Home Contact Us  
   

Iran - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5309, 27 June 2017
 
Unpacking Recent Violence against Egypt's Copts
Derek Verbakel
Researcher, IReS, IPCS
 

On 26 May, the Islamic State (IS) murdered 29 Coptic Christians on a bus in Minya, the latest targeting of Egypt's largest minority community. Three church bombings since December, also claimed by IS, have killed over 70 Copts. The government of Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi casts itself as the protector of Egyptian Copts, and violence against them appears to result straightforwardly from the ideological-strategic imperatives of IS. Yet such a shallow narrative is inadequate to understand recent outbreaks of violence affecting the Coptic community. Rather, these episodes must be placed in the broader context of violence against Copts in Egypt. Implicated is not only the role of IS, but also that of the Egyptian state and society in producing socio-political conditions amenable to violence. 

Deadly attacks and less visible instances of violence against Copts have long occurred under successive authoritarian regimes in Egypt. An especially salient episode unfolded in October 2011, highlighting the imbricated roles of state and societal actors: 28 Copts were massacred for protesting government passivity toward assaults on churches by Muslim extremists. In discouraging broader civil disobedience, security services knew that targeting a marginalised group would provoke little public outcry. 

El-Sisi has also instrumentalised the Copts’ suffering in the context of escalating violence since mid-2013, itself linked to tightening ties between Coptic Orthodox Church leaders and the state. The July overthrow of Egypt's former President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was supported by Coptic Orthodox Church leaders but not all Copts. Still, many Morsi supporters viewed the wider Coptic community as complicit in the El-Sisi led coup. After military personnel killed nearly 1000 pro-Morsi demonstrators the subsequent month, several Copts were killed, and numerous churches and homes in Upper Egypt were destroyed by angry mobs. Prominent Muslim Brotherhood voices incited violence against Christians – an enduring phenomenon. El-Sisi then chastised foreign governments for their alleged apathy to the attacks while crudely characterising all Muslim Brotherhood members and sympathisers as sectarian terrorists. 

But despite further symbolic posturing, such as attending the Coptic Christmas mass since 2015, El-Sisi has presided over continuous discrimination against Copts through state institutions. This has mutually reinforced societal expressions of intolerance and bigotry, evident, for instance, in the Copts and their properties regularly being attacked by local vigilantes under the pretext of illegal construction or renovation of churches. A long-awaited new law on church construction was passed in August 2016, but its many loopholes risk worsening pre-existing restrictions on establishment of houses of worship for non-Muslims. Where localised violence occurs, government officials oversee customary reconciliation processes led by Muslim leaders unsympathetic to the situation facing Copts. Aggressors are shielded and Copts pressured to settle. 

A sense of impunity has also prevailed where due process is ostensibly followed. For instance, prosecutors recently failed to convict several men who stripped an elderly Coptic woman naked and paraded her in the street following a rumour that her son had a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman. Around the same time, four Coptic teenagers received a five-year prison sentence for blasphemy for recording a video ridiculing IS. When hate speech was then directed at their faith – also illegal under the Penal Code – double standards common in the application of the law were predictably ignored. Resulting widespread perceptions of Copts as lesser citizens with fewer rights lay the groundwork for those seeking to incite violence against them.

Such actors – the IS and likeminded groups – have grown stronger under el-Sisi's rule. Repression of the political opposition, such as through mass imprisonment of Muslim Brotherhood members and other Islamists, has fueled the very radicalisation it seeks to curb. As the prospects of establishing an Islamist system of governance in Egypt have faded, more groups and individuals who would have previously distanced themselves from such ideology appear to be increasingly viewing jihadi violence as politically necessary. 

Through the attacks since December, the IS has sought to present the state as illegitimate and unable to protect its citizens, particularly Copts, who the group wishes to eradicate from Egypt. However, Copts have quietly experienced growing internal displacement and emigration from Egypt since mid-2013. In recent years, many have justifiably condemned Church leaders for further politicising their identity through adopting political stances mirroring the regime’s. In February 2017, the IS vowed to escalate its campaign of deadly violence against Copts, several hundred families of whom fled north Sinai. Statements from the local Coptic Bishop resembled those of the government, downplaying the gravity of the situation. 

After two church bombings took place on 9 April, the Church referred to them as “exported to Egypt from abroad,” aimed at “striking our national unity.” El-Sisi added, “I won’t say those who fell are Christian or Muslim...I will say that they’re Egyptian.” However, such statements deny the unique experiences of violence and discrimination facing Copts and occlude the socio-political conditions in Egypt through which these come about. Similarly obfuscatory logic was exercised after the May attack: El-Sisi sought to demonstrate strength by striking supposed IS fighters in the Libyan's Derna city, who were in fact non-IS adversaries of his Libyan ally, Khalifa Haftar. 

Interplay between state and societal forces in Egypt have produced a political order subjugating Copts and setting the stage for further episodes of violence against them, particularly as flagging IS fortunes elsewhere may energise the group’s activities in Egypt. Regrettably, the current regime’s failure to pursue substantive policies mitigating patterns of violence offers little hope the plight of Egypt’s Copts will abate.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
 
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Indo-Pacific
Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Indus-tan
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within


OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


 

Browse by Publications

Commentaries 
Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 
China 
Myanmar 
Afghanistan 
Iran 
Pakistan 
India 
J&K  

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Indo-Pak 
Military 
Terrorism 
Naxalite Violence 
Nuclear 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
Obama, Trump, and Abiding Authoritarianism in Egypt

The ‘Two-State Solution’ in Israel-Palestine: An Accelerated Demise?

President Trump's Prospects for the Middle East

The Precarious Politics of Post-‘Liberation’ Mosul

After the Collapsed US-Russia Agreement, Advantage Assad

Iraq's Hashd Militias: Ineluctable Politics on the Road to Mosul

ADD TO:
Blink
Del.icio.us
Digg
Furl
Google
Simpy
Spurl
Y! MyWeb
Facebook
 
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2017
 January  February  March  April  May  June  July
 2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
 2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001
 2000  1999  1998  1997
 
 

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

 
Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2017, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.