Despite 600 Deaths, Egypt's Christians Support Military's Eviction of Pro-Morsi Protesters
Editor's note: CT's Gleanings blog offers continued updates on the aftermath, including SAT 7 CEO and founder Terence Ascott's analysis of why evangelical leaders in Egypt disagree with how the evictions have been covered in Western media.
Despite the deaths of more than 500 Muslim Brotherhood supporters and the resulting retaliation against Christian targets nationwide, Egypt's Christian community stands with yesterday's decision by the military-backed transitional government to break-up the pro-Morsi sit-ins.
"If a peaceful sit-in took place in Times Square and locked down the city, how long would it take American authorities to disperse it?" said Ramez Atallah, head of the Egyptian Bible Society. "The government spent six weeks trying to solve this crisis, and finally used force. What were the alternatives?"
Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of Coptic newspaper Watani, explained why one alternative—to simply allow the protests to continue indefinitely—was not a better choice.
"If it had been a peaceful protest, we should leave it there. Have the army encircle it to prevent more weapons from entering, and wait for their morale to falter," he said. "But the sit-in surrounded 20 to 30 high-rise apartment buildings, and the people had to submit to daily checks by the Muslim Brotherhood simply to go in and out of their neighborhood.
"They were terrorists, holding hostage thousands of residents."
Egyptian analysts disagree why the six weeks of negotiation with Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi failed. But once the decision to disperse the sit-in was taken, the confrontation was anything but peaceful.
The understanding of Christian leaders, however, reverses the predominant media narrative.
"The army did not attack the people," said Emad Gad, a prominent Coptic politician in the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. "They used tear gas and bulldozers, and were attacked by armed Brotherhood supporters, and then responded in kind."
Government officials announced 43 police personnel were killed in the clashes.
Sidhom anticipated violence, but hoped the dispersal would not be bloody. He praised the police for their self-restraint given the response of armed protesters. But many critics find the security forces used excessive force.
But even so, Muslim political commentator Abdullah Schleifer faults the Islamist misuse of the traditions initiated by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
"Non-violence … meant this," he wrote for al-Arabia. "Sitting or standing and offering no resistance to the British imperial forces and the American southern police when they would move in to arrest and often beat up the peaceful non-violent demonstrators.
"Non-violence does not mean building barricades to hold off the Egyptian riot police and breaking up pavement stones to throw at them."
Egyptian officials were quick to highlight video and testify to the armed nature of many Islamist protesters within the sit-ins. Amnesty International condemned protesters for torturing opponents within their grounds, though the Brotherhood rejects this statement.
Yet beyond the actions surrounding the dispersal of the sit-ins, Egyptian Christians find proof of violent Muslim Brotherhood intentions in the numerous attacks on churches and other Christian targets that occurred in the aftermath. CT earlier highlighted the burning of two Bible Society bookstores in Upper Egypt. Atallah believes such violence was pre-planned.
"Our building in Assuit, along with others, was marked with the word 'Islamic' two to three days earlier," he said. "Only these buildings were attacked.
"In Minya, they raided our store, collected our Bibles, and burned them in the street, and then looted our safe. This is not a spontaneous action."
As the violence was underway, the Islamic Group, a former advocate of armed insurrection which renounced violence and has since peacefully joined the political process, specifically called on supporters not to take their anger out on Copts. Many Christians believe this to be a false face to the media, even if attacks cannot be traced specifically to Islamist leaders.
"How can we know who authorized the violence against churches?" asked Sidhom. "Whether it was under the umbrella of the Brotherhood or other groups, we know their leaders issued threats the Copts would be punished for their role in deposing Morsi."
Asem Abdel Maged, an Islamic Group leader, publicly described the Copts as part of the "Crusader conspiracy" against Islam, and a Muslim Brotherhood website published news of "Christian thugs" who attacked pro-Morsi demonstrations.
Atallah related testimony from Christians in lower-class neighborhoods who heard local Islamist clerics incite their followers against Copts. "They told people the Christians were attacking the sit-in," he said. "Some violence simply came from angry Muslims."
Despite the widespread violence, Egypt is not engulfed in flames. Though many parts of the nation have witnessed severe unrest, others are quiet.
"This is not a Muslim-Christian issue," said Mina al-Badry, a Protestant pastor living in Minya—though distant from the burned Bible Society bookstore. "We are living peacefully, and only hear about these attacks on the news.
"The issue is with the Muslim Brotherhood which is disrupting the peace and finding themselves against all Egyptians."
Gad is still hopeful for Egypt's democratic transition, though believing the Muslim Brotherhood has missed their opportunity to participate. He expects Egypt to be a "genuine democracy" within one year, though one severe correction is necessary.
"There is no guarantee that elections bring democracy, especially in countries with an autocratic heritage like Egypt," he said. "The Brotherhood and their allies tried to turn Egypt into a religious state. But we must go back to the earlier laws which prohibited political parties on a religious basis.
"If Islamists wish to enter politics, they can do so without getting religion involved."
Most Christians would echo this sentiment. But some are becoming increasingly aware they may bear the brunt of the suffering.
"Egyptian Christians realize they are paying the price to dismantle the Muslim Brotherhood apparatus and live in peace," said Atallah. "If we are willing, this is the ideal attitude of Christians. We must get rid of radical Islam which has poisoned the relations between Muslims and Christians."