Copts: Hope of the Middle East

18/11/2014

Fernando de Haro is a journalist and director of the documentary Walking Next to the Wall.

 

Walking Next to the Wall (www.walkingnexttothewall.com), is the title of a documentary that is currently being released in several universities and cultural centres in Spain. It has been shot in several cities and towns of Egypt and is a true portrayal of a minority (10 million people) with weight in the Middle East: the Coptic Christians who, from the first century, live in a country that is crucial in the region.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the so-called Arab socialism, originates in Egypt. This country has been one of the epicentres of the revolution of 2011 and has rejected an Islamist government. Egypt wants to be a democracy that respects the Muslim majority and the Christian minority.

In the last 30 years more than 2,000 Egyptian Christians have been killed. Early in the twentieth century they achieved a status of nearly complete freedom and since 1920 they have actively participated in Egypt's nation-building project. They have never wanted to retreat into a ghetto, but Sadat's policy since the mid 70's made them the target of an Islamism that was beginning to gain ground.

After Mubarak's removal from power, the persecution and discrimination suffered by this minority has increased. The leaders of the Islamic State have recently called on its people to target the followers of the cross. And like Mark Lattimer states in his report Peoples under Threat (2014), ‘The huge changes taking place across the Middle East and North Africa, while increasing hopes for democratisation, represent for both religious and ethnic minorities perhaps the most dangerous episode since the violent break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.’ In fact, since 2011 more than 100,000 Copts have decided to leave for the diaspora.

The Copts, along with liberal groups, were key players of the revolution of 2011. But the Muslim Brotherhood soon hijacked it and when Morsi came to power in June 2012, he made them the target of repression. Fortunately, the Egyptian people rejected Morsi and the Salafists plan. If his Constitution had succeeded, the Christian minority and the peaceful and non-fundamentalist Muslim majority would have been subject to a regime lacking the most basic freedoms.

Al Sisi's arrival to power has brought some hope. The attacks, killings, burning of churches and false accusations of blasphemy are still taking place. The Muslim Brotherhood seeks easy victims to destabilise the country and therefore Copts suffer more terrorism than others. But the new constitutional laws, more willing to give freedom to the baptised, and the clear pronouncements of Al Azhar's mosque, Sunni reference in North Africa, have served to open a new phase. It is becoming increasingly clear that what is being experienced in Egypt is not a war between Christians and Muslims, but a conflict between a Muslim majority that wants to build a plural and peaceful country and a violent minority which uses Islam as an excuse. Therefore, it is crucial that the international community pushes so that terrorists stop receiving money from the Gulf.

If there is hope for the Copts, there is hope for the Middle East. The region and the world need them. We need people like those in Walking Next to the Wall, people willing to make the greatest sacrifice for the ideal to which they devote their life.