Selma on the Nile


Egypt’s Christians face Islamist lynch mobs



A minority group’s neighborhood was torched because of a perceived slight to a woman belonging to the majority. No it isn’t the Old South, it’s the New Egypt.

Violence ensued last Friday in the town of Kobry el-Sharbat when a rumor spread that Mourad Samy Guirgis, a Coptic Christian, had an “intimate picture” of a Muslim woman on his cellphone. Rioters looted and burned shops and homes of local Copts. Mr. Guirgis fled to the police for protection. Military units were dispatched to quell the disturbance, but they were slow to respond. By the time they had arrived the damage was done. Similar attacks on Coptic communities are a weekly occurrence.

This should be a familiar script to Americans, since the same rationales were used to foment race riots and lynchings in our own country in decades past. Whether Mr. Guirgis really had the image in question on his cellphone is immaterial; it speaks to the mindset of Muslim radicals who will seize any excuse to persecute the Christians in their midst. Bigots and violent extremists are part of the rising tide in Egypt.

Egypt’s secularists made a show of force last Wednesday during a demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to commemorate a year since the advent of the 2011 revolution. Backers of the Islamist parties were also out in strength, but by many reports the secularists outnumbered them. The power, however, is no longer in the streets – if it ever was. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party and the Salafi Islamist party Al Nour control 72 percent of the seats in the newly elected lower house of parliament. Secular parties such as the New Wafd and the Egyptian Bloc hold only 18 percent. The issue in Egypt is not whether Islamism will dominate the legislative agenda but to what degree.

The Islamists have been cautious in openly advocating their agenda because the revolution is far from over. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is still the ruling power in Egypt until the June presidential election – assuming it relinquishes power as promised. The military has assumed a role above politics as the ultimate arbiter of the system and voice of the Egyptian people. “Whatever the majority in the People’s Assembly, they are very welcome,” declared SCAF member General Mukhtar al-Mulla, “because they won’t have the ability to impose anything that the people don’t want.” A recent opinion poll by Gallup shows that the SCAF enjoys an 89 percent approval rating, higher than any other party or institution in Egypt.

Egypt’s Christians place little hope in the SCAF coming to their rescue. They believe, as do many politically secularist Muslims, that the military has formed an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood to preserve its privileged status in Egypt as well as maintain access to the billions of dollars of primarily American aid money flowing into the country. The international community has done little regarding the rising persecution of the Copts other than issue vague statements of concern. American policymakers should view the persecution of Egypt’s minority Christians through the same lens as that of the civil rights movement. Then maybe they can stop the Jim Crow laws from coming.

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