The intolerant new Egypt
Published 20.12.2012 in Norway’s 3rd largest newspaper, the Bergens Tidende
More and more realize that the results of the Arab Spring were not quite as positive as many had hoped they would be early in 2011. The substantial protest at Tahrir Square in Cairo over the last few days show how thousands now demonstrate against the Muslim Brotherhood. President Mohammed Morsi has assumed an almost autocratic authority to perform Islamic reforms in Egypt. According to the 22nd of November edition of The Telegraph Nobel prize winner Mohamed elBaradei warns that Egypt is allowing a new Islamic “Caesar or Pharaoh” to take power.
The increasing amount of persecution against minorities is quite alarming. This concerns Norway because with our close contacts to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, we have distinguished ourselves internationally as the most Hamas-friendly country in the West. We were the first Western country to invite Hamas in from the cold. We declined to follow the USA’s, EU’s and UN’s condemnation of the organization. We continually have delegates visiting us in Oslo to engage in dialog and receive “democratic training” – delegates from an organization that has already stated that they will never abide by the rules of secular democracy. We remain silent about the civil rights violations that characterize the Islamic groups that have assumed power in country after country in the Middle East.
Already last year the UN-based news bureau IRIN published a report showing that in the course of a single year military courts had sentenced more civilians than during Mubarak’s entire thirty year reign. Over the last years several hundred thousand Christians have been forced to flee the region. The tourist industry is at a standstill, the work market is deadlocked, basic services are lacking and people have less bread today than when they first took to the streets to demonstrate against Mubarak’s December 2010 withdrawal of bread subsidies. Inexpensive bread may then have disappeared from the shelves, but at least there was bread.
The reports are also coming in about how Morsi would rather promote Islamic ideology and provide Hamas with several hundred million in support than solve the health and security problems of his constituency. This is related by, among others, M. Armanious, in the 6th of December issue of the Gatestone Institute. Those that are not Muslim are treated increasingly as second-rate citizens with limited rights. Middle East expert and author, Raymond Ibrahim, who has monitored persecution of minorities in the Middle East for many years, states that systematic attacks on the Coptics in Egypt have now reached such intensity that we can call it “jihad against the Christians”.
Much can be said about the secular-moderate Mubarak. He was criticized for being both autocratic and corrupt. Even so, it is worth noting that during Mubarak’s reign Egypt was internationally recognized as having Africa’s fastest growing economy. According to figures from the UN the country was rated as a middle income country and the national income per inhabitant increased by 40% from 2004 to 2011. Egypt was a secular state and Middle East’s most expansive and stable country. One of Mubarak’s main strategies was to mitigate the oppositions between religious groups, including opposition of the growing Islamism in Egypt. Just a short while ago the Wall Street Journal published an article that showed the broad support that Mubarak had among the Coptic minority that constitutes about 10% of the total population of Egypt. They feared that their protection would disappear upon his departure.
After Mubarak’s resignation religious conflicts have increased dramatically and violence against minorities has escalated, as exemplified by the attack on a church in Alexandria the 1st of January 2011, where 21 were killed and hundreds injured. The case has since then been more or less dismissed, which is more and more common in Egypt. Often the provocation is merely the gathering of Christians to celebrate a Christian holiday. Christian symbols like the cross are evident or a new church is opened. From all of Egypt come reports about Christians being attacked during church services or on their way home from church. The anxiety and despair of the Coptic Christians, that have practiced their faith in Egypt for over two thousand years, can only be imagined. In the course of the revolution’s first year over a hundred thousand Coptics fled Egypt, according to the December 24, 2011 issue of Al Arabiya.
One of the most challenging issues with Islamists, whose power has been increasing for some years, is their sharp differentiation between Sunni-Muslims on the one side and Christians, Jews and other undesirable groups on the other. The latter are considered “dhimmi”, or groups of infidels without equal civil rights. Other undesirable fractions are Alawites, Druses, Ahmadiyyas, Baha’is and, of course, the homosexual minority. In Irak alone nearly a thousand homosexuals have been killed since 2004, according to the September 13, 2009 issue of The Observer. Under Saddam Hussein homosexuality was not criminalized, but it is now under Islamic influence. Increasing intolerance of those who are “outside the true teachings”, dominates the new Middle East. Satellite television channels like “al-Manar” and “Iqra” have promoted these attitudes for some time and the internet overflows with Islamic literature written to incite a frightening intolerance.
A recent report from George Washington University shows how thousands of young Coptic Christian girls have been kidnapped and raped in an almost ritual fashion, because they are “enemies of Islam”. Professor Michelle Clark relates how rape, kidnapping, forced conversion to Islam and forced marriage are used as methods to oppress and persecute Coptics. Many parents never get their daughters back, or find them married to Muslims. Already in January 2010 The Washington Times provided evidence that these actions had reached epidemic proportions.
The rights of Christian minorities have been restricted for many years. Without the direct permission of the president, something that can take years to get, new churches cannot be built. A Muslim is not permitted to convert, and those that do convert to Christianity lose their rights, among others their parental rights and rights of inheritance. Christians do not have the right to study at leading universities like Al-Azhar, few Coptics are accepted into the ranks of the military or the police, they are clearly under-represented in the government and they have never functioned as ambassadors, according to The Mideast Forum. Reports from country after country acknowledge a strong reduction in tolerance for differences and religious freedom when Islamists prevail. It is high time to stop romanticizing the forces behind Islamists that, in the wake of the Arab Spring, have assumed power in country after country in the Middle East.