By Jess Goulart
“Cairo is a stressful place without a revolution,” Amira Mikhail tells BTR, regarding her experience in Egypt over the summer.
An activist, blogger and law student at American University in Washington, D.C., Mikhail recalls living in Cairo several weeks prior to Morsi’s ouster, in this crowded, busy city where people were suffering from electricity cuts in 100-degree weather. She remembers reading political cartoons that depicted things like the increasing price of living expenses such as bread or schoolbooks.
“You could feel this tension on the streets everywhere,” she says.
In her blog, Nile Revolt, Mikhail diligently tracks information about the ongoing conflict in Egypt. Her sister site, Sectarian Attacks, works as an interactive database to provide people an accurate, organized account of the recent wave of sectarian violence against Coptic Christians, an atrocity that mainstream Western media is largely failing to report on.
Coptic Christians, also known as Copts, make up only 10 percent of the predominantly Muslim country, and have long lived with fragile religious freedom. When key member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammad Morsi, was elected President in 2012, he ordered head military generals to retire, granted himself more and more powers, and re-wrote the constitution to be based on Sharia law. Coptic Christians largely felt Morsi thus implemented an oppressive Islamic regime, under which violence against them went unaddressed and was perhaps even encouraged.
On June 30th, 2013, millions of Copts openly turned out to protest Morsi, and on July 3rd, when Morsi was deposed by the military, Coptic Pope Twardos II spoke at a political news conference in support of Morsi’s ouster. This public anti-Morsi show resulted in much finger pointing from the Brotherhood.
Believing Copts to be a primary cause of their leader’s failure, many Muslims have perpetrated an unprecedented wave of violence against them, with over 100 churches and Christian properties being destroyed in the last two months, and mounting reports of murders and kidnappings in the last few weeks. Most recently, four people were killed in a drive-by shooting at a Coptic Christian wedding, including an 8-year-old girl.
Though the attack received press coverage, many others have not. One problem with communications, Mikhail explains, is that “conflicting information happens all the time. You’ll hear about a bomb in one area, but it could just as easily have been a gas tank that exploded and everyone thought it was a bomb. It’s really common for wrong information to be disseminated because there is a lot less focus on what is correct or not.”
She says it is also difficult to discern which acts of violence are definitively religiously motivated, meaning she relies on social media, activist blogs, and phone calls to friends and family living in Egypt to give her accurate facts, but even then the events can be misconstrued.
Referring to a story on her blog about a mayor being killed, Mikhail says she got two conflicting reports both directly from the village where the murder allegedly took place.
“We had my grandparents call family members there who said that the mayor had been killed, and his son, and then my dad talked to a relative over there and they said that it was just a relative of the mayor,” she tells BTR. “Either way, it could have been sectarian, or he could have been involved in some kind of criminal activity. It’s really hard to get the actual story.”
Hal Meawad, co-founder and director of Coptic Solidarity, a human rights NPO, tells BTR that when he follows events in Egypt, there is the Western media, the Egyptian media, and the church media, and though “the news is the news, there can be differing opinions in the analysis.”
But Meawad says the mere fact that stories conflict isn’t the real issue.
“The social networks can communicate the problems, but I don’t know that there’s hard evidence that Western political leaders are reacting to the news. Whether they don’t hear it, or hear it and ignore it, the Western powers aren’t paying enough attention to these problems.”
Meanwhile, in Egypt, an overwhelmed police force is unable to effectively address the escalating situation, so Coptic families are being forced to flee their country to escape persecution. Meawad tells BTR they have four churches in the D.C. area that have each received a huge influx of newcomers in the last 18 months.
Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, tells Newsmax that “of the approximately 350,000 Copts living in the U.S., almost one-third of those arrived post-revolution.”
Most of these refugees have left everything behind in Egypt, and must now start their lives over from scratch.
“Unfortunately,” Meawad says, “we feel the threat of Islamic extremists even here,” referring in part to the Boston Marathon Bombing and the gruesome murder of two Egyptian Christians in New Jersey this past February.
Mikhail recently published a set of photos taken by locals documenting the church burnings in the Northern city of Minya, where the violence has been particularly heavy. She tells BTR she is saddened, but not surprised by what the photos reveal.
“We’ve known about the sectarian hatred and severe discrimination that happened on a regular basis, so it was kind of like a matter of time before it would explode – and it did.”
Perhaps this explosion will cause the rest of the world to take notice, too.
Father Joseph Boules of the St. Mary & St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church had been keeping track of these Church burnings in Minya with his Congregation in Southern California. He tells BTR that he hopes for the vandals who attacked these churches to be brought to justice and convicted for deterring future acts.
“We want to make sure that all Christians and all citizens of Egypt are treated in a fair way, regardless of race, color or belief,” Father Boules says.