Tag Archives: Muslim Brotherhood

The Spectator on the Possible Extinction of Mideast Christianity

From The Spectator, a post about a recent panel at the National Liberal Club in London on the under-reporting of violence against Christians in the Middle East:

Some of this has been reported, but the focus has been on the violence committed against the Brotherhood. Judging by the accounts given by one of the other speakers, Nina Shea of the Center for Religious Freedom, the American press is even more blind, and their government not much better; when Mubarak was overthrown one US agency assessed the Muslim Brotherhood as being ‘essentially secular’. . . .

Without a state (and army) of their own, minorities are merely leaseholders. The question is whether we can do anything to prevent extinction, and whether British foreign policy can be directed towards helping Christian interests rather than, as currently seems to be the case, the Saudis.

Read the whole thing.

Conversations: Samuel Tadros

Last week, I reviewed a new book by the Hudson Institute’s Samuel Tadros, Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity. The book, a compelling read, explores the profound challenges that face the Coptic Church today. This week, Tadros (left) kindly answers some questions. He discusses the history of the Coptic Church, its important contributions to Christian thought and life, and its conduct during the Arab Conquest and under Muslim rule. He describes how the liberalism of the twentieth century actually injured the church and why Anwar Sadat, whom the West lionized, was a problem for Egypt’s Christians. Moving to the present day, he explains why the Arab Spring has been such a disaster for Copts, and talks about the church’s prospects in Egypt and abroad.

CLR Forum: Sam, let’s begin with some background. Although the Coptic Church has millions of faithful in Egypt—10% of the population, according to most estimates–and an increasing worldwide presence, most people in the West know very little about it. Who are the Copts? What are the salient features of Coptic Christianity?

Tadros: The lack of knowledge about the Coptic Church is regrettable yet quite understandable. The Coptic Church has been isolated from the rest of Christendom since 451 A.D. The word “Copt” is derived from the Greek word for “Egypt,” itself derived from the Pharaohnic word for it, so in a sense the word “Copt” means Egypt. The word, however, is specifically used to refer to Egyptians who refused to embrace Islam throughout the centuries and remained Christian, maintaining their ancient faith and rituals. Theologically, the Coptic Church belongs to a group of churches called Oriental Orthodox, which includes the Armenian, Ethiopian, Indian Orthodox and Syrian churches. Those churches rejected the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon regarding the nature of Christ.

CLR Forum: You discuss the important role the Coptic Church played in Christian history, especially in the early centuries. What do you think qualifies as the church’s most important contribution, historically? Would it be its defense of Trinitarian theology? Monasticism? 

Tadros: The three most important contributions of the Coptic Church can be summed up in the names of three men: Origen, Athanasius and Anthony. Origen, more than anyone else, attempted to reconcile Greek philosophy with Christian theology. The Catechetical School of Alexandria was instrumental in giving Christianity a ground to stand on intellectually against pagan attacks. Athanasius, as he himself declared, stood against the world. The contributions of other Church fathers, such as the Cappadocian Fathers, are important in the defense of Nicene Creed, but Athanasius carried the greatest burden. Cyril the Great follows in the same path with his anathema against Nestorius.  Finally, Anthony the Great, as the founder of monasticism, made an invaluable contribution to Christianity. Many of the early Western fathers such as Jerome traveled to Egypt to drink from the wisdom fountain of the desert fathers.

CLR Forum: Describe the Coptic Church in the world today—its relations with other Christians, for example. 

Tadros: 1954 is the year when the Coptic Church came out from its historical isolation by attending the World Council of Churches in Illinois. The late Bishop Samuel championed ecumenical relations and his efforts eventually led to the Coptic Church opening up to the rest of Christendom. The Joint Theological Declarations with Rome in 1973, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches in 1989-1990, have opened the doors to the dream of a true unity in Christ.

CLR Forum: You discuss the debate among historians about whether Copts initially welcomed the Arab Conquest of Egypt in the seventh century. The Copts would have had reasons, of course, as they were being persecuted by Byzantine Christians and might have seen the Arabs as deliverers. Could you describe this debate? Do you have a view?

Tadros: More than just among historians. The question is being contested in the public sphere, as a tool in shaping a current identity and narrative. For Egyptian nationalists, this claim would form the foundation of the national unity discourse–the eternal harmony of the two elements of the Egyptian nation, Muslims and Copts. Islamists would portray the story as Continue reading

The Persecution of Egypt’s Christians

The Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea has an excellent post on the campaign of violence currently underway in Egypt against the country’s Christians, especially Copts. Frustrated at the overthrow of the Morsi government and enraged by the military’s campaign to eliminate them, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists are taking out their anger on Christian targets. Here’s Shea:

“The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has been inciting the anti-Christian pogroms on its web and Facebook pages. One such page, posted on August 14, lists a bill of particulars against the Christian Coptic minority, blaming it, and only it, for the military’s crackdown against the Brotherhood, alleging that the Church has declared a “war against Islam and Muslims.” It concludes with the threat, “For every action there is a reaction.” This builds on statements in the article “The Military Republic of [Coptic Pope] Tawadros,” carried on the MB website in July, about the Coptic Church wanting to “humiliate” Muslims and eradicate Islam….

As of Sunday night, some 58 churches, as well as several convents, monasteries, and schools, dozens of Christian homes and businesses, even the YMCA, have been documented as looted and burned or subject to other destruction by Islamist rioters. The Coptic Pope remains in hiding and many Sunday services did not take place as Christian worshipers stayed home, fearing for their lives. A dozen or so Christians have been attacked and killed for being Christian so far.”

Not all Muslims condone the persecution, of course. There are reports of Muslim crowds surrounding churches to protect them from attack. But the Brotherhood has clearly decided to take the fight to Christians in a serious way. Knowledgeable observers say it is the worst persecution Copts have suffered in 700 years.

Outside observers may wonder why the Islamists are doing this. From a practical point of view, isn’t burning churches a waste of time and energy? Why spend resources attacking Christians when the military is hunting you down?

There are three answers. First, Islamists attack Christians because they can. Christian churches, monasteries, and schools are soft targets, especially when the security forces are occupied elsewhere. If you take on soldiers who have live ammunition, you might get hurt. If you attack nuns and march them through the street like POWs, by contrast, you’re likely to emerge unscathed.

Second, the Coptic Church has taken an uncharacteristically strong stand in support of the military. Coptic Pope Tawadros appeared in the video announcing the overthrow of the Morsi regime in July–as did the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, it should be noted–and last week, he endorsed the military’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. The Coptic Church, he said, is on “the side of Egyptian law, the armed forces and all the Egyptian civil institutions when it comes to confronting violent armed organizations and terrorizing forces, either within the country or from abroad.” He criticized Western media for sentimentalizing Islamists–those “blood-thirsty radical organizations”–and called for more objective coverage of events in Egypt. Islamists are furious at these statements and seek to punish Copts and other Christians, to intimidate and silence them.

That Pope Tawadros would come out so strongly on one side of a political conflict suggests the stakes for Christians. Traditionally, Copts and other Christians in Egypt, who make up 10% of the population, keep a low profile. As a vulnerable minority, they try to avoid antagonizing anyone. Attacks on Christian sites increased dramatically under the Muslim Brotherhood, however, and Tawados must figure he has no choice but to side with the military. The generals, at least, offer Copts a chance at safety; with the Muslim Brotherhood, there can be none.

Third, one must recognize the perception Islamists have of Christians. Although not all Islamists advocate a return to dhimma restrictions, most have a nostalgia for classical Islamic law, which tolerates Christians as long as they accept a subservient status in society. Equality is out of the question. For Christians to assert equality with Muslims, or cooperate with Muslims’ enemies, is, in classical thought, a grave affront to the community which must be punished–a declaration of war, in the words of the Muslim Brotherhood statement to which Shea refers. In the Islamist mind, Copts and other Egyptian Christians have declared war on Islam. They have asserted their rights and criticized Muslims before the outside world. As a result, they have betrayed the pact that guarantees them protection, and they must pay the price. It is a high price, indeed.

Egypt’s Copts and Persecution

At an academic conference a while ago, I made an offhand reference to the contemporary persecution of Christians. My remark was greeted with some incredulity, even derision. There are, one scholar responded sarcastically, something like two billion Christians in the world today. “Next you’ll be telling us a billion Chinese are also in need of protection.”

The failure of many opinion leaders in the West to acknowledge what’s happening to Christians around the world results from many factors, including, as I’ve written, a kind of psychological disconnect. Western liberals are not accustomed to seeing Christians as sympathetic victims, but as adversaries to be resisted. The idea that Christians might be suffering from persecution ruins the narrative.

An article from last week’s Washington Post might change some minds. In response to increasing attacks on them since the revolution that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, Egypt’s Copts are showing a new assertiveness. Traditionally, Coptic leaders keep a low profile, avoiding confrontation with authorities. Now, however, Copts are adopting a more confrontational approach, vocally protesting the wrongs being done them:

Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, has vowed to promote equality between Egypt’s Muslim majority and Christian minority. But Christians have been worried by the growing influence in society and government of Muslim conservatives and hard-liners, many of whom espouse rhetoric consigning Christians to second-class status.

A mob attack this month on the Cairo cathedral that serves as the seat of the Coptic pope raised alarm bells among Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s 90 million people. There has been a surge in attacks on Christians and churches in the two years since the ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. But for Christians, the cathedral violence laid bare their vulnerability. Morsi quickly condemned the violence, saying attacking the cathedral was like attacking him personally. But the Coptic Pope Tawadros II accused him of failing to protect the cathedral in an unprecedented direct criticism.

Copts have no illusions about the possible consequences of their new assertiveness: more persecution. But it seems a price they’re willing to pay. A senior Coptic monk told the AP, ““Our church grows stronger with martyrdom. My faith and confidence tell me that so long as our church is in the hands of God, no one can hurt it.”

Panel: “The Muslim Brotherhood and the West” (March 20)

The Foreign Policy Research Institute will host a briefing, “The Muslim Brotherhood and the West,” on March 20 in Washington:

Few observers foresaw the Arab Spring, but it should not have surprised anyone that the Islamist movements–the most organized movements in the Arab world–became the main beneficiaries of the turmoil that ensued. Islamism, in its gradualist and pragmatic approach embodied by the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots worldwide, seems ready to reap the rewards of its three decades-old decision to abandon violence and focus on grassroots activities. This monumental change has created many concerns among liberals, religious minorities and, more generally, all non-Islamists in the countries where Islamists have won. In addition, Arab states ruled by non-Islamist regimes have expressed concern. The former worry that Islamist ideology–even in its more contemporary, pragmatic form–remains deeply divisive and anti-democratic, often at odds with their values and interests. The latter believe that on foreign policy issues, most of the positions of various Brotherhood-inspired parties are on a collision course with the policies of established regimes in the region.

The event will be webcast live. Details are here.

Coming Economic Crisis in Egypt?

Here at CLR Forum, we’ve been thinking about the role of Islamic law in Egypt’s new constitution, which voters approved last month. The new constitution represents a significant victory for Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. But, as Walter Russell Mead points out on his blog today, the Brotherhood still faces major problems. Egypt is on the brink of an economic crisis that the Morsi government seems unable to handle.

Since the Arab Spring, foreign investors and tourists have fled Egypt and the country’s currency has plummeted. Regional allies like Turkey and Qatar have lent Egypt billions of dollars, but the IMF, which has the real money, is refusing to advance roughly $5 billion until the Morsi government implements an austerity package. This would mean political disaster for Morsi, since many Egyptians depend on government food subsidies to survive. So things are in a holding pattern. Meanwhile, the bad economy is creating a security crisis. Egyptians complain about a lack of basic safety.

It’s hard to know what will come next. Perhaps frustrated Egyptians will decide that the problem is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not Islamist enough and turn to the even more radical Salafis. I can’t imagine the Salafis would have a better relationship with the IMF, though. Or perhaps a military strongman who mouths the correct pieties will take charge. Anyway, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which Egyptians turn to the secular liberals whom the West hoped would run Egypt after the fall of Mubarak.

Egypt’s Draft Constitution

Obviously, Egypt’s version of the Constitutional Convention is not going as smoothly as everyone might have hoped. The plan was for a Constituent Assembly comprised of Islamists, Christians, and secular deputies to draft and vote on a consensus constitution sometime next January. Things haven’t worked out that way. Greatly outnumbered from the start, the Christians and secular deputies have all resigned in frustration. And, rather than wait till next year, the Assembly has just finished rushing though all 230 provisions of the constitution in a marathon, 16-hour session. The Assembly will present the document to President Morsi tomorrow, and he will then submit it to a national referendum. Why the rush? The Assembly and Morsi want to accomplish all this before the Supreme Constitutional Court has a chance to rule, perhaps as early as Sunday, on the legality of the constitution-drafting process. Meanwhile, pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators are facing off on the streets of Egyptian cities. It all looks very unstable.

Given our own experience, observers in the US may see the struggle between Morsi and the SCC in terms of the rule of law: Morsi is just another strongman trying to stare down an independent judiciary. That’s true as far as it goes, but there’s an added issue people may miss. Article 2 of the draft constitution declares that Sharia is the principal source of legislation in Egypt. This is nothing new; the Mubarak-era constitution contained the same provision. Traditionally, the SCC has had authority to determine whether Egyptian laws comply with Sharia principles and, traditionally, it has adopted a flexible, non-fundamentalist approach to the question. In staring down the SCC now, Morsi and his allies in the Assembly may be laying down a marker for future conflicts with the SCC over Islamic law. The message seems to be this: power dynamics in Egypt have changed fundamentally, and the SCC had better get in line.

Lecture: “Beyond Political Islam”

The Foreign Policy Association is sponsoring a lecture by Tarek Masoud (Harvard), “Beyond Political Islam: The Muslim Brotherhood and the Future of the Middle East,” at NYU School of Law on November 1. Details are here.

Faour on Religious Education and Pluralism in Egypt and Tunisia

Muhammad Faour (Carnegie Middle East Center) has published Religious Education and Pluralism in Egypt and Tunisia, a contribution to the Carnegie Institute’s Working Paper Series. The abstract follows.

Religion occupies a prominent position in the education systems of all Arab countries. With the rise of Islamists across the Arab world, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, there is a possibility that the new parties in power will update education curricula to reflect conservative Islamic beliefs. Education is very important for any ideological party that assumes political power. And in the long run, the Islamists of Egypt and Tunisia will target education reform to ensure that more Islamic content is included in all students’ schooling. But in the short term, the emerging power of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Egypt and Ennahda in Tunisia is unlikely to lead to a dramatic change in the curricula Continue reading

The NYT on Divisions Among Egyptian Islamists

An interesting piece on the Egyptian elections in the Times. Now that an electoral commission has disqualified the Muslim Brotherhood’s preferred presidential candidate , Khairat al-Shater, as well as the leading Salafi candidate, the two principle Islamist contenders are the MB’s Mohamed Morsi and a rival, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. Morsi, the more conservative of the two, embraces a kind of back-to-basics program that, among other things, calls for limiting the presidency to Muslims and establishing a council of Muslim scholars to advise Parliament on Islamic law — the MB’s “old ‘Islam is the solution’ platform,” he declares. (The Times explains for its readers that the MB is known for “its moderate Islamist politics;” I guess Mori did not get the memo). Aboul Fotouh, whom the MB expelled two years ago for advocating political pluralism, offers a competing, more liberal Islamist vision. For example, he rejects  restrictions on political office for non-Muslims and the idea of the scholars’ council.

In opinion surveys, majorities of Egyptians consistently say that Sharia should be the only source of law in their country. Which version of Sharia prevails  will depend largely on the result of this conflict within the Islamist movement. Mori’s strategy is to appeal to more conservative elements, including the very conservative Salafis, while Aboul Fotouh seems to be staking his political future on more progressive Muslims, as well as the relatively small number of Egyptian secular liberals and Christians. MB and Salafi candidates received a combined two-thirds of the vote in a recent election for a new national assembly in Egypt, and one has to assume that Mori’s electoral strategy is the correct one. Time will tell.