Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
June 19, 2011

Egypt's Christians: An Endangered Species

Frequently mentioned in news accounts today are Egypt's Copts. Just who are they? And why are they called by this strange name? The words Copt (noun) and Coptic (adjective) represent the English make-over of the Arabic qupt, which is itself a transformation of the Greek work for Egyptian: AiGYPTios. At the time of the Arab conquest of Egypt in the early 640's, shortly after Muhammad's death in 632, the language of high culture, large scale commerce and even much of government in Egypt was Greek, though the underclass still spoke an evolved form of the ancient native Egyptian language, the language still used in the indigenous Christian liturgy of Egypt today, the language that we now call Coptic. At the time of the Muslim conquest Egypt was fiercely Christian, though much of Christian Egypt held to the (heretical) view that the human nature of Christ was somehow swallowed up in and by His divine nature. This is the heresy called Monophysitism, or "One-Natureism." Many of the Egyptians had come (mistakenly) to believe that the great fourth-century defender of Christ's full divinity against the heresy of Arianism, St. Athanasius, had held to a Monophysite Christology. Athanasius had in fact taught emphatically that Christ's human nature is real      and that in consequence His sufferings and death were in every sense real. But after Athanasius' death in 373 A.D. certain Monophysite writings from a different hand somehow crept into the collection of Athanasius' authentic writings, with the result that by the mid-fifth century most Egyptian Christians were erroneously convinced that Athanasius had taught Monophysitism. And if Athanasius taught it, so the Egyptian man-in-the-street was persuaded, that was enough for him!

Today, in the wake of extensive post-Vatican II theological discussions between Roman Catholic scholars and those of the Coptic Church, there is a general agreement at the highest levels of Coptic Christianity that Christ's human body and soul were in no way undone by their hypostatic union with the divine Person and divine nature of God the Father's Eternal Son, so that Christ does indeed possess not one but TWO natures, .the divine nature from all eternity, and the very real human nature which He assumed in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Despite the theological divagations of the past, Egypt's Coptic Christians have shown extraordinary heroism over the course of fourteen centuries in clinging to their Christian faith and to their deep love of Christ and His Blessed Mother in the face of enormous social and political pressure to convert to anti-Trinitarian Islam. In recent decades Egypt's admittedly authoritarian Mubarak government protected the Coptic population against Muslim fanatics. The Copts are a minority in Egypt, but they constitute a demographically significant minority: some 10 percent of Egypt's population. And that 10 percent includes many of Egypt's professional and commercial leaders. For example the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros [from Petros, Peter] Ghali, is a Coptic Christian. But in the wake of the "Arab Spring" and Mubarak's downfall,    Egypt's Christians are currently facing a frightening flare-up of violence and outright murder at the hands of Muslim extremists, in particular the so-called Salafists (from salaf, the Arabic word that designates the founding generation of Islamic power, Muhammad's contemporaries, as supposedly representing the only "authentic" exponents of Islam). These are "kissin' cousins" to the vicious militants who beheaded a group of Cistercian monks in Algeria back in the 1990's, whose story is eloquently told in the recent French film "Of Gods and Men ". Meanwhile in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood is waiting in the wings, with the reality of its professed "moderation" as yet unproved, all the while the leaders of the western world stay remarkably silent.

A front-page article in the Wall Street Journal for June 11th-12th , 2011 dealt with this dramatic surge in anti-Christian violence in today's Egypt. May I share the article with you here.

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As Islamists Flex Muscle, Egypt's Christians Despair.
By Yaroslav Trofimov
Wall Street Journal of June 11th, 12th, 2011

Five weeks after the fall of [Hosni Mubarak's] regime, Ayman Anwar Mitri's apartment was torched. When he showed up to investigate, he was bundled inside by bearded Islamists.

Mr. Mitri is a member of the Christian Coptic minority that accounts for one-tenth of the country's 83 million people. The Islamists accused him of having rented the apartment-by then unoccupied-to loose Muslim women.

Inside the burnt apartment, they beat him with the charred remains of his furniture. Then one of them produced a box cutter and performed an appropriate punishment under Islam: He amputated Mr. Mitri's right ear. "When they were beating me, they kept saying 'We won't leave any Christians in this country,' Mr. Mitri recalled in a recent interview, two months after the March attack. Blood dripped through a plastic tube from his unhealed wound into a plastic container. "Here, there is a war against the Copts," he said.

His attackers, who were never arrested or prosecuted, follow the ultra fundamentalist Salafist strain of Islam that promotes an austere, Saudi-inspired worldview.  Before President Hosni Mubarak was toppled on February 11, the Salafis mostly confined themselves to preaching. Since then, they've entered the political arena, drawing crowds and swaying government decisions. Salafi militants also have blocked roads, burned churches and killed Copts.

The Salafi vigilantes who brutalized Mr. Mitri later ignited a bigger controversy that is still playing out here in Qena, an upper Nile governorate of three million people-almost one-third of them Copts. In April, Egypt's new government appointed a Christian to be Qena's new governor, replacing another Christian who had held the post under Mr. Mubarak The Salafis responded by demanding a Muslim governor and organizing mass protests, showcasing the movement's new political influence.

The crisis in Qena, still not fully resolved, raises questions about what kind of Egypt will emerge from the post-revolutionary chaos-and whether its revolution will adhere to the ideals of democracy and equality that inspired it. The country's military rulers and liberal forces may ultimately succeed in containing religious strife and limiting the Islamists' political power.

Until recently, fears of an Islamist takeover in Egypt centered on the Muslim Brotherhood, a much better known organization that's trying to project a new image of moderation. While many liberal Egyptians remain deeply suspicious of the Brothers' true intentions, the Brotherhood now says it accepts Copts-the Middle East's largest religious minority- in all government positions , with the possible exception of president.

By contrast, many Salafis believe it is forbidden by Islam for Christians to exercise political power over Muslims in any capacity, such as governors, mayors or ministers. "If the Christian is efficient, he could be a deputy or an adviser," says prominent Salafi cleric Abdelmoneim Shehat.

Unlike the Brothers, the Salafis long refused to participate in elections and dismissed democracy as un-Islamic-a view held by their spiritual guides in Saudi Arabia. Numbering in the millions around the Arab world, Salafis seek to emulate the ways of the companions, and usually reject later theological, social and political innovations as heresy. Osama bin Laden belonged to the JIHADI current of Salafism that's trying to overthrow Arab regimes. Many OTHER Salafis, including Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi religious establishment, and until recently, key Egyptian clerics, hold that OBEYING political rulers is MANDATORY in Islam.

After the revolution, however, many Egyptian Salafis decided that the shortest way to the Islamic state they desire is through the ballot box. They joined the Brotherhood in backing conservative constitutional amendments that passed in a March referendum. Salafis leaders say they are likely to coordinate with the Brotherhood to field a slate of Islamist candidates for parliamentary elections planned for September.

"We've found out after the revolution that the Salafis and the Brotherhood have the same concerns," says Safwat Hegazy, a popular Saudi-trained TV preacher who belonged to the Brotherhood in his youth and has emerged as one of Egypt's most influential Salafi voices.

The main difference between the two movements is organization rather than ideology, he says. "The Brotherhood has rules, leadership, staff, formal members-and it can punish those members who don't follow its orders," he says. "The Salafi's have no organization whatsoever and no membership. People consider their leader any sheikh that they like"....

In Qena, a leafy city that prides itself on being named Egypt's cleanest, the Salafi militants who attacked Mr. Mitri and radicalized the protests against the Coptic governor were led by a young man named al-Hosseini Kamal. He had been incarcerated under Mr. Mubarak on suspicion of terrorist activities and, like thousands of such detainees, was set free after the revolution.

According to Mr. Mitri and witnesses cited in the police report, it was Mr. Kamal who cut off Mr. Mitri's ear, after first slicing his arm and neck. Reached on his cell phone, Mr. Kamal asked to call him later, and then didn't answer repeated phone calls.

In the days after the amputation, THE SALAFI MILITANTS THREATENED TO KILL MR. MITRI'S SIBLINGS AND TO KIDNAP HIS CHILDREN IF HE PRESSED CHARGES, Mr. Mitri and his relatives say. POLICE REFUSED TO HELP, " he says". Scared, he changed his initial testimony to say he didn't know who attacked him.

Instead of prosecution, Egyptian authorities pushed for a "reconciliation " between Mr. Mitri and his attackers. At the reconciliation ceremony, a beaming Mr. Kamal shook hands with the local military commander and other notables.

The ear amputation was a "mistake" and "the young people didn't mean it, " says Qureishi Salama, imam of one of Qena's largest mosques and a leader of the budding Salafi movement in Qena. Asked about the concerns of Christians, he responds, without elaborating: "Only those Christians who did something wrong should be fearful."

Shortly after the reconciliation, the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, a reformist chosen by leaders of the Cairo protests, named new local governors. Under Mr. Mubarak, Qena had been the only one of Egypt's 27 governorates ruled by a Christian. The new appointee, police Gen. Emad Mikhail, was also a Christian.

The Salafis objected first and foremost to Mr. Mikhail's religion. "We didn't want an imposed Christian quota" on governors, says Mr.Salama, the iman.  He and other Qena imams agreed to urge the faithful to SHOW THEIR FURY. "In most if not all Qena mosques the imams said that a Christian cannot rule over Muslims," recalls Nasr Yasin, a 27-year old activist. "The Salafis mobilized the people on a sectarian basis."

Angry crowds left the mosques and converged outside the governor's headquarters for a sit-in. Qena's revolutionary coalition split. Some liberal Muslims, such as Mr. Yasin, were offended by bigoted slogans and left. Others, including Muslim Brotherhood youths, stayed....

The Muslim Brotherhood's Abdelaziz Mahmoud, a 39-year-old concierge at the luxury winter Palace Hotel in nearby Luxor, says it was his idea to ratchet up the pressure by temporarily blocking a major railroad passing through Qena just before the new governor was sworn in in Cairo. He proposed a one-hour-sit-in on the tracks.

But once the Salafi militants, including Mr. Kamal, erected tents across roads and railroads leading into Qena, they decided to camp INDEFINITELY.  The blockade severed transportation links between northern and southern Egypt, and between the Nile Valley and the Red Sea coast. Some protesters raised the Saudi flag, which Egyptian Salafis have adopted as they own....

In Qena, as the Salafi-led protests continued, the anti-Coptic rhetoric swiftly got more radical: Protesters shouted "Mikhail is the enemy of God: and carried the new governor's mock coffin through Qena's streets, VOWING TO ASSASSINATE HIM if he ever set foot in the city. Leaflets urging a boycott of Christian businesses circulated in mosques.

"It started becoming very dangerous," says the Muslim Brotherhood's Mr. Mahmoud. Brotherhood leaders ordered him and other members to abandon the protests. "We withdrew once we realized that some people are raising a sectarian issue. We don't have any prejudice in dealing with our brother Copts," says Mohammed Beitagy, a Brotherhood leader in Cairo.

Prime Minister Sharaf's government tried to stand firm. "The governor of Qena has not and will not resign," said government spokesman Ahmed al-Samean. "Objections based on religion are unacceptable."

Mr. Sharaf dispatched his ministers of interior and local affairs to Qena to try to restore order, but their appeals for calm were drowned out by shouts of "We want a Muslim!"

Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim, until recently Qena's security director, says the army and police considered breaking up the blockades, but dropped the idea as impractical ......  "So we decided to hold a dialog instead."

For that Egypt's ruling Supreme Council and the Armed Forces and Prime Minister Sharaf reached out to Messrs. Gegazy and Hassan, the Salafi TV preachers. Flanked by military officers and feted in Qena as celebrities, the two sheikhs quickly endorsed the demonstrators' demands while asking them to lift the blockade....

The young militants, however, defied the preachers' requests to reopen the roads and railways, vowing to maintain the blockade until Mr. Mikhail's ouster.

As the protests entered the second week, demonstrators threatened to cut electricity supplies from the Aswan Dam on the Nile and to stop fresh water to Red Sea coastal towns. Mr. Salama and other local imams called for a "million-man march " after Friday prayers.

Prime Minister Sharaf dispatched his strategic-planning adviser, Ahmed Omran, a Qena native, to the city to seek a solution. As he tried to address the crowd, Mr. Omran had the prime minister on his cell-phone, ready to assuage the protesters. The angry crowd started chanting "Down with Sharaf!" "This was a total failure," says Mr. Omran.

Undeterred, he donned a traditional galabiya robe and went to meet the Salafi militants, including Mr. Mitri's attacker, at the railroad tracks.

He also solicited the opinions of Christian clergy. With the Coptic Easter two days away, Qena's priests were worried that the crisis, if unchecked, could lead to pogroms. They told Mr. Omran they were not insisting on Mr. Mikhail assuming office, and would go along with whatever the government decided.

That weekend, Mr. Omran says, he told Prime Minister Sharaf that the only solution was to meet the protesters' demands. He says the prime minister reluctantly agreed.

On April 25, the government announced on television that Mr. Mikhail's appointment was being "frozen" for three months-and that the deputy governor named days earlier, a Muslim former army colonel, would temporarily take over the governor's duties. Appointing Mr. Mikhail "was not a very well thought out decision," says Mr. Saman, the government spokesman.

At the sit-in, the news was greeted with shouts of Allah u Akbar, or "God is great." The protest tents were dismantled and the trains started running within hours .... [Emphasis added].

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JUNE 13, 2011 4:00 A.M.

New START: From Russia with Glee
Official numbers confirm what Obama officials denied: New START requires reductions only be the U.S.

The results of the data exchange on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons required under the New START treaty were released by the State Department on June 1. They demonstrate conclusively the truth of what treaty skeptics had said for months: The treaty brought the United States nothing in terms of lowered Russian force numbers.

In promoting the treaty to the Senate and the American people, the Obama administration claimed that New START provided the great benefit of reducing U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads by 30 percent - from 2,200 warheads each to 1,550 warheads each. It also placed a ceiling on the number of deployed American and Russian strategic launchers (missiles and bombers) at 700 each. Both sides are required under the treaty to be at or below these ceilings by 2018. The catch here, and the undoubted source of considerable amusement in Moscow, is the now-indisputable fact that only the United States must make actual reductions under New START.

As of February 5, the day the treaty came into force, Russia already was below the ceilings mandated by the treaty both for deployed strategic nuclear launchers and for warheads. On the first day of the treaty, the number of Russian launchers stood at 521, well below New START's ceiling of 700, and the number of accountable warheads stood at 1,537, below the new ceiling of 1,550. Rather than reducing its forces, Moscow would have to build them up to reach the new limits. In fact, according to the Russian defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, Russia will strive until the year 2028 to build up to New START's limit on strategic launchers. In contrast, the United States must make reductions, including a 25 percent cut in deployed strategic launchers.

Senior members of the Obama administration denied this inconvenient truth for many months leading up to the Senate's ratification of New START in December 2010. To acknowledge that Russian force levels already were below New START ceilings would have been to admit that the U.S. was the only side required to make reductions and would have raised questions about the treaty's value. It would have contradicted the popular claim that New START would require 30 percent reductions from both parties.

In fact, not much work was needed to conclude that the Russians would be giving up nothing. Numerous Russian officials and commentators said openly before the treaty was ratified that Russia already was below New START's ceilings and would go lower still as it continued to withdraw its aged Cold War strategic nuclear systems. Russia has for some time been in the process of swapping out its old systems for newer models, and its replacement rate cannot keep up with the deactivation of its outdated systems - so Russia's force numbers would have dropped with or without New START. Thus, Russian officials happily noted that only the U.S. would have to make reductions.

Secretary of State Clinton denied this now-obvious fact before the Senate Armed Services Committee and charged that American treaty skeptics making such observations "just don't believe in arms-control treaties at all and from my perspective are very unfortunately slanting a lot of what they say." Similarly, when the since-retired senator Kit Bond (R., Mo.), then vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, observed that only the United States would have to make force reductions under New START, the State Department contradicted him publicly, stating, "The Treaty does not force the United States to reduce unilaterally."

Negotiations are all about compromise - you have to give something to get something, right? Apparently not when it came to the reductions required by New START. As Russian defense expert Vladimir Dvorkin acknowledges openly, "Russia does not need to reduce anything. Only the U.S.A. will have to reduce its arsenals." Earlier he and a senior Russian official, Alexei Arbatov observed, "The United States did not seek to eliminate, reduce, or limit any of the other side's weapons or programs in particular (such as, for example, Soviet or Russian heavy ICBMs or mobile missiles, which were the focus of talks in previous times)." No, indeed. There is a lesson here that should not be lost when expansive claims are next made about the administration's arms-control achievements and skeptics are chastised. As Ronald Reagan said, "Trust but verify."

- Keith B. Payne is department head of the Graduate Department of Defense and Strategic Studies at Missouri State University (Washington, D.C. campus).

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