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A nun cries as she stands at the scene inside Cairos Coptic cathedral (Image: ABC News)

The Spread of Anti-Christian Hatred in Egypt

Egyptian Islamist organisations are spreading anti-Christian hatred in Egypt and throughout the world, including in the US.

In May, ISIS militants in Egypt opened fire on a bus and killed nearly 30 Coptic Christians. The attack came not long after an attack on two churches on Palm Sunday in Egypt, which left over 40 people dead. At the same time, hundreds of Christian teenage girls in Egypt are being kidnapped by Muslim men and forced to convert to Islam, amid unrelenting violence against Christians in the Muslim-majority country.

While terror group ISIS has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks, there is at the same time an undercurrent of vicious anti-Christian sentiment among some segments of the population, which is often brushed under the carpet by global media.

Egypt, Coptic Christians, Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS
Relatives of Saint Samuel’s Monastery attack victims Cercis Mahrous and Beshavi Ibrahim mourn during a funeral ceremony at Maghagha Church in Cairo, Egypt on May 26, 2017. Credit: Anadolu Agency.

Radical Islamist and anti-Christian ideology is being spread not by kooks on the fringe, but rather by prestigious, mainstream religious groups. Egyptian secularists and Muslim reformers say that spreading radical Islamist ideology has created a cauldron in the Middle East where hate can thrive, which can indirectly inspire terrorist violence.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been singled out as a group that has spread this hateful ideology throughout the nation.

The Islamist political party began in Egypt in 1928. In its memorandum for North America, the group states that one of its goals is to “settle the establishment of the global Islamic state wherever it is.” The memorandum defines the role of American Muslims as “a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within.”

Since the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t use military action, like the Islamic State, it is often viewed by Western leaders as ‘moderate.’ During his presidency, Barak Obama chose not to designate it as a terrorist organisation.

Other organisations are also accused of promoting hatred throughout Egypt.

“Since the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t use military action, like the Islamic State, it is often viewed by Western leaders as ‘moderate.’ During his presidency, Barak Obama chose not to designate it as a terrorist organisation.”

Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Sheikh of the prestigious Al-Azhar institute, denounced the 2015 Paris terror attacks. However, a number of Muslim reformers and scholars have blasted Al-Azhar’s position toward ISIS, according to Maher Gabra, a writer at the Arabic online platform Raseef22.

Despite the religious and educational institute’s public condemnation of some of ISIS’s actions, there’s a debate over whether the organisation systematically espouses the intolerance and violence that ISIS preaches, Gabra argues.

One of Al-Azhar’s most prominent skeptics is Egyptian TV anchor Ibrahim Essa. The journalist argues that the institute’s curriculum is in some ways ideologically indistinguishable from what ISIS promotes.

He pointed out that one Al Azhar textbook states that it is the obligation of every Muslim man to fight infidels – even when not attacked.

Dr. Soaad Salah, former dean of Al Azhar’s faculty of Islamic studies for women, said in a 2014 episode of Memri TV that it was justified for Muslim men to take non-Muslim women as sex slaves.

Lindsay Griffin, a director at Coptic Solidarity, an organisation that publicises the plight of Egypt’s persecuted Coptic Christian minority, told Conatus News, “Muslims do this to forcibly convert Copts to Islam because they know that they can get away with it. Non-Muslim women have no value or rights in their worldview.” According to Griffin, Egyptian police are often complicit in these kidnappings, and refuse to help families to reunite with their daughters.

One famous graduate of Al Azhar University is Yusuf Al Qaradawi, a cleric who regularly appears on Al Jazeera. In 2007, Qaradawi encouraged Muslims to conquer Europe through a “peaceful conquest” of ideology. On one episode of Memri TV, Qaradawi said that a woman or girl who has extramarital sex should “at the most, be flogged.” In early June, Qaradawi issued a fatwa (an Islamic ruling) to blow up churches and kill Christians. According to writer Madeleine Bunting, Qaradawi has around 40 million followers and is widely regarded as the world’s most prominent Sunni cleric.

Conatus News asked Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Muslim Forum for Democracy, about the degree to which Al Azhar promotes the use of Islam in politics. Jasser, who has previously spoken to members of Al Azhar, said, “If you ask them, they won’t express support for a particular party, but they support measures such as blasphemy laws (legal punishment for those accused of ‘insulting Islam’), and by preaching such laws, they promote the ideological underpinnings for Islamism. However, they won’t explicitly express support for Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Egypt, Copts, Anti-Christian, Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS
Copts are an ethno-religious group that primarily inhabit the area of modern Egypt, where they are the largest Christian denomination.

Top Religious Figures Have Demonised Christians

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mobarak, who ruled from 1981 to 2011, was often viewed by Western leaders as more secular. Conatus News spoke with Michael Meunier, founder of Egypt’s secular Al Haya opposition party, which advocates human rights for all Egyptians, about the treatment of Copts under Mobarak. The reality, as Meunier explained, is that Mobarak appointed radical cleric Ahmed Al-Tayeb as Egypt’s Grand Imam, the most powerful religious authority in the country. Al-Tayeb is the leader of Al Azhar. Meunier said that Mobarak appointed him in order to appease Egypt’s extremist circles.

Al-Tayeb regularly refers to Christians as “infidels” or “kuffar” meaning “non-believers” on Egyptian television.

Al-Tayeb’s labelling of Christians as infidels led to numerous attacks during Mobarek’s leadership, such as a 2011 bombing at Saints Church in Alexandria.

Former U.S. Homeland Security Officer Suggest Christians Had It Coming

Conspiracy theories about Copts has led some Egyptians, including Egyptian Americans, to blame Copts for their slaughter. On May 7, former homeland security officer Mohamed Elibiary tweeted the following:

In a September 2016 episode of Memri TV, Egyptian American journalist Ayat Orabi called for Egyptians to boycott Coptic businesses. She claimed that the Coptic church was a mafia-like gang bent on establishing a Coptic mini-state in Egypt.

Jennifer Breedon, a legal analyst at the Clarion Project, an organisation that counters Islamic extremism, has discussed The Muslim Brotherhood’s effect on popular opinion in Egypt. In a video on Clarion’s Youtube channel, Breedon explained how the Muslim Brotherhood took advantage of uneducated Muslims. They offered Muslims in impoverished villages free education and social services. In its education curriculum, however, the Muslim Brotherhood taught Egyptian children hatred and conspiracy theories about Copts. Such theories included the idea that Copts were responsible for the seculariSation of Egypt. Breedon added that many Muslim children “might play alongside Christian children, but they have been brainwashed by Muslim brotherhood education specialists and teachers.”

“They offered Muslims in impoverished villages free education and social services. In its education curriculum, however, the Muslim Brotherhood taught Egyptian children hatred and conspiracy theories about Copts.”

Egypt Not Protecting Christians From Terror, But They’ll Survive

Michael Meunier, founder of Egypt’s Al-Haya party, a secular party supporting equal rights and religious freedom for all Egyptians, told Conatus News that security forces have not taken adequate steps to protect Copts.

One Quds News article states that Egyptian security had been following the Palm Sunday bomber, and knew about his membership in IS and that he had traveled to Syria. The bomber was living in Kuwait at the time, and Egyptian security called Kuwaiti security to warn them that they should expel him from Kuwait. However, when Kuwaiti security sent him back to Egypt, Egyptian security did not imprison him.

In another incident, police diffused a bomb at Mar Giris Church in Tanta on March 29, yet they did not intensify security for churches. On April 10, the church was bombed.

It’s not only security that fails to protect Copts. According to Meunier, President Sisi has not taken the necessary steps to root out the ideology driving such attacks. Meunier said, “He would have to change the public education curriculum to not include hatred toward Christians. He would have to remove all of the Al Azhar hierarchy. Sisi doesn’t remove fanatic such as Al-Tayeb, and whether that’s because he agrees with him or he’s too afraid to remove Al-Tayeb because fanatics might threaten him, I’m not sure.”

Breedon, on the other hand, has hope that Sisi’s efforts to change the dialogue surrounding religion in Egypt may bear some fruit. Conatus News asked Breedon whether she thought that Sisi held any hope for Copts. Breedon replied, “I do believe that. But it is a very tough road, because there has been so much hatred of Copts for years and Sisi doesn’t want to lose the Egyptian majorities so he can remain in office and implement more changes against extremist ideologies that have targeted Copts.” In the Clarion video, Breedon said that Sisi had reached out to the Coptic community by attending some of their masses and events.

Meunier emphasized that many Egyptian Muslims don’t agree with the fanatics. His party consists of many Muslims who are working alongside Christians for a secular government in Egypt that will respect the rights of all people. Meunier said that Christians have survived persecution in Egypt since Islam came to Egypt 1400 years ago, and likely will continue to survive.

About Tara Abhasakun

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Tara is a journalist and campaigner based in San Francisco, US

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