Egypt’s state television broadcaster has admitted that reports of casualties among soldiers, which were used to incite Muslims against Christians, were false. Egyptian newspapers, several of which are state-run, have also done their part to circulate anti-Coptic fiction.
Can they keep their stories straight? “Egypt’s Editorial Pages Now Blame Christians for the Maspero Massacre,” by Ahmed Zaki Osman for Al Masry Al Youm, October 17:
A week after a Maspero protest turned deadly when the army crushed a Coptic demonstration, local papers are taking a tone that suggests the nation’s military rulers are not to blame.
Most of Monday’s papers accuse various actors for the bloodshed that left at least 27 civilians dead and hundreds injured on 9 October. Surprisingly, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s cabinet doesn’t get the biggest share for blame although he was a primary target for criticism following the events. State-sponsored media was also heavily criticized, but now local media is finding another scapegoat. Coptic religious leaders, clergy and intellectuals are responsible not only for the Maspero violence but also for threatening national unity, according to several papers.
The head of the Journalists Syndicate, Makram Mohamed Ahmed, argues in his column in state-run paper Al-Ahram that some Coptic intellectuals and public figures are launching a campaign accusing military rulers of committing genocide against Copts. Ahmed claims that this campaign is misleading and will harm the Egyptian state, going on to say that the army has never been a racist one that targets its own people.
The whole incident is merely a mismanagement of a crisis that paved the way for infiltrators to dominate the scene and push for escalation, he writes. In adopting the state narrative of blaming protesters and absolving the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Ahmed argues that the solution for sectarian strife is easy: enable Copts to build their own churches without administrative restrictions.
That would be great.
Emad Hussein, in his weekly column in the privately owned Al-Shorouk, directs his anger toward two Coptic priests, Flobataire and Naguib Gobraiel, a lawyer for the Coptic Church, accusing them of threatening the unity of the country.
Hussein alleges Flobataire’s father urged people to break into the state TV building. Such statements are, according to Hussein, alarming and should be referred to court. Hussein also claims Gobraiel said Copts should hold a permanent sit-in if the SCAF doesn’t respond to their demands within a week.
But he doesn’t stop there, Hussein accuses the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III, of devising a complicated strategy in which Coptic leaders play various roles. Shenouda’s strategy allegedly involves him rejecting foreign interference while Coptic intellectuals close to the pope call for it, according to Hussein.
In leftist party paper Al-Wafd, Mostafa Abdel Razek argues that the root of the Maspero crisis can be easily traced back to statements made by Coptic clergy during the march.
In an article written as a message to Pope Shenouda III, Abdel Razek alleges that one priest was threatening national unity. Abdel Razek quotes him as calling for the killing of Aswan’s governor, who some accuse of igniting the violence by seemingly defending an Upper Egypt church attack when he said it was constructed illegally.
Abdel Razek alleges that the same priest was speaking in an inappropriate way about Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt’s ruling military council, whom we should respect, according to the writer.
Salama Ahmed Salama, editor-in-chief of the privately owned Al-Shorouk, gives a different account, saying that the whole atmosphere is sectarian. Salama blames Salafi forces and some imams of inciting violence with their discriminatory and sectarian tones.
Rather than pointing fingers, Mohamed Barakat focuses on solutions. He writes in the state-run Al-Akhbar that an SCAF-issued law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, language or ideology would help combat sectarianism. Barakat also writes that expediting the long-awaited law regulating places of worship would also help ease sectarian tension.
More on potential problems with the anti-discrimination law which the military has just issued can be found here, and more on those concerning the law on “places of worship” can be found here. They do not appear to be meaningful, substantive solutions.
In the same paper, Mohamed Ali Kheir opposes such arguments, questioning the ways in which laws are being issued during Egypt’s transitional period.
According to Kheir, the anti-discrimination law was issued very quickly without being subject to public discussion and therefore does not reflect the will of the people. The SCAF’s approach demonstrates that it wants only to ease the problem rather than find a permanent solution, he says.
Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt
Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size
Al-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run
Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run
Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned
Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned
Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party
Youm7: Daily, privately owned
Al-Tahrir: Daily, privately owned
Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned
Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party