The state’s cynical use of Christian suffering to justify its violent behavior and strengthen its political position in relation to its opponents is disturbing and reprehensible. There is no doubt that Muslim Brotherhood leaders have used sectarian language in their statements and incited hatred towards the Christians in Egypt. I also do not doubt that the Brotherhood’s incitement has led to the sectarian attacks on Christians and churches we have seen since Mohamed Morsi was removed from office. Those who engaged in such incitement and those who perpetrated those attacks should be punished forcefully. That said, they are not the only guilty party.
Last week Minya was alight with sectarian attacks on churches and Christian schools. The latest reports suggest that only one church has been spared attack thus far. Reports also indicate the security forces, be they police or military, have been no where to be seen. This is not due to them being unaware of the attacks. Human Rights Watch investigators who visited Minya heard from residents that they often plead with police to intervene, only to be rebuffed. One priest was told by the police that they had “no orders” to intervene.
The pro-SCAF media and the government have relentlessly pointed to the sectarian violence in Minya to remind us all of how terrible the Brotherhood and its supporters really are. Every press conference that addresses the foreign media never fails to inform foreign journalists they’re not paying enough attention to the crimes being perpetrated against Christians throughout the country.
However, the negligence of the media, if you believe such negligence exists, pales in comparison to the negligence of the state, whose only interest in mentioning attacks on Christians is to further their political agenda. For over a week Minya has been a battleground of sectarian violence. Where are the police? Where is the military? Where is the state? Why are the foreign press they condemn expected to be more present in Minya than the people who are responsible for protecting it?
The cynical exploitation of Christian suffering by the military junta and its supporters is disturbingly blatant and yet there is no backlash. Now there is talk about recognizing the genocide against the Armenians; not because the state suddenly cares about the suffering of another group of Christians who were brutalized but because they want to anger the Turks who criticized Morsi’s ouster and the violent crackdowns that have ensued.
On the privately-owned CBC channel, TV host Lamis al-Hadidy was condemning Germany’s announcement that it was considering cutting arms sales to Egypt. During her tirade against Germany’s decision to do so, she asked where their “Christianity” is. "Haven’t they heard about the attacks on the churches?" she wondered aloud. She then expanded that to express her surprise that all the “Catholic and Protestant” countries of Europe could condemn violence against the Brotherhood in the context of these sectarian attacks.
By politicizing the attacks further and using it as a justification for the crackdown on the Brotherhood, the government and media are leaving Egypt’s Christian community more exposed to attack while offering no protection from the predictable consequences of this exploitation of their suffering.
Some believe now is not the time to condemn government negligence in defending churches and Christians from attack. It is argued that the state and security apparatus should be left to “deal with the Brotherhood” and criticism can come later. One cannot however stand silent while the same military that trampled Christian protestors with APCs two short years ago uses attacks against Christians now to justify their rule as “protectors.” One cannot stand silent as the same state media who on the night of Maspero incited the masses against Christians, calling on the people to descend to the streets to “protect their army” from armed Christians, now bemoans the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood who incites against Christians today. The sad truth is that whoever rules Egypt appears committed to exploiting the suffering of Egypt’s most vulnerable Christians while doing nothing to prevent it.
Christians are left to choose between those who incited against them and murdered them two years ago and those who are doing the same this month. They are expected to silently and uncritically support the state that incited against them before as it fights those who incite against them now. All this while that very state fails in its most basic obligation to protect them like any other citizens, and then uses their suffering for the state’s own political gain.
Silence has never been a successful strategy for ensuring justice and no one should be asked to be party to such a failure again. The state is failing in its responsibilities, and it should take those responsibilities seriously.