now lived long in Egypt my mind flirted with the conspiratorial, but there was nothing to latch on to, so it also escaped my article.

Another interesting comment from the sheikh was in relating an earlier conversation between St. Anthony and St. Boula, two of Egypt’s earliest monks. St. Anthony instructed him that Copts should pray first for the Nile, then for the ruler, and then for the patriarch. Sheikh Saber found this to be an example of wisdom, and elaborated upon it while quoting several Bible verses. He was certainly a unique individual. Muslims often attend special services in the church as welcome visiting dignitaries, but are invited or allowed to leave midway through before the serving of communion. Sheikh Saber remained politely the entire time.

Fuad Attiya
Fuad Attiya

Afterwards I did my best to interview as many family members as I could. Wael Saber’s contact was given to me by one side of the activist division, Fuad Attiya by the other. The activist told me Attiya represented 14 of the martyr families, and that Saber was supported by only three or four. The following needed to be cut from my article due to word limit, and I didn’t mind as I felt the back-and-forth exchange of accusations was becoming petty. But it is nonetheless insightful:

The three UFMM spokesmen were appointed by the families as they were the most active relatives working on their behalf, Saber said. This testimony was confirmed with others at the memorial service and was evidenced by a busload of relatives for whom he arranged transportation.

But not by all. Fuad Attiya is the 69 year old father of Hady, his 22 year old son killed by gunshot in the demonstration. He invited the MYU to attend the church memorial service.

‘There is no Union [speaking of the UFMM],’ he told Lapido Media. ‘No one speaks on behalf of the Maspero martyrs. This is a lie.’

Another relative told me Attiya provided for the light snacks shared by the martyrs’ families after the service. Perhaps this is not as strong an indication of support as the bus provided by Saber, but he did appear a respected senior figure to those I spoke with, including Saber. Attiya, however, did not confirm the ‘14 families’ idea spoken of by the activist, but he clearly was not happy with Saber’s assumption of leadership.

But following the commemorative funeral procession shown above, quarrels broke out here and there between the various parties. It was not long thereafter the MYU activists decided to leave. I wondered if they had been asked to. Here is another segment of the article that needed to be cut:

Mina Magdy, general coordinator of the MYU agreed with Gaziri it was a day for the martyrs. They attended the memorial mass to express condolences, and left shortly after it ended. He is saddened by the accusations against the group and explained they have spent countless hours with Saber and the families to demonstrate their innocence.

He believes lies have been told by the media to harm their organization, and many of the families have been taken in. He also thinks Saber is jealous of the MYU’s political influence, something he wants for himself.

Saber admits he will represent the UFMM not just in matters pertaining to the justice of their case, but also as citizens about the affairs of the nation. He announced their participation in the June 30 protests that led to the military-backed overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi, for example.

Magdy made it clear to me they were not attending the mass to attract attention to themselves as an organization, but to participate in an event that devastated them as well. They left of their own decision, he said, so as to leave the focus of the day for the families, even though both Attiya and the priests conducting the service asked them to stay.

Relatives of the martyrs, dressed in black.
Relatives of the martyrs, dressed in black.
Attendance at the memorial mass
Attendance at the memorial mass

I have known the activists of the Maspero Youth Union for a long time, and it is difficult for me to believe they have profited off the names of the martyrs. In human nature, however, anything is possible, and Magdy spoke of the privacy of the organization when I asked if I could review their financial records. He assured me, though, that they have shown bank reports and other evidence to the families. He will accompany them to court if any produce evidence of wrongdoing by any in the MYU, but so far no one has.

Youssef Sidhom, quoted in the article, also stated that when his newspaper collects donations it makes them public and details the expenditures, so that all is done in full transparency. Unfortunately, many in Egypt’s activist spectrum – from the Muslim Brotherhood at one end to the Maspero Youth Union on the other – operate outside the structures of oversight and keep all their financial dealings in-house. Mina Thabet told me the donations the MYU helped solicit were processed through a certain priest, so there is a channel to follow up with these investigations.

Wael Saber also stated that in order to cut out the ‘middle man’ of the MYU and others he printed with permission the phone numbers of every activist family, so anyone who wanted to help could do so directly. Here also is a channel to follow up on the counter-accusations that he is an opportunist. The families can be asked about him directly, which he invited me to do.

But the whole matter is sad. Certainly if there is fraud, this is sadder still. And if Saber and others are deliberately marring the reputation of the MYU then this also deserves condemnation.

There is that within me that wants to get at the truth of the story, motivated by a desire that a better understanding might overcome this animosity – or perhaps prove the worthiness thereof. But even the telling of the divisions I hope has a small impact on showing this ugly face to the activists and families themselves. The death of these 27 individuals was a tragedy; it deepens in sorrow with the witness of infighting.

October 10 was also my birthday. After the melancholy experience I returned home and was received by my own family which does not suffer from so much division. Of course in comparison we have hardly suffered at all.

40 Balloons

But as my children covered me with 40 balloons, I was reminded of the good gift of unity in a community of love. The bulk of my day was unsettling; the ending repaired all harm. I pray Egypt might receive a similar experience soon.

Lapido Media Middle East Published Articles

Infighting Between Coptic Groups Not Helping Maspero Justice Campaign

Regla Gamal
Regla Gamal, standing next to her brother’s memorial plaque, translated: The martyr, Subhi Gamal Nassif

Three years after Maspero and Regla Gamal is still wearing black.

On 9 October 2011 her 26-year-old brother, Subhi, was shot dead during a mostly Coptic demonstration in what became known as the Maspero massacre.

Twenty seven Egyptian Christians were killed by the army as thousands protested against attacks on their churches, the majority crushed under the wheels of swerving military vehicles.

To date only three lower ranking soldiers have been convicted, each being sentenced to between two to three years in prison. Despite the best efforts at justice by Coptic activists and relatives of the victims, their differences have led to infighting that is hindering their cause.

‘These are clothes of mourning,’ Gamal, 39, told Lapido Media. ‘I will not stop wearing black until justice comes and those responsible are judged.’

Egyptian tradition dictates female relatives of the deceased wear black for a period of 40 days, up to a maximum of one year. But at the memorial service held in the Cairo church where their remains are interred, most of the women among those now known as ‘the families of the martyrs’ were similarly dressed.

The night of the massacre Wael Saber, one of three official spokespeople for the Union of the Families of Maspero Martyrs (UFMM), watched horrified as his brother Ayman was hit by an army personnel carrier.

‘The state has dragged its feet,’ he told Lapido Media. ‘We demand transparency and justice, and will not be silent in front of their blood.’

Purposefully silent, however, were the mostly Coptic activists of the Maspero Youth Union (MYU). Formed in solidarity with Egypt’s revolution, they called for the march that ended in tragedy. To mark the anniversary the MYU braved Egypt’s current security crackdown with a candlelight vigil.


Dozens of sympathisers gathered, but included only two relatives of those slain.

This is because the UFMM was formed in response to the MYU and other activists speaking in the name of the victims’ families and soliciting donations on their behalf, Saber explained.

Fady Yousef, president of the Coalition of Egypt’s Copts called the MYU a ‘corrupt entity’.

‘They are not loved because they have made profit off their blood,’ he said, referring to money raised by MYU that didn’t reach families of the victims.

Mina Magdy, a spokesman for MYU, denied any wrongdoing, stating they have spent countless hours with Saber and the families to demonstrate their innocence.

One of the founding members of MYU, Mina Thabet, attributes the discord to the corrupt media. ‘The regime depends on people repeating the same accusations [against activists] over and over until they believe it, and this is what is happening,’ he said.


But the bickering between activists and families carried over into the memorial service, attended by busloads of relatives. The hubbub and media show offended many.

‘Ninety per cent of those here today have come to be seen and to have their picture taken,’ complained Wagdi Gamal, Regla’s brother.

Veteran Coptic activist Hany el-Gezery was there and also criticized the MYU. ‘They want to be a hero and to show they exist,’ he said. ‘But in this case the only voice that counts is of the families of the martyrs.’

Political father to many of the activists, Gezery recently dissolved his own Coptic movement to merge more fully into the national effort to support the current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But he wants the former top brass held accountable.

‘I saw General Hamdy Badeen [Egypt’s former head of military police] with my own eyes, standing there as it began,’ he told Lapido Media. ‘I accuse him directly.’

During the candlelight vigil, some protestors held a banner with Badeen’s picture, along with former leaders of the military council Generals Hussein Tantawi and Sami Anan, quietly calling for justice. President Sisi, though director of military intelligence at the time, was not mentioned.

That is, until unaffiliated youth arrived and began chanting against him, calling for the end of military rule. The MYU got them to quickly quiet down and shortly afterwards ended the protest.

Saber, Gezery, and Magdy are all critical of the government for delaying attention to Coptic issues, but so far do not hold Sisi personally responsible.


Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the leading Coptic newspaper Watani, notes that most Copts are still being patient with the new president, and believes it is a ‘sentimental’ accusation that activists accuse the former top officials without sufficient evidence.

The MYU did solicit donations, he recognizes, but knows of no lawsuit leveled against them for fraud.

Similar to both activists and families, however, he wants the Maspero case to reopen.

Until then, Regla Gamal will continue to wear black.

‘We have no hostility toward the army, but we want the case to reopen and if the military leaders are guilty they must be judged,’ she said.

‘Why this hasn’t happened yet we don’t know.’


This article was originally published at Lapido Media on October 15, 2014.

Lapido Media Middle East Published Articles

Coptic Activist Dissolves Movement ahead of Sisi’s Electoral Triumph

Hany al-Gaziri
Hany el-Gezery, on the streets of Shubra, a Cairo neighborhood with a high percentage of Copts

From my recent article in Lapido Media:

The founding father of modern Coptic activism retires a happy man.

Egyptian Christians celebrate the election of a new president in hope of a new dawn of equality.

Two days before the vote, Hany el-Gezery, the sixty year old founder of Copts for Egypt, announced the dissolution of his pioneering movement.

‘In light of our great confidence in the noble knight that will govern, whatever his name,’ he wrote in his final statement, ‘we call on all revolutionary and Coptic movements to follow our lead and stand as one to build the future of Egypt.’

Gezery began his activism in 2005 as one of the few Christians in the Kefaya movement opposed to then-President Hosni Mubarak. Throughout his activism he labored to involve Copts in the secular political struggle.

But in 2009 Gezery made a more direct religious appeal, partnering with an Orthodox priest to found Copts for Egypt. Fr. Mattias Nasr published a popular newspaper detailing cases of discrimination, but distributed it only within the church.

The alliance aimed to shift an emerging Coptic activism from church to street.

‘We were the first Coptic movement to work in the streets,’ Gezery told Lapido Media. ‘At that time no Christian was bold enough to even open his mouth, and any demonstration would be held inside the cathedral.’

Copts for Egypt differed by coordinating with opposition political parties to recognize and oppose discrimination within the Mubarak regime.

On February 14, 2010, they led the first Coptic protest outside church walls. On January 7, 2011 they concluded a week-long rally against the bombing of a church in Alexandria.

Eighteen days later the January 25 revolution erupted. Youth activists from Copts for Egypt were active throughout, going on to found or join many other diverse movements.

Gezery now calls for them also to end this stage of the struggle. ‘All Egyptians must dissolve back into society,’ he wrote, ‘which after June 30 is free from religious factionalism.’

On June 30, 2013 the popular revolt began against President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. After one year in office he was ousted by now president-elect Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the landslide winner in last week’s elections.

In declining to name ‘the noble knight’ of his statement, Gezery was keen to emphasis his respect for both candidates, and rest his confidence on the era, not the man.

But the man causes worry among other Coptic activists, including his own disciples.

One of these activists is now the general-coordinator of the Maspero Youth Union. Another is an advocate for missing underage Coptic girls. Please click here to read their objections and the rest of the article at Lapido Media.


Lapido Media Middle East Published Articles

Divided Society Drives ‘Preacher of the Revolution’ to Lonely Hunger Strike

Hanny Hanna
Hanny Hanna

Sixteen thousand Muslim Brotherhood prisoners launched a mass hunger strike yesterday, protesting against torture and other human rights abuses, according to local sources. Haitham Abu Khalil, the movement spokesman, says many more individuals are unlawfully detained.

The same day a lone Coptic hunger striker, unaffiliated and unsympathetic to the Brotherhood, ended his own hunger strike after twenty two days.

Unlike the others, he did so as a free man.

‘People are dying, hatred is increasing, justice is absent, and prices are rising,’ said Dr Hanny Hanna, an archaeologist and general director in the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. ‘We have had no revolutionary government, the same regime is with us until now.’

Three years ago Hanna had more hope. As the world celebrated images of Christians protecting Muslims at prayer in Tahrir Square, less known was the reverse. One of the first Copts to join the revolution of 25 January, Hanna became known as ‘the preacher of the revolution’ for leading protestors in Christian prayers and songs.


But these days of unity are long gone. ‘Everyone is tearing down the other no matter what side you are on,’ Hanna told Lapido Media. ‘The polarisation has become so high.’

And with it the body count.

According to figures reported by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last month, over three thousand Egyptians have been killed in political violence since 3 July, the day former president Mohamed Morsi was deposed.

Over 2500 of these deaths have been the result of protests and clashes, while over 500 have died from terrorism and other militant actions, according to government statements.

Seventeen thousand have been injured in these events, and nearly 19,000 have been arrested. Of these, several hundred have already been on hunger strike to protest their ill treatment in prison.


Hanna, during a brief hospitalization
Hanna, during a brief hospitalization

Hanna, who while drinking only water continued his normal responsibilities, criticized the violence of many protestors which has landed them in detention. But he also condemned the government and its protest law which has imprisoned many innocents beside them.

As the revolution appeared to be slipping away with resurgent autocracy first under the Brotherhood and now more severely against them, the preacher in him grappled with a response.

‘Should I go to the media and just say, “Love each other?” he asked. ‘It is easy to talk but it is stronger to take an action.’

Hunger strikes have largely been an individual action in Egypt since the 1970s, said Osama el-Ghazoly, a senior Egyptian journalist. The mass prison protest is a more recent development, but few have done so outside of jail.

Unlike most, Hanna’s hunger strike had no demands. Instead, it was his chosen action to communicate a message that all is not well and the revolution has not succeeded.

He even takes aim at Egyptian icon General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the front running presidential candidate. Hanna resurrects the memory of the Maspero massacre when 28 Coptic protestors were killed, either shot or crushed under military vehicles in October 2011. Sisi was the director of military intelligence at the time.

‘If Sisi wants my support he should make it clear what was his role in these events,’ said Hanna. ‘If he is clean, then fine. If not, he can go to hell.’


But these messages do not sit well with his fellow Copts. Most are overjoyed at Sisi’s popularly endorsed removal of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, and anticipate the new constitution will usher in a democratic order.

Even Hanna’s personal Facebook page, filled with good wishes about his intentions, drew criticism. Comments lamenting the timing, method, and relevance of his protest mirrored the responses of political, religious, and revolutionary Coptic leaders.

‘I wish he would be more patient,’ said Naguib Abadir, a Coptic founding member of the Free Egyptians Party, one of the leading liberal flag bearers. ‘We are in a very difficult period with people trying to hijack our roadmap before it can be achieved.’

‘The body is not our own, it is the temple of God and we are responsible to protect it,’ said Revd Fawzi Khalil of Kasr el-Dobara Church, located just behind Tahrir Square, who demonstrated with Hanna from the early days of the revolution.

‘We are able to express our views in ways that do not threaten our life.’

Abadir and Khalil both told Lapido Media that Hanna should save his strength and take up politics, criticising him for picturing everything as negative. But even revolutionary colleagues see him as an idealist, who is harming himself in vain.

Mina Magdy
Mina Magdy

‘He is a good person working for peace,’ said Mina Magdy, general coordinator of the mostly Coptic Maspero Youth Union, which suffered heavily in the massacre. ‘But he is giving slogans and this does not work, we need specific demands.

‘Hanna’s message will reach neither the regime nor the people,’ he said. ‘No one cares about him.’

But this unhappy critique is categorically untrue. His wife and three daughters have stood by his side, and over ten friends have promised to join him on a future hunger strike, if necessary, in exchange for stopping now.

Hanna believes most of his critics misunderstand him and have succumbed to a culture that neither values the individual nor believes one person can make a difference.

‘In the beginning no one listens,’ he said. ‘But as you continue more people start to pay attention.

‘The fruit is seen as they change toward the good.’

Still a preacher, but now with his body, this is Hanna’s contribution to continue the revolution.


This article was originally published at Lapido Media.

Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Christians, Mostly, Embracing Sisi

Sisi Demonstration

From my recent article in Egypt Source:

Ultimately, the formation of a new government in Egypt should be about one word: Competency. But the current nature of politics substitutes another word entirely: Sisi. Local analysis revolves around the question of what the development means in terms of the defense minister’s anticipated candidacy for president, and when he will take off his uniform to announce it.

Egyptians have been waiting for some time to know the answer, and Coptic Christians are among the most expectant.

“If Sisi is a candidate I will definitely support him,” said Naguib Abadir, a Coptic founding member of the secular Free Egyptians Party. “Egypt needs a president with charisma and who commands the respect of the people.”

But not all as are enthusiastic:

This endorsement extended to the person of Sisi, celebrated in posters plastered everywhere on Egyptian streets. “They come to the streets and make a festival, carrying Sisi pictures and saying to him, ‘Come and rule Egypt.’” But while Madgy admitted many Coptic civil society leaders will likely vote for Sisi, some in the Maspero Youth Union are offended at the billing of Sisi as a revolutionary candidate. The goals of the revolution – bread, freedom, and social justice – have not yet been achieved, he explained, so how can we celebrate?

And a segment is outright opposed:

Samaan also supported the removal of Morsi, but finds the actions of the military amount to a coup. Sisi is not to be trusted, he believes. The constitution is good, but Samaan questions whether or not it will be applied. The military establishment poised to run the country once again is the same body that served under Mubarak, he said, and that regime was no friend of Copts, nor honored the constitution.

From the conclusion:

But these are worries for another day. Copts, like most Egyptians, long for stability and have placed their hope in the military to see the country through these troubled times. If initial signs are worrisome to those in the West, Egyptians plead for patience. The nation has changed after January 25, they say, and cannot go back to the status quo.

In the meanwhile, yet another post-revolutionary government is asked to prove it. A Sisi presidency will likely settle the question either way, but for the most part, Copts have embraced the optimism.

Please click here to discover the rationale behind each opinion, and read the whole article at Egypt Source.

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Mapping the Coptic Movements: Activism in a Revolutionary Setting

Coptic Activism

From my recent article at Arab West Report, an extensive, interview-based effort into the diversity of Coptic activist movements:

One of the distinguishing sub-themes of the Egyptian revolution which began on January 25, 2011, has been the proliferation of Coptic movements. Largely, though not entirely, contained in the church during the Mubarak era, Christian Egyptians joined their Muslim counterparts as ‘one hand’ to challenge the authority for the sake of ‘freedom, bread, and social justice’. After successfully deposing the president, many of these Christian Egyptians continued their revolutionary posture.

For years Copts presented their demands to the state primarily through the person of Pope Shenouda. When pressed to demonstrate for their demands, either by events or by clergy, they did so mostly within the confines of church walls. The revolution changed this equation, however, and the unity expressed in overthrowing Mubarak gave Copts a new sense of participation in rebuilding Egypt.

Some Christian participation remained along the lines of revolutionary values, enveloped fully in the youth movements that populated Tahrir Square. Others began sensing a threat to their full participation from the emergence and ascendency of Islamists groups, and rallied behind a liberal and civil cause.

Still others took the opportunities of the revolution to organize and demonstrate for particular Coptic issues. Though there is significant overlap between Coptic demands and those for a civil state, these movements are characterized by Coptic peculiarity, even though many boast the participation of Muslims, who tend to be liberal in outlook. This category is shaped by a desire for Copts to assert their rights as Copts, leaving the church to take to the street and integrate with society.

Yet as they do so they highlight the tensions of religious identity. Insisting upon their right as citizens to demonstrate, they move beyond citizenship and appear to many as sectarian. Conscious to defeat this charge, Coptic movements stress their belonging to Egypt, and their work on its behalf. The question is fair if they do more harm than good, but this question may miss the point if indeed, as they claim, it is equality they seek. When pursuing that which is right, popular reception is a secondary concern.

This paper seeks to analyze in particular the Coptic movements which adopt Coptic issues. It will discuss the pre-revolutionary history of Coptic activism, trace its development after the fall of Mubarak, and continue to the present with the current attempt to gather these movements together in what is called the Coptic Consultative Council.

The paper will then provide a map of these movements along with the names of key participants to the extent that current research allows. Then it will profile of a limited number of these groups, describing their leadership structure and spheres of activity. Finally, it will examine the questions of foreign funding and interference.

From the conclusion:

In closing, two remarks from the interviewees are useful. Sameh Saad stated the normal person works to earn a living and then goes home to enjoy his family and rest. The activist, meanwhile, sacrifices from his personal life in order to achieve success in a larger cause.

Similarly, Ehab Aziz stated that no one will give you your rights while you are sitting on the couch. You have to work hard to achieve them.

While many questions circulate around the Coptic movements – from finances, to cooperation, to the wisdom of separating from the larger Egyptian cause – the above observations must be remembered. They are balanced by the remark of Gaziri that they also have a tendency to exaggerate their issues.

In all these matters Coptic activists resemble activists around the world, exhibiting significant sacrifice and dedication in pursuit of their goals, understood to be righteous. Yet besides pressuring the government to fulfill their rights, they face also the challenge of awakening a religious community long accustomed to acquiescence to the status quo.

Further research is necessary to better understand their reality, their excesses, and their triumphs. But in the above description they must be commended. Their existence represents one of the many successes of the revolution.

Please click here to read the full, 19 page document at Arab West Report.


Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Coptic Protest Falls Flat amid Worrying Constitutional Developments

Translation: Bread, Freedom, Social Justice; a Constitution for All Egyptians for the Sake of Egypt; No to the Constituent Assembly

The call went out in the media, Facebook, and by text message: The Maspero Youth Union summons Copts for a mass demonstration at the cathedral to demand the church withdraw from the constituent assembly. In the end, twenty people came. Most were members of the Maspero leadership.

The constituent assembly consists of 100 members chosen by the now dissolved parliament to write the constitution. It represents the second effort, after the first assembly was itself dissolved by the courts for appointing parliamentarians and failing to properly represent the full spectrum of Egyptian society. Many believe the second assembly fails similarly, though a court decision has been postponed.

While the assembly exists in limbo it is continuing its work, along with its delegates chosen by Egypt’s churches. Many liberal politicians have withdrawn in protest of Islamist domination, but unlike the first assembly, the church has not yet followed. The Maspero Youth Union demands they do.

From a Coptic and liberal perspective there are worrying signs. The current wording of the draft keeps the word ‘principles’ concerning Islamic sharia as the main source of legislation. Yet it also designates a religious authority – the Azhar – to define what ‘principles’ means. Though the Azhar is currently understood as a moderate Islamic bulwark, the current wording places religious scholars above elected legislators in crafting law. Furthermore, the Azhar is subject to change in membership; it may not always be moderate.

Furthermore, the current draft defines Egypt as a ‘consultative’ state, alongside other modifiers such as democratic, constitutional, and modern. ‘Consultative’ is not clearly defined, but is derived from an Islamic concept in which people advise the ruler. It may be benign, but was insisted upon by Salafi groups who also argued against inclusion of the modifier ‘civil’.

Additionally, Egypt as a country is defined as ‘part of the Arabic and Islamic nation and tied to the African continent’. The previous constitution labeled Egypt an Arab republic, and mentioning Africa is perhaps a useful recognition in comparison to the neglect of the Mubarak regime. Yet whereas Islam had previously been designated the state religion, labeling Egypt as part of a larger Islamic entity opens possibilities toward wider integration. It certainly tightens the identity of the nation along a particular religious expression.

Perhaps the church has not yet withdrawn its representatives due to the draft inclusion of another phrase: ‘Christians and Jews shall resort to legislation derived from their own religions.’ Though many argue the current constitutional reference to sharia law already grants Christians and Jews this right, others say it is necessary to codify the principle. Is it possible the church has agreed to the other phrasings in exchange for this right of independence vis-à-vis the state?

The Islamist leanings in the initial draft compelled the Maspero Youth Union to pressure the church to withdraw from the constituent assembly. They called for a protest at noon on Friday, following the church service held in the cathedral.

That only twenty people came is an indication in search of an explanation. The Union formed following attacks on churches in the initial months following Mubarak’s resignation. At their height they mobilized thousands to protest the destruction of a church in Upper Egypt, which led tragically to the Maspero massacre at the hands of the military. Since then they have had little public presence, though their spokesmen have continued to comment in the media.

Could high noon heat have kept protestors away? Are the issues in the assembly insufficiently known to the general Coptic community? Is the protest premature? Does a pending court ruling on the assembly’s dissolution persuade most that street politics is unnecessary?

It is uncertain. The result, however, suggests the Union has lost a great deal of its popular legitimacy and mobilizing ability. Anonymous critics present at the demonstration suggested the church was even using the Union in search of provide popular cover for their desire to withdraw, though perhaps all did not know this. If true, and if the Union was playing a requested role, the call for a protest rings hollow. Might the common Copt have noted a lack of authenticity?

In the end, the protest was rather inauthentic. Organizers did their best to shout slogans for the few cameras and assembled media, but there was no audience to rally.

Mina Thabit

‘We came to express our objection to the church continuing in this assembly,’ said Mina Thabit, a founding member of the Maspero Youth Union. ‘These are religious representatives for the church, and do not politically represent the Copts.

‘They do not have the wisdom or experience to deal with this situation. The constitution will wind up being far from the principles of human rights, and represent racism, ethnicity, and discrimination between people.’

Indeed, these are worrying concerns. It is too bad no one came to share them with.

Related Posts:

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Clinton Visits Morsy amid Coptic Protests

Outside the US Embassy in Cairo

Traditionally, it is the Copts who look to America for support of their minority rights. With the Muslim Brotherhood now in the presidency, though not in full power, some Copts wonder if the United States is switching sides.

The statement of ‘looking to America’ should not be taken as normative. The Orthodox Church and most leaders of influence insist on Egyptian solutions to Egyptian problems. They believe an appeal to the West would brand Copts as traitors in their own land. Average Copts, however, often state a sentiment of longing for America – either for pressure on Cairo or as an escape through emigration.

Amid frequent meetings between Islamists and members of the US administration, however, some Copts believe Washington’s interests are beginning to trump its commitment to human rights.

Bishoy Tamry

‘We believe there is an alliance between the Obama administration and the Muslim Brotherhood,’ stated Bishoy Tamry, a member of the political bureau of the Maspero Youth Union, a mostly Coptic revolutionary group formed after attacks on Egyptian churches. ‘This alliance is to support fascism in the Middle East.

‘The US thinks the Muslim Brotherhood will protect their interests in the region, but this will be over our bodies as minorities.’

The revolutionary character of the Maspero Youth Union plays a role in seeing the United States making a deal with the devil.

‘We knew the next president must have US support,’ Tamry continued, ‘because the military council rules Egypt and the US pays the military council.’

Most of the United State’s foreign aid to Egypt is in the form of military support, with smaller percentages given to economic and civil society development.

A few hundred people gathered at the US Embassy in Cairo to protest the visit of Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. Early chants at the demonstration included, ‘The people and the army are one hand’, but these were silenced by Maspero Youth Union leaders. Tamry explained their group called for an open protest, and some attendees see the military council as the best means to limit or even depose Islamist rule.

One such group is the supporters of Egyptian television presenter Tawfiq Okasha, somewhat comparable to America’s Glenn Beck. These are strong supporters of the military council and clashed briefly with assembled protestors when they arrived, according to Ramy Kamel, an independent Coptic activist helping organize the demonstration. This drove the protest ten minutes south to the Four Seasons Hotel.

According to Nader Shukry, the media spokesman for the Maspero Youth Union, the United States is looking to preserve its interests after the Arab Spring shook their control of local governments. Yet their eye is not on the region’s good, but on its destruction.

‘[The US] knows Islamist rule will bring ruin to these countries, and the best evidence of this is their previous experience.’

As for proof of this alliance, it is found in their frequent meetings.

‘We see evidence in the pre-election visits of US representatives to the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters,’ said Tamry. ‘If the US was looking simply to political representatives it would have visited their Freedom and Justice Party.’

Others see this reasoning as absurd.

‘The United States has relations with every nation in the world,’ said Raed Sharqawi, an investigative journalist present at the demonstration.

‘The United States is also the shield for the Copts, and always will be. This protest is foolish.’

During Clinton’s visit she asked President Morsy to ‘assert the full authority of his position’. The president is currently engaged in a struggle with the military council over the dissolution of parliament. His party, the FJP is also pushing him to confront the military over its supplementary constitutional declaration to preserve some of its powers until a new constitution is written. Clinton did state the details of the transition should be left to the Egyptian people to determine, but urged the military return to its role of protecting the borders.

It is an open and contested question if the military is seeking to preserve its power and resist the revolution, or if it is defending democracy against a premature Islamist takeover of all institutions of government.

Nevertheless, whether the demonstrations against Clinton are foolish or astute, it is a dramatic step for a segment of the Coptic community to turn against the United States so publicly.

Translation: No to the Brotherhood-American Alliance to Interfere in Egyptian Issues. (Pictured: Hillary Clinton and MB General Guide Mohamed Badie)

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Maspero Youth Union Press Conference: Photos

Today the Maspero Youth Union conducted a press conference to put forth its version of events of what took place the evening of October 9, when at least 27 people were killed and over 300 injured in clashes following a largely Coptic peaceful demonstration. The MYU assembled testimonies and video evidence to demonstrate the innocence of the Copts in contradiction to the early official narrative. They also place blame squarely on the shoulders of the army. A good summary of the conference can be read here, at al-Masry al-Youm English Edition.

While in attendance I took a few pictures, and will provide short descriptions of the people below.

From L to R: Nader Shukry, Emad Gad, Khaled el-Belashi

Nader Shukry is a prominent Coptic journalist who writes for Watani newspaper, a Coptic daily. Emad Gad is a political strategist at the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, as well as a founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. Khaled el-Belashi is the editor-in-chief of the Badeel Newspaper, and made his offices available for the press conference. The Arabic in the banner behind them states the title of the press conference: Crushing Egypt.

Tony, member of the MYU

Tony spoke on behalf of his friend Mina Daniel, a prominent revolutionary activist, and Copt, who was killed during the events at Maspero. His tee-shirt reads: We are all Mina Daniel, the Guevara of Egypt.

Vivian Magdy

Vivian was the fiancee of Michael Mossad, a member of MYU who was also killed during the events of Maspero. Her picture with his dead body has circulated widely in Egypt since then:

The video evidence presented by the MYU was largely available on the internet on YouTube. I am currently working on a report for Arab West Report which assembles the bulk of relevant video and provides commentary on what is visible, what is not, and what it may infer. I hope this report will be finished and available in the next few days, so if interested, please check back over the weekend or early next week.

Note: This report is now completed, and available in five parts. Please click the link below for the introduction.


Interview with the Maspero Youth Union

Demonstrations in front of the Radio and TV Building, Maspero, Cairo

Fadi Philip is a 26 year old veterinary physician, but his priority of love and labor is as an activist with the Maspero Youth Union (MYU), for which he serves as English language media spokesman. I became acquainted with Fadi and the MYU through several visits in May during their sit-in protest at the Maspero Radio and Television Building in Cairo, protesting the Imbaba attacks. On this occasion I introduced Fadi to a visiting researcher from George Washington University, and took the notes necessary to record his views here. To note: this interview was conducted in early June.

What is the philosophy of the Maspero Youth Union?

We aim to be a political face for Egyptian Christians, doing so away from the church. We are not trying to be leaders in place of the church, but rather to show people they do not need to run to the church when they meet with difficulties.

What is the role of liberation theology in your movement?

After the Egyptian revolution many Christians have adopted liberation theology, but in Egypt today, right and wrong are determined in the street. The problem is that the church will not go into the street. Christians aim to have a secular state, but how can we say this when we run to the church to solve all our problems?

Do you want to change the church?

The problem is that the Christians do not have leaders in any significant way. We must have these leaders, but we must have them outside of the church.

Is this then a rejection of the church?

No, what is necessary is that Christians get involved in politics, but when the church gets involved in politics things become very complicated. Some priests of the church are with us, but others are worried our actions could increase fundamentalism among Muslims, who might get upset when Christians do not simply sit quietly. Unfortunately, many Christians have become negative, thinking that they can move God and change things simply by praying and singing. I believe praying and singing is important, but we must do more.

What about the opinion of Pope Shenouda? Didn’t he speak against your sit-in?

Well, the pope is not the leader of the MYU. In any case, we don’t believe he really spoke against our efforts, but that he was pushed to say what he did.

What convinces you of this?

Our representatives went to the cathedral and asked him his opinion. He did not ask us to end the sit-in, but that he was afraid his sons and daughters there would be in danger. Furthermore, when Bishop Yu’annis related his message, he quoted the pope as saying ‘And God is the one who makes prosper.’ This is a very well known army phrase, used after all their public statements. It is not an expression the pope would use.

In any case, the church is trying to avoid problems, and many people believe that problems can happen when Christians are in the street. But we believe there is no freedom without cost, and we are willing to pay the cost.

By identifying yourselves as Copts do you identify yourselves as a minority, or against your Egyptian identity?

The word ‘Copt’ means ‘Egypt’ etymologically, but yes, it is true we are working for Coptic rights. We are a Christian movement in what we work for, though, not in our composition. We have Muslim members, though they are a small percentage. Yet we do receive much spiritual support and encouragement from Muslims, as well as media support from personalities like Nabil Sharaf al-Din and Fatima Naout. It must also be mentioned that several Muslims came to defend our group when we were attacked.

Currently, though, we do not have open membership, and there is no particular profile about the Muslims who have joined us. At this stage we are less interested in enrolling those who ‘love’ us in favor of those who know our issues well. Currently, we are pursuing legal registration as a human rights organization, and not as a political party.

What is the composition of your group?

We are between 200-300 people who bear some sort of responsibility within the MYU, each of which oversees between 10-15 people. We are not looking to expand too quickly, but we have opened branches in Alexandria, Ismailia, and Asyut. We will look into expanding our membership once we have completed the registration process.

What is the role of Fr. Philopater and Fr. Mattias?

These two priests have been with us from the beginning, when the MYU was created by merging several groups, including the one around the magazine they founded, al-Katiba al-Tibiyya. Though they are with us, we do not constitute that they represent the church in being with us. They have joined us as Egyptians. Yet at the same time, in being a priest they do confer legitimacy upon us in the eyes of many Egyptian Christians.

It is not true to say they work as ‘double agents’, but they are trying to work on both sides – the people and the church. They can certainly help us with inner church workings.

Fr. Philopater is a very outspoken person. During the Mubarak regime he spoke harshly against it and was suspended for one year. Yet he would not accept to be sent abroad, such as to America, in the manner which Fr. Marcus Aziz was sent to serve the church in Australia. To be clear, though, both Fr. Philopater and Fr. Mattias are still practicing priests.

al-Katiba al-Tibiyya is very popular in the Coptic Diaspora. Is the Maspero Youth Union connected to the Diaspora as well?

al-Katiba al-Tibiyya is concerned about  what is happening, speaking the truth as it is; I believe it is also popular here in Egypt. People living abroad do not know what is happening here, but they trust the magazine since those here do.

We do have connections to Copts living abroad, and we have met with Michael Munir and Michel Qilada, for example. We will not push anyone away from us, and all are welcome to cooperate with us. Yet there is a problem in that many of these call for international protection for the Copts, wishing for UN involvement and calling for sanctions. This, however, does not meet with our needs. Perhaps they can help with human rights issues.

I reject the call for international protection because I will not risk the security of Egypt for my own security. Some Muslims hear ‘international protection’ and understand it to mean what is happening in Libya. These might then interpret that Copts are looking to make trouble, attack us, and this will harm the stability of Egypt.

What can the Diaspora do to support the MYU?

The most important thing is media coverage. 60-70% of the revolution’s success was based on the media’s attention. It prevented Tahrir Square from becoming Tienamen Square. Good media overage can help overcome the general illiteracy about Christian rights in Egypt.

Young Egyptians abroad were helpful with the revolution. Are you connected to them?

The image of the revolution being made by the young was just a play. The revolution was not made through the internet but from the hatred directed toward the Mubarak regime and its inept handling of the protests.

Yes, many Egyptians abroad ‘felt proud’ to be Egyptian, but did they feel any pressure or help in any real way? Not really.

What is the final summary of what you would like to say?

We have discussed the most important matters. I would like to emphasize that we are looking to take pressure off the church. The greater our success in representing Coptic issues, the less pressure the government will put on the pope concerning us.

Thank you very much for your time.

Thank you, it was my pleasure.


A Window into Character: The Conflict at Maspero

The Coptic demonstration prior to the attack

All men have ideals; it is when they are tested that they are revealed as true or false, or somewhere in-between. Psychologists have identified the ‘fight or flight’ response to conflict: One either meets it head on or withdraws from the scene. Neither one nor the other is wisdom necessarily, but rather the gut reaction to a situation of danger. Such urges presumably can be resisted in either direction, but decisions made in these few seconds will either haunt or honor the character of a man.

On May 14 the Coptic sit-in protestors at the Egyptian TV and Radio Building at Maspero, along with their Muslim sympathizers, faced such a challenge. I have written about this previously here, and in more detail shortly thereafter here. In an effort to disperse their sit-in ‘thugs’ led by certain Salafi Muslim elements attacked their location, using guns, knives, stones, and Molotov cocktails. For this text I have had opportunity to speak with Fadi Phillip, one of the leaders of the Maspero Youth Union (MYU) which called for the protest. He was on the scene, and described his role in and perspective of the attacks.

Fadi is the English language media representative for the Maspero Youth Union; as such he is not generally to be found on the front lines. Some Copts are assigned roles with security, others in the clinic. In general, though a leader, Fadi works hardest when things are calm and journalists arrive to seek a story. When the attacks began he was idle, far from the front lines, like most other protestors. As a leader he tried to spring into action, but the situation was spiraling out of control.

Quickly he ran to the front lines to inquire what was going on. Whoever he spoke with grasped his badge and seemingly rebuked him for not knowing. The MYU is well organized internally, but a sit-in attracts all sorts. This enthusiastic Copt, from wherever he came, was eager to defend the group, but he did not fall in with or recognize Fadi’s titular leadership identity.

The initial attacks were not hand-to-hand combat, but rather the ‘thugs’ taking advantage of their elevated position on the bridge and off-ramp to fire pistols and hurl Molotov cocktails. Fadi joined in with a group trying to get MYU parked cars away from the range of the attackers. With most sit-in protestors still far removed from the front lines, using keys was not possible. Fadi and others broke the windows of many vehicles to disengage the parking brake and then roll the cars to safer position.

During the altercation Fadi ran back and forth several times between the front lines and the group, which included many female protestors. On one occasion he went to the police, who were standing by in the open area between the protest group and the front line attackers. He asked them to get involved, but they communicated they had no orders to do so. He then went to the army, which was deployed closer to the sit-in site, and told them eight people were not injured. When an officer stated only that those afraid should go home, Fadi brazenly asserted that they would not desert their sit-in; they would not go home unless dead. Yet as another Copt was there also screaming at the officers, Fadi left him to make his point and returned again to the group.

At one point as the conflict was increasing in intensity, Fadi lifted his arms to heaven, recited the Lord’s Prayer, and asked that God would not allow his children to be eaten by dogs, should they be killed today. It was a strange prayer, but Fadi remembered that it was said of the Copts who died in the Alexandria bombing that after the major remains were collected, the smaller body parts were left in the streets and consumed by dogs. Before he finished praying, however, someone interrupted him and rebuked him, saying this was no time for stillness. After this, Fadi reengaged.

On his way back to the front lines he found an enraged Copt, pouring water all over himself and picking up a gas canister to run with into the fray. Fadi tried to reason with him, trying to stop him, but somewhere in his effort he was struck with a blunt object in the middle of his back. Stunned, he fell, and was disabled for a period of time. After this he left, limping back to the protest area.

From here on out Fadi sought to make himself useful in the clinic, which was now overflowing with injured. Though possessing no medical training, he was stitching wounds and bandaging gashes. He purposed to avoid head injuries, out of fear he might do more harm than good. Yet even so on one occasion he was given some sort of medical ointment, and spread it upon the head of one injured to the point of revealing his skull.

Among the injured were some of the ‘thugs’, captured by the Coptic protestors. One who appeared to be a ringleader suffered deep cuts and was brought into the clinic. Fadi witnessed how he was told that if he confessed on videotape to his crimes they would treat his wounds; otherwise, they would leave him languishing in the clinic. Under such duress, he confessed to being paid 500 LE (about $85 US) to take part in the attack.

A more serious confrontation took place when the Copts purposed to capture one of the Salafis involved in the attack. They formed a small group, rushed forward, and then snatched one from the front lines, tossing him backwards into the Coptic throng. The one who apprehended the Salafi suffered several stab wounds in the effort. Once captured, however, the protestors beat the Salafi relentlessly. Fadi relates this was due to their rage over the attack on their sit-in; a supplemental factor may have been the pent up anger over allegations that Salafis orchestrated several attacks on Copts after the revolution.

Some of the Copts tried to intervene from their Christian convictions. Others, including Fadi, intervened for more practical reasons. First, he said, they wanted to get information from him. Second, they wanted to secure proof that Salafis were involved in the attack, lest the media portray it as simply the work of ‘remnants of the former regime’, as has become a common accusation. Third, Fadi was concerned that the repercussions could be severe should a Muslim die in their custody. In his efforts to stop the beating Fadi was kicked in the groin as Copts fought each other over the Salafi. Eventually he was freed and transferred to a nearby ambulance and taken to a hospital. He provided no confession.

Eventually the police became involved, firing tear gas in-between the two groups to disperse them. The direction of the Nile air, however, wafted the gas toward the sit-in area, choking those who stayed back either to avoid clashes or to help in the clinic. At this time objects also began raining down from the apartments of residents situated above the sit-in area. This enraged the Copts further, but Fadi recognized they were tossing onions, which are a known local antidote to the symptoms produced by tear gas. He made effort to calm down his fellow protestors.

Though the tear gas did put an end to the fighting, Fadi related that the sounds of gunfire started again as the ‘thugs’ pulled back and the tear gas clouds obscured vision. The Copts did not know if this was from the ‘thugs’ or the police, and Fadi began to run back toward the front lines to see what was happening. On the way, though, he stopped, vomited, and then collapsed from exhaustion and tear gas inhalation. Shortly thereafter all was calm once again.

In reflecting on the event, Fadi stated that the altercation showed the need for an emergency committee in the Maspero Youth Union. Initial shots were fired from the bridge around 8pm, but the actual fighting did not get underway until 10am. The whole time, Fadi states, many Copts were itching to rush and engage the attackers, sensing they were under threat. Yet during this two hour interval wiser heads might have been able to prevent the chaotic clashed did not take place, or were at least more strategic.

Fadi stated in retrospect that the Copts should have had more discipline to hold their line at the sit-in, instead of rushing out to meet the attacking group. In their haste they ran past the army and police, which can now accurately portray the clash as between two attacking parties. Had the Copts at least waited until their assailants passed by the authorities on their way to the sit-in, it would have forced the hand of the police and army. Either they would have to interfere and stop the attacking group, or else the evidence they stood by and did nothing would be clearly confirmed.

Such are the thoughts one may have after involvement in a crisis. There are always things which could have been done differently, words that should or should not have been said, and lessons earned through simple hard knocks.

It is not possible to confirm Fadi’s testimony, but it corresponds with earlier investigation into the Maspero sit-in. Yet just has humans have a tendency towards ‘fight or flight’ when facing conflict, they also may be tempted to exaggerate the severity of danger in their flight, or the degree of heroism in their fight. Could this have been true of Fadi? You can be the judge.

In reading the testimony, however, are you able to envision yourself in his place? What would you have done? Would you have been there in the first place?

Everyone has times when they imagine themselves in a potential conflict, writing a script for how they would behave. While this is likely useful, it can also be an exercise in self-flattery. Rarely will anyone fail in such a test.

Instead, the best preparation for a test of character is simply to live by your ideals in the day-to-day monotony of life. Temptations to cut corners or compromise will be many, and the stakes, as well as consequences, will be low. Giving in to these base urges whittles away character, imperceptibly, until a crisis comes and the test is failed before one realizes it is even being administered. Conversely, moral muscles are strengthened through such exercises of resistance.

Preparation is no key to success. People of great character may stumble, and virtue may arise from the unlikeliest of sources. Grace is needed for all, to prime the pump in advance and aftermath of a crisis.

Egypt languished without active moral exercise for years, but people summoned the courage to rise in revolution. While some, and perhaps many, transgressed boundaries the great majority acted with conviction and character. In the months that have followed there have been other challenges, but the revolutionary struggle has slipped back into routine monotony. Some seem fixated on maintaining the crisis, or beginning new ones, and their intensions on the whole should not be doubted. It can be easier to summon courage in a crisis. It is more difficult to maintain character in monotony.

Yet having passed their test, can Egyptians cement their gains? I do not mean the gains of the revolution, however legitimate they may be. I mean the gains of character, taking pride in their dignity, their unity, and their integrity. Rebuilding their country will require such strength, for not all will honor these virtues.

Finally, for the reader outside of Egypt, in what stage of life are you? Where will your character lead when put to the test? What little tests are faced now, far from the heat of battle?

May we all be strengthened, encouraging one another, giving grace in time of need. May Egypt, and all mankind, meet its many challenges.


note: I hope tomorrow or the next day to post an interview with Fadi about the Maspero Youth Union.


Egyptian Religious Groups Denounce Attack on Israeli Embassy

On September 9 three thousand Egyptians gathered at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, cheering the destruction of a recently erected wall around the complex, after which nearly one hundred protestors stormed the embassy and threw official paperwork to the crowd below. The incident was a continuation of rising tensions between Egypt and Israel, following the accidental killing of six Egyptian officers during an Israeli cross-border raid pursuing Palestinian militants in Sinai.

Minister of Information Osama al-Heikal issued strong condemnation. “The incident was an insult to Egypt – it is not fair to link it to the January revolution (which) had been a genuine, peaceful revolt that sought to bring down and replace the old regime.”

Religious spokesmen echoed his sentiment, including Christian voices from the protest itself. Earlier in the day tens of thousands of mostly youthful and liberal protestors gathered in Tahrir Square, pressuring the government on several demands, including an immediate end to the use of military trials for civilians. Among the groups represented was the Maspero Youth Union, a mostly Coptic Christian organization supporting religious and political equality.

General Coordinator Rami Kamel stated, “The incident breaks all diplomatic protocols and will result in trouble for Egypt. It is our role to pressure the government in both domestic and foreign policy, but we reject the breaking of the wall and the storming of the embassy.”

Official Muslim representation also denounced the attack. Abdel Muti al-Bayoumi is a member of the Islamic Research Academy of al-Azhar University, widely respected throughout the Islamic world as its most venerable institution. Speaking from sharia law he defended the sanctity of all foreign delegates. “The Israel ambassador resides legally in Egypt on the basis of a diplomatic visa, which was granted by the Egyptian government. In sharia law this represents ‘aqd al-aman, or a compact of security, which guarantees safety to the beneficiary.”

Even the conservative Salafi Muslim groups derided the attack as “not thought out”, and implicitly accepted the peace treaty with Israel, though with a wholly different perspective. The Salafi Call Organization stated the attack “will work in favor of Israel and will transform them from perpetrators to victims. The focus will shift from our demands to amend the Camp David agreement to Israel’s calls for help to protect their embassy in Egypt. Egyptians are united in their hate for Israel, thank God. We must fight cultural normalization [with Israel] and we should push for the international isolation of Israel.”

Bishop Marcos, chairman of the Coptic Orthodox Church Public Relations Committee, concurred that the Egyptian government should take a suitable response to Israeli violations on the Egyptian border, though he declined recommending specific steps as it was not the place of the church. Nevertheless, he condemned the attack on the embassy and stated all the wise men of Egypt do likewise.

“This event is not good for our relations with other countries; we must respect all nations and even our enemies.” Though he did not know who the perpetrators were, he refused to see the incident as evidence of sectarian problems or increasing Islamic identity.