The Egyptian government has recently taken steps to placate the Copts abroad, in the hope of precluding them from embarrassing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his visit to Washington - which had been slated for May 26, 2009, but has been postponed on account of the death of his grandson. Accordingly, Coptic Church Pope Shenouda III and President Mubarak's son Gamal both went to the U.S. to prepare the ground for Mubarak's visit. In addition, it has been observed that the Egyptian government press has been offering a wider platform to spokesmen for the Coptic community, both in Egypt and outside the country.
The current policy of appeasement vis-à-vis the Copts is also linked to the Egyptian government's decision to exterminate all pigs in the country as a preventive measure against the spread of swine flu. Since it is the Copts who raise pigs and run the pork industry in Egypt, this decision, taken even though not a single case of swine flu had been identified or even suspected in Egypt, was perceived by the Copts as a deliberate attack on them.
Coptic organizations overseas refused to heed the plea of the representatives of the Egyptian government and the Coptic Church to refrain from sabotaging Mubarak's visit to Washington. Instead, they prepared for a mass demonstration in front of the White House, to be held during a meeting between Mubarak and U.S. President Barack Obama. These organizations saw Mubarak's visit to the U.S. as an opportunity to voice their grievances, to increase the general public's awareness of the plight of Egypt's Copts, and to exert pressure to improve their situation.
Following is a review of recent developments in this issue, and excerpts from relevant articles in the Egyptian press:
Mubarak to the Coptic Diaspora: The Homeland Belongs to Us All
The Egyptian government's attempt to reach out to the Copts was manifested in the address to the Coptic diaspora, delivered by Mubarak in honor of Easter, which stated: "No one will be able to harm the unity of the Egyptian Muslims and Copts, who are the warp and weft of [our] noble and cohesive society in which everyone has full citizens' rights and believes that religion belongs to Allah, and the homeland belongs to all." Mubarak further stated: "As president of all Egyptians, I declare that we will not allow conflict to be stirred up between two parts of the [same] nation. We will take legal action against anyone who [tries] to do this, and Egypt will continue to be a safe homeland for all its sons, without fear of discrimination."
Egyptian Government Emissaries Seek to Placate the Coptic Diaspora
As part of preparations for Mubarak's trip to Washington, several Egyptian emissaries went to the U.S. The Egyptian press reported that in February 2009, Coptic Church Patriarch Shenouda III visited the U.S., after the Egyptian government delegation sent to meet with Copts in Canada did not succeed in preparing the ground for Mubarak's visit. Sources within the Coptic Church reported that one of the purposes of the patriarch's visit was to plead with Coptic diaspora leaders to refrain from demonstrating or propagandizing against Egypt and Mubarak during the first Mubarak-Obama meeting.
Also, the patriarch's office asked bishops overseas to arrange a fitting welcome to Mubarak in the U.S. and to refrain from protest demonstrations and rallies during his visit. In addition, the patriarch's office, in cooperation with the U.S. Coptic Church, plans to publish in the U.S. press announcements in support of Mubarak's visit to Washington. Patriarch Shenouda even sent one of his senior aides to the U.S. to oversee the preparations being made in the Coptic community to receive Mubarak. Shenouda also told a bishop subordinate to him to instruct U.S. bishops not to participate in any protest demonstrations or rallies that are being planned by the Coptic diaspora, since the Church holds that any discussion of Egypt's problems and solutions must be conducted within Egypt.
Furthermore, during his last visit to the U.S., Gamal Mubarak, who is the secretary of the NDP's Policies Committee, met with Coptic leaders in the U.S. in an attempt to resolve the problems of the Egyptian Copts, and thereby to prevent protests during his father's visit to the White House. NDP Policies Committee member Dr. Muhammad Kamal stayed on after Gamal Mubarak's departure in order to continue rallying U.S. human rights organizations, research institutes, and congressmen to create a lobby on par with the one that currently represents the Coptic diaspora.
Al-Gomhouriyya Editor: We Will Strive to Solve the Problems of the Egyptian Copts
The government's appeasement policy vis-à-vis the Copts has been reflected in some recent op-eds sympathetic to their plight, and in attempts by the Egyptian government to open the government media to representatives of the Coptic community. Egyptian MP and editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Gomhouriyya Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim wrote in his daily column: "All my life, I've been surrounded by Christian friends. [As a child,] I watched our neighbor Umm George in Al-Abbasia care for the children of our Muslim neighbor Su'ad Mahmoud, who left them with her every day before going to work. Su'ad's children, Hassan and Ahmad, used to call Umm George 'auntie,' and their little sister 'Ismat called her 'mamma' [mother], since it was Umm George who had taught her to walk and talk - so that sometimes [the little girl even] refused to go to her real mother. It is these images from my childhood and youth [that made me] realize… that [our] homeland belongs to us all. There are no Copts and Muslims there, but [only] Egyptians…"
Ibrahim wrote that he wanted to devote a page in his newspaper to Coptic issues and the Copts' problems: "I call on all my brother Copts anywhere in Egypt to air on this page any problem that they might have encountered, and I promise that I will strive to solve it. These are problems of my homeland and not problems of Copts. It is important to offer a broad platform to assuage the qualms felt by some [Egyptians]. I call on all the educated Copts, [and] on Coptic journalists and politicians in Egypt, to openly voice their views on anything that they find objectionable - be it [related to their] representation in Parliament, government offices, and parties, or to [their] views on religion. It is preferable to have the Copts voice their opinions freely in our homeland, than for those opinions to be taken out [of the country], distorted, and used as bargaining [chips], and for the problems to be blown out of proportion…
"During Mubarak's rule, [Egypt's] Coptic brothers have been treated better than at any other time. But they expect more, and hope to achieve coexistence with their Muslim brothers in their lifetime. I dream of a day when an Egyptian will not be asked his religion, but only his profession. I dream of a day when an [Egyptian] citizen will not be asked to state his full name but only his profession. I dream that the national fiber of this people will again become fused, with no differentiation between Sunni, Shi'ite, [Greek] Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant…
"I reiterate that [the page in our paper for Coptic issues] will be not a Christian [page], but an Egyptian one, where the Copts' problems will be aired for the good of our homeland. More precisely, it will be a national page, since the paper where it will appear is a national paper. One of our basic goals is [to ensure] that the opinion of the Copts living abroad is not the only one [seen] in the media, and that they are not allowed a broad platform to raise agendas behind which stand [elements] well-known to us…"
Egyptian Columnist Calls for Dialogue with the Coptic Diaspora
Columnist for the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram Gamal Zaida wrote: "A dialogue with the Egyptian state regarding the Copts' problems is crucial; it is also more effective than [all] the fuss raised by [Copts] in Canada, the U.S., and Western Europe about [the violation] of Copts' rights [in Egypt]… I believe that big changes in the lives of nations come from within.
"There are some fundamental problems related to citizens' rights, equality of opportunity, public offices, and non-discrimination at work which can be settled with the government['s help] through the enactment of a new law on the personal status of non-Muslims… These rights are relevant to most of the Egyptians…
"The recourse to a dialogue with [Egypt] taken by the Coptic diaspora is no more embarrassing than a return of sons to their homeland. The homeland is large [enough] to accommodate everyone, regardless of religion, skin color, or [ethnic] affiliation."
Coptic Diaspora Organizations: We Will Demonstrate Worldwide
Coptic diaspora representatives, on their part, have decided to take advantage of the platform offered them by the Egyptian government press to air their grievances. At the same time, Coptic organizations in the diaspora have threatened to hold protest demonstrations during Mubarak's visit to Washington should their demands, which they submitted to Egyptian Ambassador to Washington Sameh Shukri, remain unmet - among them eliminating obstacles to the building and renovation of churches in Egypt and fair treatment of the Copts by Egyptian security apparatuses.
The Free Copts organization called for worldwide demonstrations during Mubarak's visit to Washington, calling on Coptic organizations all over the world to greet Mubarak with a demonstration in front of the White House and not to heed Church representatives who have been trying to prevent the Copts from demonstrating in cities with a substantial Coptic population. The organization promised to provide journalists with proof of torture to which Egyptian Copts have been subjected in Egypt and, during the demonstration, to distribute leaflets and CDs with information on the persecution of Egyptian Copts, the destruction of their churches, and so on. The organization also planned to release a documentary titled "Copts under Siege," dealing with the persecution of Copts in Egypt, and issued an announcement stating: "We will let the images speak for themselves, [revealing] the extent of suffering and deprivation of the Copts in Egypt."
Coptic organizations in the U.S. and Canada have so far failed to respond to Shenouda's call. Their joint announcement stated that during Mubarak's meeting with President Obama, a six-hour demonstration would be held in front of the White House. Further, Coptic organizations in the diaspora intended to send a message of condemnation to the White House, as well as to the U.N. and its Security Council, demanding that Egypt stand trial for violating the rights of its Coptic minority.
Coptic Columnist: We Will Expose the Regime's Infamy
Coptic columnist Medhat Uweidha also derided the Egyptian government's attempts to placate the Copts: "The regime wants the Copts to keep quiet, surrender, and obey it without fulfilling a single one of their demands … The more games the regime plays to deceive the Copts, the more determined they are to hold a peaceful demonstration [during Mubarak's visit to Washington].
"Accordingly, we call on all the Copts in the U.S. and Canada to be ready to come out and greet Mubarak. All must shed the garb of fear and defeat and refuse to heed those who tremble [with fear] or the cowards who are trying to scare the Copts by laying out before them the consequences they will face if come to Egypt… As long as [blood] flows in our veins, we will not keep silent about the plight of the [Egyptian] Copts - [nay,] we will write and expose the regime's infamy. We do not fear the regime or its accomplices, since behind us is a great people, and we draw our strength from it…
"We are an integral part of the Egyptian people, [but] we have been deprived of [some of] our rights; we will go and demand them [back]. The regime has for a long time been unjustly complaining that we present our problems before foreign governments, [but at the same time, it maintains that] submitting our grievances to the Egyptian president would constitute a crime. If it is a crime to demand the restoration of the Copts' rights abroad, and if addressing this demand to the Egyptian president is [equally] a crime - what is left for us to do?...
 Al-Gomhouriyya (Egypt), April 20, 2009.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 30, 2009.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 6, 2009.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 10, 2009.
 Al-Misriyoun (Egypt), March 11, 2009.
 Al-Yawm Al-Sab'i (Egypt), April 2, 2009.
 Al-Gomhouriyya (Egypt), April 26, 2009.
 Al-Ahram (Egypt), April 22, 2009.
 Al-Misriyoun (Egypt), March 11, 2009.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 10, 2009.
 Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 8, 2009.