FORGET SHADES OF GREY: THE COPTIC SOLUTION IS BLACK AND WHITE

Photo Anthony Hanna

FORGET SHADES OF GREY: THE COPTIC SOLUTION IS BLACK AND WHITE

Born in Australia to Coptic-Egyptian migrants, Anthony Hanna has been dedicated to fighting for the democratic cause in his parents’ native Egypt.

Holding a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting and currently employed by a large, multinational, professional-services firm, Hanna seeks to use his management and corporate talent to empower Copts in Australia.  Anthony contributed the following essay to our historic book ‘Free the Copts’.

FORGET SHADES OF GREY: THE COPTIC SOLUTION IS BLACK AND WHITE

Prior to writing this piece, I decided to search “Coptic Christians” using Google, despite having a hunch about what I would find.

The search results generally consisted of the following:

persecution of Coptic Christians and information on the Coptic Church, which focused on its persecution throughout history. That is it.

I then asked myself, is this our identify? Is this how the world views us? Are we just the “ancient Church” or Egypt’s “Christian minority”— the “10 per cent”? Are we known for nothing else? Is this the Coptic identity?

Being a Copt goes beyond the word’s religious connotations. Sure, Coptic Orthodox Christianity is a religion, and wherever one is born in the world we are all in essence Coptic, because we share a common faith and spirituality. But being a Copt is also an ethnic descriptor.

The Copts are the direct descendants of the Pharaohs, and they gifted the world with the Coptic civilisation—a civilisation that has survived many invasions and rulerships under various dynasties and empires.

The Copts are an ethnicity unto themselves and one that we should be proud of.

The unfolding events in Egypt hint that the nation may be on the brink of civil war. Although the liberals, libertarians, secularists, Christians, and other religious and nonreligious minorities are fighting for freedom and true democracy, the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters are intent on maintaining Egypt’s continued demise. They are even willing to embrace violence and corruption to ensure Egypt’s destruction.

We, as Copts, must act now. Ridding Egypt of a corrupt dictator (Hosni Mubarak) was only the first, and simpler, stage of the democratic experiment and the fight for freedom and social justice.

Egyptians must now overcome their greatest challenge: removing the stigma of being an imprisoned people and learning how to think for themselves. Egyptians should be fearless and shape their own future.

The Australian Coptic Movement, through its affiliations and ongoing communications with domestic and international organisations, will join hands with all Egyptians and participate in this battle against oppression. The Australian Coptic Movement will help move Egypt forwards.

It has only been during the last 50 years or so that the Coptic Church has expanded beyond its traditional borders of Egypt and Sudan. A diaspora quickly emerged from mass emigration, at the height of Egypt’s militant fundamentalism in the 1970s and 1980s.

According to statistics on CopticWorld.org, a social media website connecting Copts around the world, Copts live in 52 countries and 709 cities worldwide. I never truly grasped our place in the world, until I watched highlights of the 2012 enthronement of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria. During this ceremony, Bishops of metropolitan dioceses prayed in German, Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese.

And whenever I visit Coptic churches such as St Sidhom Bishay in Dural, Australia, or St Mary, St Bakhomios, and St Shenouda in Kirawee, Australia, I wonder at the Caucasian blue-eyed toddlers running up for communion. For a so-called ancient Church, we are advancing.

Many first-generation children born to Coptic migrants outside of Egypt (such as myself) believe that Copts are willing to lie down in the face of torment, all in the name of God. Many think that our only response to persecution and discrimination is to pray, fast, and, as they say, hope for the best.

One of the greatest challenges as a member of the Australian Coptic Movement is to rally today’s youth and raise awareness of Coptic persecution in Egypt. Undoubtedly, the youth know it exists and are aware of the atrocities that occur in Egypt. But because they never experienced it first hand, like their parents, they are less emotionally inclined to become involved. Although social media does play its part, the experiences are simply not the same.

Perhaps the following account will inspire the youth to action. It is taken from On the State of Egypt by the Egyptian journalist Alaa Al- Aswany:

In the years leading up to the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, the British administration in Egypt attempted to break growing nationalistic sentiments in the country out of fear that a revolutionary movement would aim to seek Egyptian Independence. In the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, an ambitious Egyptian statesman by the name of Saad Zaghloul, led a small delegation to request that the international community recognize Egypt’s independence and self-determination. To punish Zaghloul for his testament to expel the British, Zaghloul, who shortly after became Prime Minister, was sent into exile.

The British Administration, aiming at creating sectarian divisions between Egypt’s Muslim and Christian inhabitants as a distraction, appointed a Copt by the name of Youssef Wahba Pascha as the new Prime Minister. The move behind appointing a Copt was that the British believed Egyptian society will now be focused on internal fighting over nationalistic self-determination as a unified movement.

Aswany also describes the assassination attempt on the life of the new Prime Minister Youssef Wahba Pascha by Aryan Youssef, a young Coptic student. Youssef threw a bomb at the motorcade of the Prime Minister, which later earned him a hero status by all Egyptians. Now, although neither I nor the Coptic Orthodox Church would endorse the actions of Youssef, the events that unfolded in 1919 show that the Copts were just as politically motivated in calls for Egyptian unity as were many of the other political movements of the time. Since then, the Copts have been significant contributors to Egyptian nationalism and advancement.

In another book, Egypt on the Brink, Tarek Osman recounts the period from Egypt’s cosmopolitan years of the 1940s and 1950s— when it held a position as a social, political, and cultural power in the Mediterranean and Middle East—to its eventual transition to today’s backward society gripped by corruption, hard-line politico-religious influence, and rejection of social advancement. Osman also outlines the Copts’ contribution during the early glorified years. He specifically mentions the Coptic families who advanced Egypt in areas such as politics, the arts, and economic reform. To witness Egypt’s demise since the 1940s and 1950s, just watch an Egyptian film produced during these cosmopolitan years and then compare it to an Egyptian film churned out today. The regression is visual.

Since the first arrivals of Coptic migrants in Australia, we have seen the Copts implement significant contributions to Australian society on all fronts of the public sphere, using positive Coptic principles and culture in empowering the world around them, whether it be politically, socially, or artistically—or in business and community services. Some of these names many of us have probably never heard of, and we may not fully comprehend the influence they have made in their respective fields.

First and foremost is one Coptic Australian we hear of quite regularly: Nick Kaldas. Kaldas is currently the deputy commissioner of the NSW Police Force and his long and shining career with the Force includes assignments both domestically and internationally. The brother of Father Antonious Kaldas, Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas has naturally been empowered by teachings in the Church and the influences of Coptic culture.

I remember some months ago when The Sydney Morning Herald ran a front-page story titled “Grudges drove surveillance, says officers”, with Kaldas’ face clearly on the front. The story outlines a secret investigation that involved implanting listening devices in the offices of certain police officers in an attempt to stamp out police corruption. One of the officers targeted was Kaldas, who was the head of the Homicide Unit at the time. When the details of the investigation unfolded, they found that the investigations were initiated out of envy—rather than identifying corrupt officers. The countless police officers, commentators, and journalists that came out in support of Kaldas was inspiring.

Our contribution to society does not stop there. Our experiences as Copts, in witnessing Egypt’s atrocities against minorities, has inspired many of us to enter the political scene in the hope that what we have witnessed (and are currently witnessing) in Egypt never reaches the shorelines of Australia, the country we have adopted and grown to love. Individuals such as Magdy Mikhail (former Shire Councillor), Edmond Atalla (current long-serving Blacktown City Councillor), Maurice Hanna, OAM (current Mayor of Marrickville City Council), and Paul Sedrak (newly elected councillor for Rockdale City Council) have all made the decision that to bring about change, or preserve the values we admire most, we need to participate in the frameworks that can bring about these goals.

In Australian music, many of the younger, assimilated Coptic Australians may be aware of the rising talent within our community. Coptic Soldier, the stage name for Australian hip-hop artist Luke Girgis, has been performing in the underground music scene for many years now, drawing a niche following and performing in a range of concerts and tours around Australia and with some of Australia’s largest hip hop acts, such as Chance Water, Bliss n Eso, 360, and many more. Girgis is also an avid supporter of the Coptic plight in Egypt discussing, in various public interviews over the years, the turmoil Copts face. Singer and Songwriter HR King, the stage name for Hany

Malek, is another rising artist in the Australian music scene. Another up-and-coming talent is DJ Smokin Joe, also known as Joe Mekhael. As of the date of this publication, Mekhael is the world record holder for a marathon DJ set lasting seven consecutive days. Currently ranked twenty-eighth in the Australian DJ rankings, Mekhael demonstrated the values of his upbringing during the infamous cash scam involving school formals, in which he offered his services for free to students who lost large sums of money in an online DJ scam.

In business, there is the likes of the late Jim Selim. He raised a simple pharmaceutical company, Pan Pharmaceuticals, into an Australian conglomerate, and it became one of the largest manufacturers of herbal and vitamin products, with an approximate company value of A$300 million. The contributions of Selim and his wife, June Selim, to the Coptic Community, especially to Abu Sefein Coptic Orthodox Church in Rhodes, is praise worthy.

Yet there are still other notable members of the Australian Coptic community. Author, editor, and teacher Ramy Tadros (also the editor of this publication) has written a couple of interesting books, including;

The War of the Words: Oppression, Egypt’s Copts, and the State and The

Writer’s Manifesto: Rules for Writing with Class.

And boxer Sam Soliman, nicknamed “the King”, is a former ISNA and WAKA boxing champion.

In the Coptic diaspora of the United States, where Coptic activism was born, Copts of the first and second generations have risen to prominence in varying social scenes, from famous restaurateurs and celebrity chefs to oil financiers, journalists, and social workers. An inspirational personal role model is Nermien Riad, founder and CEO of Coptic Orphans. This is the largest Coptic not-for-profit organisation in the world, and Riad has, through more than 20 years of work, serviced the needs of underprivileged men, woman, and children in Egypt.

I could easily go on, because although certain individuals may not be aware, we at The Australian Coptic Movement Association are knowledgeable of the good deeds performed by individuals. Individuals such as Jimmy Morcos from Melbourne, Australia, who has tirelessly offered pro bono and subsidised legal services for Coptic refugees facing direct harm.

Brothers Michael and Andrew Guirgis are two boys I grew up with. They started CAOS, a service focusing on enriching the lives of young African refugees in Western Sydney.

Whether we are tradesman, entrepreneurs, athletes, professionals, or aspiring artists, we as a Coptic community have the intelligence, skills, support, and potential to shape positively the society we live in. This, in turn, will see indirect benefits as the larger community recognises our achievements and contributions to society. Sure, protesting outside consulates at Martin Place in Sydney or Federation Square in Melbourne raises awareness in the short term. But long-term change lies in our ability to influence. And influence comes from our ability to achieve. We will achieve by dedicating ourselves to our passions and by supporting each other as a community. The Coptic identity is how we are identified as a community.

On a television show hosted live from Cairo during the ordination mass of Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, the Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was interviewed by the Coptic television station CTV. Other than being stunned that the Canadian Immigration Minister found the time to attend the ordination when Egypt’s own President Mohamed Morsi did not, I was pleased (but not surprised) with the praise that the Canadian Minister directed towards the Canadian Coptic Community for their contribution to Canadian Society and for their ability to assimilate with Canada’s democratic and cultural values. The Minister also jokingly ended the interview by expressing his amazement at the number of Coptic Pharmacists.

I would like to think that we are a rationally minded people (most of the time). We possess intelligence, resources, community strength, and a willingness to give and volunteer. These are the ingredients that can position us to better the world around us—whether it is Egypt or our adopted country. We also have the power of numbers. As a community body, if we work together, nothing is impossible to achieve. The persecution of the Copts in Egypt and all the Christians in the Middle East can be overcome, if we cement ourselves in a position to implement positive influence on the world. Join political parties and lobby groups, succeed in small business and entrepreneurship, practise and promote your artistic talent, and—most importantly—embrace and work with each other. Dedicate yourselves, 100 per cent, to whatever it is you do.

We, as Copts, have experienced the demise and downfall of a nation dubbed “the mother of the world”, and we do not want that mistake to happen in the countries we now call home. It is our duty, as citizens, to stand and fight against the injustices that we see occurring all the time.

Coptic identity must be cemented in the environment around us so that we can present ourselves as a formidable movement, aiming to remove the shackles of society’s ailments: persecution, discrimination, injustice, and religious fundamentalism. The Copts are promoters of democracy and freedom and the values that these themes entail. Our identity is defined by how we live our lives through Christ and how we promote these teachings in the everyday world we are a part of.

You, as an individual, can participate in our fight, and I encourage your participation for the sake of our rich history and to strengthen our community. The Australian Coptic Movement Association is not a political movement. We are a human rights advocacy and a community development organisation run by young volunteers that have dedicated so much of their time to looking out for this community.

You can help by volunteering your time, making a donation, joining our members’ base, or providing your expertise to our cause. By helping, you will become part of the Australian Coptic Movement Association—and you will become part of something much bigger.

Anthony Hanna

 

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