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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone