Posted by Karen Girgis on November 18, 2015 in Blog
Last week, Reham Saeed, host of a popular TV show in Egypt called Sabaya al-Kheir, aired photos of a sexual assault victim, attempting to discredit her. Within hours, the show was canceled due to the efforts of a large online boycott campaign. Bassem Youssef, the heralded “Jon Stewart of Egypt” took up the cause, asking for companies to boycott the show on his Twitter feed. In a time where media is closely monitored by the Egyptian state- to the point where a journalist can be fined for contradicting the government’s official narrative of events–many Egyptians are nostalgic for Bassem Youssef’s now cancelled show al-Barnameg. While under the Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood affiliated television perpetuated sectarian rhetoric—portraying Coptic Christians as traitors and the cause of Egypt’s economic and political struggles—Copts did have, at least, one advocate on Egyptian TV: Bassem Youssef.
In October of 2011, months after the demonstrations that deposed President Hosni Mubarak, Coptic Christian citizens of Egypt demonstrated outside the Maspero television building to protest attacks on yet another one of their churches in Upper Egypt. Members of the Armed Forces responded by firing tear gas and driving armored personnel carriers into the crowds, killing 28 and injuring 212. While the rest of Egyptian media manipulated the story, arguing that Copts were warring against security personnel and encouraging callers to condemn the protests, Bassem Youssef’s episode was unapologetically revisionist, revealing the sectarian nature of the media at the time. The last minute of the episode is particularly powerful: “Correction,” says Bassem, “Because Egyptians watched [the media], they were made to turn against people who were run over by cars…You made us to believe that Copts stole army weapons and shot against them, weapons that the army isn’t supposed to hold in the first place… Correction: The Regime has still not fallen… Correction: Maspero Television, land of hypocrisy.”
Today, Copts breathe a sigh of relief that they are no longer under Muslim Brotherhood rule and susceptible to the media’s continual targets. But their relief, their hope in the so-called secular President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, is unfounded. To the Egyptian state, Coptic citizens are mere pretexts. When the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) murdered 21 Copts in Libya, the government responded by attacking Libya and giving monetary retributions to the families of victims. The death of Coptic men matched perfectly with the state’s interests to combat terrorists and crackdown on all forms of Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood. But simultaneously, the state still refuses to take responsibility for the events of Maspero, perpetuating conspiracy theories that the Muslim Brotherhood was the group behind the massacre, and continues to target Copts for blasphemy charges.
When Christian lives are mere pretexts, the second their interests conflict with those of the state, Copts will, once again, be targeted. Many Copts, along with much of Egyptian society, may passively support the current crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Coptic fears of the Muslim Brotherhood align, momentarily, with the interests of the Egyptian state. But what will happen when Copts begin to more forcefully push for explicit Coptic concerns- for full protection under the law as citizens, for a pope who can focus on the spiritual concerns of the church rather than be made to serve as a political representative, for full justice to be served against those who continue to attack their places of worship, for a fairer process to build and repair churches? Or when they advocate against policies that are stifling the whole Egyptian society, including the anti-protest and anti-terrorism law?
The Maspero Massacre shows us what the consequences will be. But this time, unlike in 2011, there will be no Bassem Youssef.
Karen Girgis is an intern with the Arab American Institute