August 1, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 1955

Egyptian Writer Ahmad Al-Aswani: It's “Open Season” On Egypt's Copts

August 1, 2008
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 1955

Ahmad Al-Aswani, an Egyptian writer, writes extensively on political topics from a critical and reformist perspective. In the following essay, posted June 7, 2008 on the liberal website,[1] he focuses on the escalating series of physical attacks on members of the Coptic minority in Egypt.

The following are excerpts from the article:

"What Is Happening to Our Coptic Brothers... Is No Longer a Matter of Sporadic Incidents"

"I hope that I have not exaggerated in using the word '[open] season' for what is happening in Egypt to our Coptic brothers, but it is the closest description to what is happening. It is no longer a matter of sporadic incidents, but an uninterrupted series of events.

"Today, you read of the incident in Zeitoun, and tomorrow of the one in Alexandria,[2] and after that of the one in Deir Abu-Fana in Minya,[3] and thus of the diverse incidents, ranging from killing without reason to armed robbery, kidnapping of monks, torching of houses and cars, and waylaying and kidnapping of girls.

"As usual, all then repudiate and condemn, accompanied by official and media denial of any sectarian or terrorist motive. And if that isn't appropriate, the standard excuse [is trotted out]: the criminal was mentally disturbed and did not mean to do what he did.

"This is what has happened in individual incidents... such as the Zeitoun incident a few days ago, or the Alexandria incident two years ago.[4] If we observe closely, we find that these criminals then disappear, and are not brought [to trial in] any court, and no one hears about them afterward."

"Mass Incidents... Follow a Friday Sermon Inciting [Worshipers] to Burn the Homes of the Village's Copts"

"[In] mass incidents, such as marches after Friday prayers – which follow a Friday sermon inciting [worshipers] to burn the homes of the villages Copts, on the pretext that these 'infidels' seek to turn one such home into a church that will pollute the pure village – the [allegations that sparked the incident] are later proven untrue. [This proof, however, comes] after houses, shops, and cars have been burned, [and] after police and government officials arrive to make sure that the burning is complete.

"Then the media, as usual, accuses rumormongers of being behind the regrettable events, saying that they must be agents of Israel or America.

"Of course, the usual Coptic notables deny any suspicion of sectarianism, and affirm national unity, and the sheikh and the priest embrace.

"The matter is concluded with no investigation and no trial for anyone – as if nothing had happened. [All then] wait for the opening of the next season, and for the recurrence of the same events, the same responses, and a promise that parliament's new unified law for houses of worship will solve all problems – in the knowledge that this law does not yet exist."

"Prominent Copts Voluntarily Deny Any Suspicion that Sectarianism Is Fueling Recent Events"

"[Thus] continues the cycle of sad events in Egypt, without end – and one saddening thing is that some prominent Copts voluntarily deny any suspicion that sectarianism is fueling recent events [even] before the truth becomes known. I do not know whether they are aware that their words both increase the suffering and will fail to end this series [of incidents].

"[Instead,] why don't they use their media presence to defend their people, the Copts, and to urge the enactment of laws to prohibit what is happening, and to purge the educational system and media of the explosive mines of sedition, discrimination, and incitement?"

"An Attempt to Terrorize the Copts... and Force Them... To Either Emigrate... or Convert"

"What is happening is an attempt to terrorize Egypt's Copts, and to force them either to emigrate from the homeland once and for all, or to convert to Islam to protect themselves and their families [from harm] and to protect their property from the confiscation mentioned by many Islamic publications.

"It causes me regret, and as an Egyptian it makes my heart bleed, to see this farce endlessly repeated, and to see the same prominent individuals say the same words – and [then to see] the matter forgotten a short time later.

"Frankly, I blame the Coptic leadership in Egypt, headed by His Eminence Pope [Shenouda III] himself, because it has reached the point where lives and property are taken with impunity, and clearly with the authorities' collusion – with no fear of effective response, and with the confidence of all that, as always, the matter will end with beard-kissing and forgetting.

"Although I fully believe that the majority of Egypt's Muslims side with their Coptic brothers and against these incidents, [I must point out that] in light of the incitement, and in light of the seditious clerics on the religious [television] channels, things have changed, with the suspect collusion of the government.

"Perhaps the most recent farce is the June 5 report in [the Egyptian government daily] Al-Ahram... accusing Copts residing abroad of being behind the Zeitoun incident, [and of] forming an armed Coptic organization to instigate civil strife in Egypt.

"Can you imagine such far-out nonsense? I implore you: For God's sake, oh Egypt!"



[2] On May 28, 2008, four Coptic Christians – a jeweler and three of his employees – were shot dead by masked men in their shop in the Zeitoun district of Cairo. The next day, two men armed with machine guns robbed a Coptic jeweler in Alexandria of 150,000 Egyptian pounds (see

[3] On May 31, 2008, men armed with automatic weapons attacked the Abu-Fana monastery in the Minya governorate, about 210 km south of Cairo. Four monks were wounded, and another three were kidnapped, beaten, threatened with death for refusing to convert to Islam, and later released. Previously, in January 2008, armed men had attacked the monastery and destroyed eight cells inhabited by solitary monks, beating one, and also destroyed Bibles and religious objects (see and

[4] On April 14, 2006, a man carried out a knife attack on worshippers in three different Coptic churches; one victim died of his wounds (see and

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