First Published: 2012-09-23

 

Anti-Islam movie taps into fears of Egypt Christians

 

Egyptian Christians, who have long complained of discrimination, fear that anti-Islam film will lead to further persecution at home.

 

Middle East Online

By Haitham El Tabei - CAIRO

Sectarian ghosts haunt Egypt’s unity

Egyptian Christians, who have long complained of discrimination, say they fear that an anti-Islam film produced by Copts in the United States will lead to further persecution at home.

Egypt's churches were among the first to condemn the low-budget Internet film that portrays the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) as immoral and which sparked violent and often deadly protests throughout the world.

On September 11, demonstrators breached the wall of the US embassy in Cairo in protests that served as a catalyst for clashes between youths and police in the centre of the city.

The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the highest authority of the Coptic patriarchate, issued a statement slamming the film's release as a "malicious plan aimed at defaming religions and causing divisions among the Egyptian people."

But the condemnations did little to stop hardline Islamists blaming Egypt's Christian community. One preacher, Sheikh Abu Islam, called for burning the Bible during demonstrations outside the US embassy.

"Egyptian Christians' fears have increased because of violent reactions by some extremist Islamists," said Mona Makram Ebeid, a Christian former MP and member of the National Council for Human Rights.

"We were afraid that the reaction would be mainly against the Christians," she said.

"Innocence of Muslims" was apparently produced by a Coptic Christian film-maker and has triggered violent protests around the world.

"Those behind the film are a small group of Copts in the diaspora. The issue should not be linked to Egypt's Copts at all," she said.

Last week, the public prosecutor ordered the trial of seven Egyptian Copts living in North America over their alleged role in the film.

They are accused of "insulting the Islamic religion, insulting the Prophet (Mohammed) and inciting sectarian strife."

"I'm upset about the film and of course Muslims have a right to protest against it," said Christine Ashraf, a Coptic employee at a marketing firm in Cairo.

But "linking it to us and to the Bible also upset me and could inflame sectarianism, particularly among the uneducated," she said.

Regular church-goer Ashraf believes the film aimed "to create sectarianism in Egypt."

Ramy Kamel, a Coptic activist and member of the Maspero Youth Union, a group defending Coptic rights that was created after the 2011 uprising, said he was concerned by the violence of some protests against the film and feared this anger would turn towards Christians.

"The film was a pretext for attacking Christians, just like Sheikh Abu Islam did," Kamel said. "Coptic fears will rise as long as the state keeps silent about violations against us."

The aftermath of the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak and saw Islamists take power was marked by repeated sectarian clashes.

A recent fight between a Muslim and a Christian in the town of Dahshur south of Cairo, for example, resulted in the eviction of several Christian families from their homes. They were allowed back 10 days later when police intervened.

But tensions have risen again with the controversy surrounding the film.

"Some people in the town tried to protest against the film but the security forces stopped them," Father Takla Abdel Sayyed of the Dahshur church said.

"The Copts of the diaspora think they are doing this for us, but the truth is that we are paying the price without having anything to do with it," he said.

Egypt's Christians make up between six and 10 percent of the country's 82 million people, and have long complained of discrimination and marginalisation.

Press reports say many Copts have emigrated or are looking to leave the country since Islamists came to power in the parliamentary and presidential elections.

President Mohamed Morsi ran for office on the Muslim Brotherhood ticket, the country's largest and most organised political group.

A six-year sentence given to a Copt for mocking the Prophet Mohammed and insulting the president on a social networking site has further fuelled Christian fears.

On Thursday, the Maspero Youth Union accused the Egyptian judiciary of double standards when it comes to defaming religion.

"The law is only applied when it comes to Copts... increasing their feeling of alienation in their own country," the group said.

This view was echoed by Sameh Saad, a member of the Coptic Coalition for Egypt.

"There are only cases involving defamation of Islam. All those who defame Islam are held accountable and punished, but those who defame Christianity aren't," he said, saying this increased fears among the Coptic community.

But there are some who believe things will improve, such as Coptic former MP Gamal Assad.

"I think the Muslim Brotherhood will be more responsible when it comes to resolving problems for the Copts," Assad said.

 

Iraq forces battle IS jihadists to retake Fallujah

Palestinian PM dismisses Netanyahu proposal

EgyptAir victims' relatives give samples for DNA tests

Kurdish, Arab forces announce anti-IS offensive north of Syria's Raqa

Abu Dhabi oil giant cuts thousands of jobs

Syrian base used by Russia damaged in IS attack

Israel PM's travel expenses under scrutiny

Iran sends new delegation to Saudi for hajj talks

Hardline cleric elected head of Iran's Assembly of Experts

Civilians trapped as Fallujah siege tightens

Iraq's Fallujah offensive draws attention from embattled PM

Turkey incoming PM unveils cabinet

US, Russia scramble to save Syria truce

Libyan coastguards intercept 550 bound for Europe

Campus bomb kills two in Yemen's Sanaa

Saudi soldier killed in landmine blast on Yemen border

Over 148 killed in IS bombings in Syria regime heartland

Erdogan advisor says Turkey could suspend EU deals

Iraq launches military operation to retake Fallujah

Oil prices dip as Iran says no to output freeze

Skepticism ahead of Istanbul humanitarian summit

Sudan steps up pressure for exit of Darfur peacekeepers

UN Palestinian agency says half its schools hit by conflict

Bombs kill more than 120 in Syria regime strongholds

Netanyahu rejects French peace initiative

Gunmen kill 8 worshipers in Darfur

India in deal to turn Iran port into trade hub

Turkey's incoming PM working on new cabinet

Israel lifts ban on Gaza cement deliveries

Yemen warring parties meet after long pause

Egypt enlists submersible to search for EgyptAir crash clues

Tunisia's Ennahda reelects Ghannouchi as party chief

At least 20 dead in Yemen suicide bombing

Syria rebels give truce brokers 48 hours to end regime offensive

Deadly bombings rock northeast Syria as US commander visits

Ex- government minister dies in Libya ISIS clashes

Green Zone breach may set stage for more violence in Iraq

‘Last chance’ to save Yemen peace talks

Egypt deploys submarine in search for clues in plane crash

Erdogan loyalist set to be Turkey PM

Attempt to disperse protesters turns deadly in Iraq

EgyptAir crash fuels theories

Tunisia Islamist party moves to shed ‘political Islam’ label

US swiftly rejects Russia proposal for Syria joint airstrikes

Coalition leaflets advise residents to flee Raqa