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.

 

Two Danes stabbed by man shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ in Gabon

UN considers rejecting Trump Jerusalem decision

Israeli air traffic halted due to strikes

Iran's schools suffocate in smog

Christmas in Jordan dimmed by Jerusalem crisis

Turkey slams Austria ‘discrimination’

Tunisia elections delayed

Istanbul summit strong on the rhetoric, weak on concrete steps

Morocco’s Islamists elect new leader, walking away from predecessor’s populism

Palestinians call for protests against Pence Jerusalem visit

Palestinian billionaire detained in Saudi Arabia

Egypt opens Rafah crossing for four days

Turkey court releases 7 suspects in New Year attack trial

Palestinian activist killed in Gaza protests

Foreign fighters a worry as IS struggles to survive

Over half Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in 'extreme poverty'

Palestinians killed in continuing protests over Jerusalem occupation

Bourita: Extraordinary meeting between ECOWAS, Morocco to be held beginning of 2018

Saudi-led air strikes, clashes as Yemen forces battle rebels

Sahel force funding shows terrorism fight is Saudi 'priority'

UN 'appalled' at mass execution of jihadists in Iraq

Iraq's Sistani says Hashed should be under government control

Middle-class Egypt adapts as costs soar

Somalia's budget meets IMF terms

Israel PM questioned in graft probe

US says Iran supplied ballistic missile to Yemen rebels

Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration

US to present 'irrefutable evidence' of Iran violations

Istanbul 'to remove Gulen links' from street names

Iraq hangs 38 jihadists

Pence to visit Middle East despite controversy

Hamas chief calls for continued Jerusalem protests

EU to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya in two months

Syria Kurds fear US ally will desert them after IS defeat

Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut 14,000 jobs over two years

Turkey rescues 51 migrants stranded on rocks

Saudi, UAE hold talks with Yemen Islamists

18 killed after bomber strikes Mogadishu police academy

Israeli air strikes target Hamas military facilities

US-led air strikes kill 23 civilians in Syria

Israel union calls nationwide strike over pharmaceutical giant job cuts

UN envoy urges Putin to press Assad for elections

Yemen's Huthi rebels release pro-Saleh media staff

Israel intelligence minister invites Saudi prince to visit

Saudi-led strikes kill 30 in rebel-run Yemen prison