Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, declared that he opposes demonstrations by Coptic Christians residing in the US who rallied outside the White House on Tuesday protesting against recent acts of sectarianism targeting Copts in central Egypt and Upper Egypt. Tawadros has called on US-based Copts to be obedient to leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church and of the Egyptian state by refraining from participating in protest rallies.
Expatriate Coptic groups living in the US have been planning protests for weeks, particularly a group known as Coptic Solidarity. According to the organization, these protests have been triggered by sectarian attacks in the governorate of Minya, where an elderly Coptic woman was publicly stripped and assaulted and Coptic properties were attacked in the village of Karm in late May. While 16 defendants were arrested in light of these attacks, they were all later ordered released.
These sectarian assaults were followed by another in Minya in July, where the cousin of a priest was stabbed to death, and three others were injured in an attack targeting a Coptic family.
Just a few days later, another Coptic-owned property under construction came under attack in the central governorate of Beni Suef, as an angry mob believed it to be a church that was being built and destroyed it.
Copts gathered outside the White House in Washington DC on Tuesday morning, with several holding signs reading “Copts are a besieged persecuted minority,” along with “Save Middle East minorities: Copts, Assyrians, Yazidis,” and “No to arbitrary reconciliation sessions.” Protesters blamed the formerly ruling Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafi currents for attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, with demonstrators also holding signs reading, “The Muslim Brotherhood never renounced terrorism” and “No to terrorizing secularists in Egypt.”
Sabbagh explained, “We know that the [Coptic Orthodox] Church has its hands tied. Our obedience to the church and to the holy Pope is a spiritual obedience. Yet when it comes to demanding our rights, we will listen to our consciences.”
“We sent our message to the world. We stood up against the state and against the persecution of minorities,” Magdy Khalil, another protest organizer, told Mada Masr. “The persecution of Copts under [President Abdel Fattah al-]Sisi has increased, and is worse than it was under [ousted President Hosni] Mubarak.”
Khalil also expressed respect for many of the clergymen of the church, yet added that “many other clergymen follow the dictates of the state, and have no interest in the plight of the oppressed. This is a church of the state, not a church of the people.”
The protesters, however, do not seek to agitate sectarian sentiments, he explained. “We love Egypt. We love all Egyptians, be they Muslims or Christians. We side with the oppressed Muslims and the oppressed Christians.”
In a statement on Tuesday attributed to the pope, the papal office of the Coptic Orthodox Church stated that Tawadros is “totally opposed to protests which may cause serious harm to Egypt, and greatly embarrass our senior officials.”
The statement added that these protests would “result in conflicts with the higher authorities.” It went on to claim that the demonstrations “do not change a thing, and serve to distort the image of Egypt both domestically and abroad,” arguing that, “We in Egypt are better able to deal with our problems and our incidents.”
“For the sake of Christ, refrain from this unacceptable behavior from all of our Coptic churches in the United States,” the statement demanded.
According to Al-Shorouk, Tawadros had “sent a notice to the the Coptic Orthodox churches in the United States, regarding the need to halt the demonstrations planned by expatriate Copts in protest against the events which took place in Minya.”
Tawadros had joined Sisi, along with Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, on a stage on July 3 during a televised announcement that the Armed Forces had deposed the elected President Mohamed Morsi along with the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime.
In sharp contrast to the Coptic pope’s condemnation of protests under Sisi’s government, Tawadros had unabashedly supported the protests against the Muslim Brotherhood in the summer of 2013. On July 2, 2013, Tawadros tweeted a message of support for protesters who sought “to reclaim their revolution.”