Copts Pay the Price
By Cynthia Farahat and Daniel Pipes
Published on Jan 12, 2011 on Danielpipes.org
Like other pretend-republican Arabic-speaking strongmen, Hosni Mubarak, 82, ailing, and soon to reach his 30th anniversary in power, wants to establish a family dynasty.
And why not? Hafez al-Assad anointed his son Bashar ruler of Syria. Saddam Hussein intended to have a son succeed him (until U.S.-led forces so rudely intervened). Dictators in Libya and Yemen harbor similar intentions.
For Hosni to maneuver his banker son Gamal, 47, with no base of power, into office requires fending off two powerful rival forces. The military has dominated Egypt since the coup d’état of 1952 andplans to stay in power. The Muslim Brethren, repressed by the military since 1954, await their turn finally to make a bid for power. In addition, the U.S. government has great influence on the course of events.
As Egyptians await the demise of the sickly Hosni, so infirm he can barely walk of his own accord, speculating and worrying about what comes next, he plots away. Judging from the evidence – and I write this with caution – it appears he has decided to maneuver Gamal to power on the back of Egypt’s Christians, known as Copts.
This conclusion emerges from assorted evidence. First, many assaults on Copts have had ties to his regime:
- A member of parliament was implicated in an attack that killed 7 Copts leaving church on Christmas Eve;
- Security forces screaming “Allahu Akbar” attacked Copts at a disputed church construction site, killing one; and
- An off-duty policeman targeted Copts on a train, yelled “Allahu Akbar,” killing one.
Second, Muslims rarely face legal prosecution for murdering Copts. In the second Kosheh Massacre in 1999, for example, no Muslim was charged for the killing of 20 Copts while, contrarily, one Muslim was sentenced to 13 years in prison for accidentally killing a fellow Muslim.
Third, security forces physically attack Copts who protest their persecution while allowing Islamists overtly to threaten Copts with mass murder without intervention. Finally, state-sponsored religious media incite Muslims to violence against Copts.
Offering up Copts brings the would-be Mubarak dynasty two advantages: it conveniently deflects Islamist violence away from the regime and it permits Mubarak père to remind Egyptians, Americans, and others how he is needed to fight Islamist terror and bring stability to Egypt; thus did he immediately respond to the bombing of a church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve killing 23. An Egypt on the brink of anarchy, further, could trigger a U.S. intervention along lines the lines of Yemen, further enabling Gamal’s ascent.
In the same spirit, the Mubarak regime recalled its ambassador to the Vatican after Pope Benedict XVIcalled on international protection for the Copts following the bombing in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve. In reaction, the government declared that it “will not allow any non-Egyptian faction to interfere in its internal affairs under any pretext.” It called the Coptic question “specifically an internal Egyptian affair.”
The Coptic gambit has worked; American policy has capitulated to Mubarak, as two June speeches by American politicians at universities in Cairo demonstrate:
In 2005, speaking at the American University in Cairo, then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the people of Egypt to demand democracy of their government: “The day is coming when the promise of a fully free and democratic world, once thought impossible, will also seem inevitable.” Referring to decades of martial law in Egypt, she demanded the day “when the rule of law replaces emergency decrees.” She called on the Mubarak regime to “fulfill the promise it has made to its people—and to the entire world—by giving its citizens the freedom to choose.”
Of course, Mubarak hated this speech.
In 2009, speaking at Cairo University, Barack Obama reversed these calls. He announced that “No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other” and modestly declared that “America does not presume to know what is best for everyone.” Later in 2009, U.S. ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey went further, noting that “many Egyptians are very free to speak out” and giving the regime a pass on the Coptic issue, asserting that to the extent problems exist between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, these “are cases of discrimination” unconnected to government actions.
This is unmitigated, sycophantic nonsense. Instead, Washington needs urgently to convey several messages to Mubarak the Elder: Drop the dynastic pretensions. Reduce the militarization of society. Combat lawful Islamism. Protect your Coptic subjects.
Mr. Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.