afrol News, 15 October - One tenth of Egyptians are Coptic Christians. With a trend of Islamic revival in the country, many Copts now feel increasingly targeted and forced into silence and invisibility.
The religious minority - a remnant of the leading religion in Egypt before the Arab conquest in the 7th century - is increasingly under the spotlight of Egyptian media and the Muslim majority. Any mischief by a Coptic leader seems to be interpreted in the worst possible way.
In September, Bishop Bishoy in an attempt to explain seeming incompatibilities between Islam and Christianity, said some verses of the Koran were inserted into the book after the death of the Prophet Mohammed. These verses were to blame for misunderstandings.
The Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, a formal state body headed by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, strongly condemned the remark by Bishop Bishoy. "This kind of behaviour is irresponsible and threatens national unity," the Grand Imam commented. The belief in the writing of the Koran by God's hand is central to orthodox Islam.
As reactions became stronger and tensions threatened to mount, Pope Shenuda III of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church felt it necessary to apologise the remark. "I am very sorry that the feelings of our Muslim brethren have been hurt," the Pope said on Egyptian television.
Not all Copts agree that Shenuda should have made the apology. The remarks over the Koran were made "in a country where Christian and Jewish Holy Books are systematically ridiculed as 'falsified'," the US-based group Coptic Solidarity noted.
The group, which to a large degree consists of emigrated Egyptian Copts, warns about a current "campaign of intimidation and incitements targeting the Copts in Egypt." There had been "an alarming upsurge of significant anti-Coptic activities over the recent weeks," they add.
The Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in response to the Bishop Bishoy affair had taken the opportunity to point out that "Egypt was, according to its constitution, an Islamic state" and that "the citizenship rights of non-Muslims were conditional on their abiding by the Islamic Identity of the state."
Indeed, the public discursion about Egypt's Coptic minority is radicalising. Islamic clerics unleashed virulent televised attacks on the Copts, accusing them of "stocking arms and ammunitions in their churches and monasteries" and of "preparing to wage war against Muslims."
Copts were further accused of "inciting sectarian strife and seeking to have their own separate state in Egypt" and of importing arms from neighbouring Israel.
Mobs of Islamists erupted into anti-Coptic demonstrations after Friday's prayers in Alexandria last week. Targeting the Coptic Church, it was one in a series of outbursts to take place also in Cairo and other cities. Hate slogans were shouted, with no action taken by authorities.
In Egypt, Pope Shenuda is doing his utmost to keep peaces with the Muslim majority. A large number of confidence-making and highly symbolic measures are taken. The Church, for example, still holds onto a decree from 1974 banning Copts from travelling to their Holy City of Jerusalem until the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is resolved.
But among Copts inside and outside Egypt, voices criticising the soft line of Shenuda are getting stronger. Open complaints of systematic discrimination are frequently heard among Egyptian Copts, but most do not believe authorities or police will hear their demands.
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