Authors: Nonie Darwish
Attacks on Christians accelerated, and on May 7, 2011, Christian Copts were again attacked by Muslim Salafis in the area of Embaba, a suburb of Cairo. The attacks lasted for fourteen hours. The Muslims fired guns and rifles and hurled Molotov cocktails at Coptic churches, houses, and businesses. Twelve Copts were killed and 232 injured. Saint Mina Church was the first one attacked and was set on fire by some 3,000 Salafi Muslim men, because a Christian girl named Abir, who had converted to Islam after marrying a Salafi, wanted to revert back to Christianity and was hiding inside the church.
When some Muslims objected to what the Salafis were doing, their leader publicly stated that whoever did not like Allah's law was welcome to leave the country. There were many other attacks against Christian churches, with Salafis demanding the release of another woman named Kamilya whom Muslims claimed had converted to Islam and was being held against her will at the church. The woman, the wife of a Coptic priest and a mother, appeared publicly and stated that she wanted to remain with her husband and that she was not a Muslim, but the rioters still demanded her divorce from her husband and that she be taken out of the church. Islamic rage over the Kamilya story enraged Muslims all over the Arab world and reached Islamists in Iraq, who attacked a church killing more than fifty-nine Christians, using the excuse that Christians are holding Camilia against her will. It might sound strange to people in the West, but third-party divorces are allowed in Islam. When one member of a married Christian couple converts to Islam, the two spouses are automatically divorced against their will.
The situation after the Arab Spring is clearly ushering in a new return to Islamism. The death of Osama bin Laden was mourned by the majority of Egyptians. A friend from Cairo who had secretly left Islam called me to congratulate me on the death of Osama bin Laden. He said that the majority of Egyptians were sad over the death of bin Laden and that some didn't care, but he could not find one person who was happy over the killing of the terrorist who had caused the deaths of thousands in the name of Islam. That tells us a lot about where things are heading and where the hearts of the majority of Muslims are. I am not surprised, but the West needs to understand this mind-set.
The revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and perhaps more to follow have succeeded in removing three dictators, but will they bring about the freedom they aspired to? Already, the future of the freedom that students and some intellectuals wanted is uncertain. Will it be an Islamic theocracy run by the extremist Salafis or a bloodbath, as they are promising?
Hearing the depressing news from Egypt, I understand why my friends have written to me that they are scared. The bearded men are all over the streets, silencing anyone who disagrees with radical Islamic law, and the majority of the illiterate and undereducated Egyptian population is following them like sheep. I am afraid for my culture of origin. I think it is going to get worse before it will ever get better.
Now, let us examine more closely in the next chapter why Islamic revolutions are doomed to fail.
Why Islamic Revolutions Are Doomed to Fail
The Arab Spring has turned out to be a fraud. A new phase of stronger tyranny has replaced the old tyranny. Have the hopeful young protesters of Tahrir Square, Tunisia, and other Middle Eastern countries been duped? How could such smart young men and women and even intellectuals and journalists not have predicted that the vacuum in power after their leaders left the stage would usher in Islamists, who represent the majority of the population?
Given the developments that unfolded so quickly after the “revolution,” it is hard to grasp the initial euphoria and unrealistic optimism of the Arab Spring. Some still believe it will bring them freedom and democracy, but many of them are gradually realizing that Egypt's problems are far more complex than taking out a dictator. They voice regret that their flowery revolution has been hijacked. Whenever things do not go well, Muslims, educated or not, say it is because their best intentions were hijacked. Osama bin Ladin was adored by many in the Muslim world, who after his death hailed him as a martyr and the closest thing to a prophet. Yet Muslims in the United States would rather blame him for having hijacked Islam than engage in honest self-criticism of their religion and its jihad doctrine after 9/11. They will use any excuse, rather than go where no one can go, which is to blame Islamic teachings, jihad, and sharia for atrocities done in the name of Islam by Muslims.
As harsh as this may sound, let us look more closely at what has followed the euphoria of spring 2011. Amina Tharwat Abaza, an Egyptian media personality and the daughter of the distinguished writer and novelist Tharwat Abaza, described the deteriorating situation in postrevolutionary Egypt:
I cannot tolerate this [coverage of church burning] any more. I had to shut off the TV, and I resigned from my position at the Egyptian TV station. I cannot be part of the crimes committed by our TV in destroying the Egyptian mind, especially among the illiterate and uneducated who are about three-quarters of our population, by befriending the murderers [the terrorists] and rejecting the open-minded.
What they [Islamists] are doing is damaging Islam's reputation all over the world. This is a civil war that might evolve into a world war. The West might eventually need to occupy us to defend the minorities. What the Salafis, extremists, the hooligans are doing in Egypt is an invitation to a civil war and a bloodbath, both internally and externally. They are not just attacking churches, but they are also attacking Muslim women in the streets and in their homes. To them, Islam is condensed to a bomb, Camilia [the Christian woman whom Muslims want to take away from her husband because they believe she converted to Islam], and violating churches. They have made the whole world hate Islam but complain about Islamophobia, which is the natural end result of what you do. They created Islamophobia. Then we make Bin Laden a heroic martyr! Are we insane? What happened to the Egypian people? It was once the oldest, greatest civilization on earth. What messed up the Egyptian mind?
What is happening is unbelievable and is depressing. If they think that these thugs can scare us, we are not scared. They are forcing the intellectuals to go down to their level and carry weapons, and if we must, we will. If two, three, or ten die, then no problem. Talking to them is not working any more. It is beyond negotiation with them. The military council must do something. Criminals must go to jail; those who burn and kill must go to jail. Our military that triumphed in 1973 over Israel and America is frozen before these thugs. The military council says we are letting them dig their own grave without doing anything! What kind of policy is that? Does that mean that to prove that my neighbor is violating me, I should allow him to kill my son? I marched in Tahrir Square for two days, and now I feel I was wrong, perhaps our citizens do not deserve democracy or freedom. They deserve an enlightened dictator, one that respects the respectable citizens and suppresses those who abuse the system.
When she was asked where Egypt is going, Amina replied,
Egypt is already gone. Everyone I know is planning on leaving the country, not just Christians, but also Muslims. Terrorism is not just hurting the Christians but it is hurting everyone. At least fifteen families I know are getting ready to leave Egypt. They have destroyed Egypt and we will regret the previous administration. Getting stolen is better than getting killed. This is not a fight over equal playing fields, intellectuals cannot fight with bombs and knives, they will just leave. I call on the military council to “save your country.”
After President Mubarak resigned in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been banned by the Mubarak administration, has emerged more powerful and emboldened than ever. It has allied itself with the Salafi ultra-radical sect to form an even more powerful Islamist presence and moved quickly to set the agenda for the country's political future. Islamism has penetrated every institution in the country. It became clear that anyone who wants to succeed politically must get the blessing or approval of the Muslim Brotherhood. Meetings occurred regularly between the interim military government and the Brotherhood. Rumors are starting to spread that the Muslim Brotherhood will leave the position of president to someone who is not on its membership list, on the condition that the Brotherhood will take control of the Parliament. The Brotherhood immediately made it clear that if anyone attempted to remove Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution, the article that makes sharia the law of the land, there would be a bloodbath.
As I described in chapter 1, violence against Christians, their institutions, and their homes has sharply escalated since the revolution. In early May 2011, two churches were set on fire, after Islamists attacked members of the congregation, and at least twelve people were killed and two hundred injured. There has been a systematic attempt to wipe out the Coptic Christian population, which makes up 10 percent of the nation. The situation is quickly becoming similar to the fate of Christians in the Sudan. The northern Islamic part of Sudan has systematically persecuted, enslaved, and terrorized the southern Christian part, and that fact is totally ignored by Muslims around the world. Such attacks on Christians in the area are heavily funded and supported by oil-rich Arab countries. It is rumored that thugs are often hired by the Islamists in order to place the blame on others if the conspiracy is exposed to the outside world. The armies and the Egyptian police, as well as those of all Muslim countries, are a reflection of the Islamist elements in the population, and these security forces have a huge number of Islamists in their ranks. Thus, the police and the army often stand by without doing very much while unarmed Christians are massacred. Yet they are quick to arrest injured Copts while they are being treated for their wounds.
Even when people demonstrated against the killing of Christians and the burning of their churches, the demonstrators were brazenly attacked by Muslims. Copts then protested outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo to ask for protection. This was unprecedented, because Copts have always been reluctant to ask for help from the West, for fear of being accused of allying themselves with Egypt's enemies. Yet at that point, they had no choice. The fate of the Copts looks more and more grim.
The escalating violence against the Christians reminds me of what happened in the fifties and the sixties when Egypt embarked on a campaign to purge its Jewish population. The expulsion of the Jews began after the 1952 revolution, but the purging did not end with the Jews. The hostility expanded to other minorities in Egypt, including Greeks, Italians, and Armenians, who felt that there was no place for them any longer and started to leave. Even the Muslim king Farouk, who had Ottoman roots, was criticized as not being a true Egyptian.
“First comes Saturday; then comes Sunday!” is an Islamic saying that means “First we kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians.” History seems to be repeating itself in the 2011 revolution, which has begun to purge the Sunday people, the Christians. Since the time of Mohammed, it has been an Islamic mission to rid Muslim lands of Christians and Jews. Caliph Umar decreed that Jews and Christians should be removed from Arabia to fulfill a commandment the prophet gave on his deathbed: “Let there not be two religions in Arabia.” That same goal became the mission of Osama bin Laden when in 1998 he issued a “Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders.” This purging of Christians, Jews, and Hindus is going on today across the Middle East, from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iraq to Lebanon and Egypt.
This purging does not look like an Arab Spring; it is a shameful ethnic cleansing. Islamic intolerance of others is now directed at full force and without mercy against the Copts, the only minority left in Egypt. They were also the original natives of seventh-century Egypt before the country fell under the control of the Arab Islamic invasion. The current purging, which started with the Jews, followed by other minorities, is now being completed to turn Egypt into a pure Islamic state like that of Saudi Arabia. One minority after another has been removed. Who will be alienated and purged next? Will it be those suspected of apostasy from Islam, socialists, moderate Muslims, critics, intellectuals, the educated classes, or women who refuse to wear the hijab? Islamist hatred and intolerance have no end. Islamists have no tolerance for differences and do not intend to coexist with other groups. This intolerance is not unique to Egypt, by any means. It is simply more noticeable in Egypt because Egypt has the largest Christian population in the Middle East. Christians are threatened all across the Middle East—in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries. This moral catastrophe cries out for coordinated international action.
Another very disturbing trend is the rise of vengeance toward Israel. It emerged clearly on May 13 when a huge rally took place, again in Tahrir Square, in which the demonstrators openly expressed their wish for renewed hostility against Israel. Some even claimed that Ilat, the Israeli city on the Red Sea, was actually Egyptian property that Egypt needed to get back from Israel. This trend undermines the peace and stability that are necessary to establish the freedom and democracy that Egyptian protesters were eager to achieve.
The interim government recognized that the emerging power of the Muslim Brotherhood might lead to one of its own becoming the next leader of Egypt, so the government moved quickly to consolidate forces with Islamist groups, both inside and outside of Egypt. The interim government began to foster a new and improved relationship with Iran and allowed the passage of Iranian warships through the Suez Canal. It also opened the previously sealed Rafah border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, making it much easier for weapons to be smuggled in to threaten Israel. While the streets in Egypt were still on fire with hopes for democracy, the interim government had brokered a reconciliation treaty in Cairo between the leaders of Hamas and Fatah for a unity government. Egypt's new alliances with Hamas and Iran were a clearly hostile move in its “cold peace” relationship with Israel. None were good signs for peace, freedom, and democracy.
A nationalist mood has evolved, with people expressing hostilities against Israel similar to those of the Nasser era. It reminds me of my youth in Egypt during his time. Yet this new Nasserite movement has arisen around an Islamist core that could be much more radical and dangerous than the one under the Nasser regime. Islamist thugs are everywhere, threatening anyone who rebels against Islamic principles. This includes violence against shop owners who sell alcohol, even if it is to the Christian population.
The situation in Tunisia was different to begin with. It has always been a unique country in the Arab world, in its ability to reject radical Islam and maintain a law against polygamy. As a result, Tunisia has suffered through many attempts by outside Islamist groups to bring down its antipolygamy laws.
After the country's moderate leadership stepped down, the system was soon challenged by Islamists. In January 2011, a Tunisian Islamist leader, Rached Ghannouchi, returned to Tunisia from London, where he had lived in exile for about twenty years. Ghannouchi had founded an Islamist organization in 1981 named “Ennahda,” which was inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood. His arrival in Tunisia after the revolution was celebrated by thousands of people. Although the threat from Islamists in Tunisia is not as devastating as in Egypt, in July 2011 they stormed into a cinema in the capital city of Tunis to stop the screening of
Neither God nor Master
, a film that promotes secularism. Whether it is in Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, or even Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda is already congratulating Islamists everywhere for giving it a great opportunity. The revolutions and the removal of pro-Western Arab regimes have empowered the terrorist movement. All Islamist groups, and they are many, believe that with the Arab Spring, there is an opportunity to revive the caliphate state, or the Ummah. Only time will tell whether they will ever achieve their dreams, but there is no doubt that the Islamist movement has benefited from and been empowered by the uprisings.
The death of bin Laden was another indicator of the force of Islamism, exposing beyond any doubt how powerful and popular Islamism is and how weak moderates are in the Middle East. As I described in chapter 1, almost no one in the Middle East rejoiced at his death, and this was the man whom many Muslims accused of having hijacked Islam and given it a bad name. The truth of how Muslims actually felt about him became obvious in the many eulogies that could be found all over the Internet. It is naive to believe that Islamist leaders have little support, when in reality they are often looked up to as heroes and are considered the vanguard of Islam. Even the most popular Arab TV station, Al Jazeerah, aired a program about bin Laden that was very respectful and complimentary, a tribute to his life. We can understand why the United States did not surrender his body to his people, because his tomb would have been made into a shrine representing Islamic triumph over America and venerating the man who brought fear of and perhaps, in some parts, respect for Islam around the world.