Robert Fisk: Egypt's revolution was not meant to be like this

 

The statistics are easy, the future is not. Up to 20 million Copts in Egypt, 10 per cent of the population, the largest Christian community in the region. But President Anwar Sadat once described himself as "a Muslim president for a Muslim people" and the Christians have not forgotten it.

Sure, the attack on the church in Aswan helped to stoke the fires, and the 24 dead are the largest number of Egyptian fatalities since the two worst days of the revolution which overthrew Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak. But Christian fears – stirred by "Amu Hosni" himself when he thought the throne was slipping from under him – meant the leadership of the Coptic Church did not support the revolution until two days before Mubarak's fall.

The Copts are Egypt's original Christians. They were the majority during Rome's rule in antiquity, when the Prophet Mohamed had not been born. But are the Copts Arabs? Some Christians say they are. Some say they are the "original" Egyptians – a bit much when the Muslims now outnumber them 10 to one. During the revolution, they arrived in Tahrir Square on Sundays to pray – protected by Muslims. When Muslims prayed in the square on Fridays, some Christians came to help protect them. But that was then.

There lies behind all this a far more profound problem. Christians in many Middle East nations have always been told that they are minorities, and must rely on their governments to protect them. The assassinated Lebanese Prime Minister used to tell Christians that "Patriarch Sfeir is my friend" – not as close, perhaps, as Hariri thought. Now the new Lebanese Maronite Patriarch, Bechara Rai, has come in for a lot of flak for suggesting in Paris that the Syrian regime should be "given a chance" to resolve the country's problems, a remark he now claims is a falsification of his words, but which earned him the apparent withdrawal of an invitation to meet President Obama.

Jordan hosts Christian communities; there is even a tiny community of French Christians in Algeria. In 1996, seven French monks were taken from their monastery at Tibhirine and killed – possibly in a screwed-up military ambush of their Muslim kidnappers – and the Archbishop of Algiers told me he had to identify their severed heads hanging from a tree. "You cannot help remembering that Jesus was murdered by human violence," he said – "and in the name of religion."

There's nothing new about "religious" violence in Egypt. But of course, Egypt's revolution was supposed to be cleaner than this, a shining path to a new future which all Arabs will want to emulate. Well, perhaps. The journalist Abdel Bar Atwan has often said that "these things" – revolutions – "are not perfect". He'll be saying it again today, no doubt. It is a sorrowful business, reflecting the anger of Christians as well as Muslims, and the long path that revolutions must travel to bring freedom to the people of Egypt.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Life & Style
life
VIDEO
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit