Raymond Ibrahim’s opinion piece for Hudson New York is in marked contrast to Robert Fisk’s portrayal of the Palestinians as the most oppressed Christians in the Middle East.
Yesterday, Robert Fisk’s front-page story in The Independent, ‘Exodus: The changing map of the Middle East‘, discussed the rapidly dwindling number of Christians in the region. Fisk highlighted Palestinian Christians as perhaps the most oppressed because of Israel’s separation barrier: ‘nowhere is the Christian fate sadder than in the territories around Jerusalem’.
Despite dedicating several paragraphs to the impact that the conflict had had on Palestinian Christians, Fisk provided far less information on the plight of the Egyptian Coptic community. While admitting they were a minority, Fisk put this down to the general problem that Christians were being ‘outbred by the majority Muslim populations’ and that ‘they are almost hopelessly divided’. What detail he did provide was notably opaque on the issue of the Muslim majority intimidating the Christian minority, while implying the state was protecting the Copts:
‘In Egypt, there has been a gloomy increase in Christian-Muslim violence, especially in ancient villages in the far south of the country; in Cairo, Christian churches are now cordoned off by day-and-night police checkpoints.’
A recent opinion piece by Raymond Ibrahim, associate director of the Middle East Forum, for Hudson New York, gives a much more in-depth account of the problems facing the Coptic community. In ‘Egypt Cuts a Deal: Christians Fed to Muslim ‘Lions’‘, published 18 October, Ibrahim argues that not only do the Copts ‘find themselves again in a period of severe persecution’, but that ‘recent events indicate that the Mubarak regime is intentionally inciting Egypt’s Muslims against the Copts.’ One incident in particular reveals the precarious relationship between Christians and the state:
‘To further exasperate matters, on September 26, Al Azhar, a formal state body of Egypt, denounced a remark on Koran 5:17, which accuses Christians of being “infidels,” made by a Coptic clergyman at an internal meeting on dogma, as “blasphemous.” It further took this opportunity to state formally that citizenship rights in Egypt “are conditional to respect for the Islamic identity” of Egypt, thereby reversing any modern progress made regarding Egyptian equality and reinforcing the Copts’ historical role as dhimmis (i.e., conditionally tolerated religious minorities).’
The minimalist treatment Fisk gave to the situation of Christians in Egypt is striking, given the catalogue of tensions Ibrahim discusses, especially in light of the focus he gave to Palestinian Christians.