Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His latest book is Israel: An Introduction, to be published by Yale University Press later this year. You can read more of Barry Rubin's posts at Rubin Reports.
By Barry Rubin
Once the revolution began, Egypt’s Christians knew precisely what to expect. It isn’t that the regime of Husni Mubarak protected them so well from Muslim wrath. On the contrary, it was reluctant to prosecute Muslims who attacked and killed or wounded Christians as well as damaged or destroyed churches. The government often arrested Christians who defended themselves. But at least the regime’s power restrained anarchy, caught terrorists, and kept the Islamists at bay.
Now all that has changed.
Despite the widely publicized statements by Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi in favor of Muslim-Christian amity in his big Cairo rally, this has no effect on the ground. In Assiut, a Coptic priest was stabbed 22 times by a man yelling “Allahu Akhbar.” Next, the Egyptian army—the guardian of democracy as it is now styled—attacked the St. Bishoy monastery outside of Cairo and the St. Makarios monastery near Alexandria, using tanks and bullets. One monk was wounded and several were beaten.
Why? This is a point of tremendous significance. According to Islamic law, in countries governed by Islam new churches or synagogues cannot be built and existing ones cannot be repaired. The goal, of course, is to foster the decline and extinction of all religions other than Islam. Even in Turkey, the government has frequently tried to enforce this in practice.
During the revolutionary disturbances the monasteries had built walls to protect themselves and Christians who flocked there for refuge. Now the army is tearing down those walls so they will not be available in future to defend Christians.
Of course, the existence of these walls threaten no one. There is no conceivable reason--except for Islamic law--that they not be left in place. Indeed, with all the other problems Egypt has for the army to make this demolition a top priority tells a lot about the nature of the new Egypt.
This is only the beginning. What should be obvious is the following: a democratically elected Egyptian government—even a non-Islamist one--will not protect Christians and arrest, prosecute, and imprison Muslims who attack them. Why? Because it won’t be popular with the voters. The government would be branded as anti-Muslim and in the pay of the Pope, the West, and the Zionists. That’s how Middle East politics work, as I pointed out with this historical example.
Many of these attacks will be perpetuated by radical Islamist groups whose members have come to consider the Muslim Brotherhood too cautious. This is precisely what happened in the 1990s, when scores of Christians were murdered with virtually no prosecution of those responsible.
And presumably whether or not Egypt becomes a state based on Sharia law--something that could even happen under a non- or even anti-Islamist government--the new regime will enforce restrictive provisions of Islamic law on the large (but probably shrinking through desperate emigration) Christian minority.
Persecution against Christians will grow, whether or not it is reported in the Western media.
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