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.

 

Kerry seeks to allay Gulf states’ fears on Iran

Assad likens himself to Superman

Libya urges UN to lift arms embargo

Turkey will not take part in Iraq offensive to retake Mosul

Dubai launches first 3D pavement art festival

Libya declares more than 10 oil fields ‘non-operational’ after IS attacks

Syria exiled opposition chief seeks to unite dissidents

US warns against sectarianism in Tikrit offensive

Thousands of Filipinos remain in Libya despite perilous situation

South Sudan peace talks hit deadlock ahead of deadline

Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen freed

Mali rebel groups urged to sign peace deal

At least 34 dead in Syria rebel attack on intel HQ

Libya declares force majeure at 11 oil fields

Iran’s regional influence ‘not negiotiable’

Women protest for peace ahead of Israel election

Concerns rise over civilians’ safety in Iraq military operation

UN invites Libya leaders for crisis talks in Algeria

Israel to double water quota to Gaza ‘within days’

Abbas: Palestinians ready to talk with "whoever" wins Israel election

Fire at Cairo convention centre injures 19 people

US, Iran wrap up three days of intense nuclear negotiations

EU reviews policy in response to Ukraine, Arab Spring

IAEA delegation to hold talks in Tehran on March 9

Tunisia rescues 86 African migrants at sea

Saudi executing at 'unprecedented' pace

Turkish Airlines plane skids off Nepal runway

British former marine 'killed' in Syria

Iran slams boring Netanyahu's continuous lie-spreading in US speech

'Saudi prince' New York apartment on sale for $48.5m

Libyan militants take control of two oil fields

Washington lauds Iran's role in Iraq

Netanyahu warns Congress: Nuclear deal will free Iran to develop weapons

Bottle of juice vs. outspoken critic of Israel domestic policies

UN approves sanctions regime for South Sudan

Arab states to mull creation of joint force against ‘Islamic State’

Libya tit-for-tat airstrikes target airport, oil terminal

Iran holds memorial service for ‘Afghan volunteers’ killed in Syria

South Sudan general accused of abducting child soldiers

Netanyahu takes fight over Iran nuclear ambitions to Congress

UN delegation meets Aleppo governor to push ‘freeze’ plan

Yemen leader proposes reconciliation talks to be moved to Saudi

Jihadists use urban warfare to slow Tirkit adavance

Libya warplanes strike militia-controlled airport

Egypt court cancels call for parliamentary elections in March