A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, February 1, 2010

Overseas Copts Call for Boycott of Mubarak, NDP

Two activist organizations of Copts abroad, the Free Copts and the National American Coptic Assembly, have called on Copts in Egypt to refuse to vote for President Mubarak or other National Democratic Party candidates, charging that the NDP and State Security were guilty of "connivance" in the Nag Hammadi killings on Christmas eve. The Bikya Masr link also discusses the increasing activism of other Egyptian groups abroad.

What is significant here is the fact that I have noted on a number of earlier occasions, namely that Coptic Pope Shenouda III has been a public supporter of Husni Mubarak and has virtually endorsed Gamal Mubarak's succession. Since the late 1970s there have been tensions between the overseas Copts, who clearly have a lot less to lose by expressing their views, and the Church at home. (There is also something of a tradition of rivalry between the Church hierarchy and the influential Coptic laity, but that's a different, if related, story.)

Meanwhile, the campaign to portray the Nag Hammadi killings as the actions of common criminals instead of sectarian violence has included press allegations suggesting that the main killer's gang had previously had dealings with Bishop Kirillos, who was the seeming target of the attack, and public statements by a number of leading government figures dismissing the events as some kind of Upper Egyptian gangland vendetta. The local NDP Deputy, it has been suggested, knows more than he has publicly discussed. Christmas eve, however,makes it a bit difficult to assume sectarianism was completely absent. A lot of this has appeared in the independent opposition press and a lot of it may be disinformation from one or more of the interested parties, but it's clear that the government wants to spread the idea that there's some local feuding going on rather than a national issue.

Meanwhile Al-Masry al-Youm emphasized remarks of the Chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom to Fox News suggesting that Egypt might face sanctions as a result of recent events.

The problem is not that the Copts have many legitimate complaints — they, and Muslim Egyptians as well, have plenty of government abuses to complain of — but that when Copts abroad attack the government, the backlash is sometimes bad news for their co-religionists at home.

And the timing of this is bad, since Mubarak's busy basking in the glory of Egypt's having won the Africa Cup for the third year in a row. Here he is greeting the team:

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