Robert Fisk: Violence shows uneasy place of minorities after Arab Spring

Egypt is no stranger to religious tensions – but where do Christians fit into its revolution?

Share
Related Topics

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 26 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 will be the usual Cairo conspiracy theories about the terrible deeds of Sunday night. But 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 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 Bari 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.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory