• 02:55
  • Sunday ,15 May 2011

Code name: sectarian sedition

Youseef Sidhom



Sunday ,15 May 2011

Code name: sectarian sedition
The heinous crime which took place last week in the neighbourhood of Imbaba, Giza, is the ultimate in desecrating the dignity of the State by Salafis and thugs—whose presence has, tragically, become a constant in our daily lives since the 25 January Revolution. The Salafis and thugs attacked the church of Mar-Mina in Imbaba, and set fire to the neighbouring Coptic homes, cars and shops, as well as to another Imbaba church, that of the Holy Virgin which they left in ruins. They based their disgraceful act on allegations that a young female who had converted to Islam was being held captive at Mar-Mina’s. 
Yet any question about the cause of the attack against the Imbaba Copts, or the recent general escalation in violence against Copts can but be naïve and absurd. Any observer of Egyptian affairs throughout the past two months cannot fail to notice the relentless attempts on the part of Salafis and thugs to test the State’s power and determination against those who undermine its security. It is with great sorrow that I admit that the response of the State has been sufficiently slow, soft, and feeble to practically encourage outlaws to go ahead with their criminal practices.
Official statements, news bulletins, and the media in general typically term incidents such as the recent one in Imbaba “sectarian sedition”. I can hardly explain such failure to grasp the reality. Does it owe to lack of insight? Does it reflect blind submission to standard albeit meaningless clichés? Or does it constitute a deliberate attempt to delude public awareness? Before the 25 January Revolution, the security apparatus distorted the truth by describing barbaric assaults against Copts, their churches or property, as acts of “sectarian sedition”. The miserable purpose of this approach was obvious. It placed the victim on equal footing with the culprit. It covered up on the failure of the security apparatus—sometimes its outright collaboration—to intervene at the right time and prevent the crime or put an end to the attack. It also justified the depraved security policy of randomly arresting almost equal numbers of Muslims and Copts in the wake of any attack against the Copts, either to falsely imply that it was a fight between two groups of outlaws who should equally be penalised or who should be pressured into “reconciling”; a practice which amounted to nothing short of rewarding the attacker. This familiar scenario meant the security apparatus did not have to bother to exert the slightest effort to bring criminals to justice.
Let me say it out loud, what is going on now has nothing to do with “sectarian sedition”. It is about time we recognise the term has been used for ages to cover up on crimes against the Egyptian people committed by thugs, extremists and Salafis—the new version of religious fanatics. It should also be borne in mind that remnants of the former regime, security apparatus as well as the erstwhile ruling National Democratic Party have an undeniable role in plots that target Egypt, its revolution, people and Copts. They want to prove that the only alternative to their oppressive rule is chaos and insecurity, an exorbitant price that the people of Egypt should pay.
Media coverage of the Imbaba crime showed most of those on the scene of events bitterly asking where were the security forces—the army and the police—when the violence against the Copts erupted. What did their tardy arrival mean? The people expressed outrage at the insistence on the part of the army not to clash with Egyptians under any circumstances. When the army refused to shoot the revolutionaries at Tahrir Square last February, the public deeply appreciated the noble decision. None of us, however, thought that this sympathy would be later extended to thugs and Salafis who jeopardise the community’s peace. Men and women in Imbaba were heard to spontaneously cry: “We want Mubarak back…we do not want the revolution…we have lost our peace and security.” These cries, alas, did not come out of nothing; they brought to mind the cries of the Iraqis following the fall of Saddam Hussein when their lives turned to hell as the State collapsed and security disappeared.
Now, and only now, did the Prime Minister declare immediate and firm measures to restore the authority of the State and enforce the rule of law. Serious concerns linger, however, over official ability to put these decisions into action. Previous experiences show that the absence of will to enforce law further encouraged the outlaws to mock State power. Last months’ rebellion by the people of Qena in Upper Egypt, who blocked roads and highways and disrupted public services to protest the appointment of a Coptic governor to Qena, is very indicative. The government resorted to sheikhs and preachers to persuade the protestors to end their protest; yet the crisis only ended when the government succumbed to protestors’ pressure and froze the activities of the governor for three months. It is self-evident that the State’s submission gravely jeopardised its authority and prestige.
A final word: the distressed and angry Copts have all the right to protest and vent their anger. But they should never give a chance to those who wish to drag this country into bitter civil war. The upcoming war will not be between Egypt’s Muslims and Copts, it will be between Egypt’s Muslims and Copts on one hand and the extremist fanatic currents which aim to hijack the revolution on the other. We should close ranks and stand up to the challenges of the coming phase to guarantee the transformation of Egypt to a civil State. Allegations of “sectarian sedition” every now and then only serve to distort public awareness, and ought to disappear once and for all.