By Michael Danby
On New Years Eve this year, Egypt’s Christians celebrated the coming of the New Year. As they began to leave the Saints Church in East Alexandria, Cairo, a large explosion went off. 22 men, women and children were killed, and 98 people severely injuring, a Jihadist suicide bomb ripped through the Alexandria’s premier Coptic Church
The Copts represents 10% of the 80 million people in Egypt, and are the largest Christian community remaining in the Middle East. They are a link to ancient Egypt, as their Coptic language is the last remnant of the language of the hieroglyphs. Their culture and traditions pre-date Islam. The attack was not isolated, and came after months of escalating violence against the Copts in Egypt.
Many of the victims of this atrocity attack have relatives here in Australia, where the Coptic Community is 80,000 strong. Violence against the Copts in the Middle East has had consequences here too. On Coptic Christmas (7th January) four churches in Sydney were listed amongst 64 worldwide as targets by Al Qaeda.
Like many Australian Jewish religious sites, they too were forced into intensive private and government security lockdown
The attack on the Coptic Church in Egypt, and the subsequent protests that followed the bombings were some of the first public signs that the Mubarak regime was losing control. This of course all predates the current upsurge against Mubarak.
No amount of Grecian 2000 hair dye can hide the fact that Egypt’s tyrant, Hosni Mubarak, is in his mid 80’s. Prior to the demonstrations against Mubarak, I argued in News Ltd online publication The Punch, that in the campaign against the Copts, coupled with the blatantly rigged parliamentary elections, meant the end of Hosni Mubarak’s scheme to install his son Gamal, laughably known as ‘Gary’, will not happen. Game over with that one.
Egypt’s security chief, Omar Solmain, now installed as Vice president may be able to perpetuate the relatively secularist Egyptian regime. It is possible that the army backed, pro-Western regime will collapse. Despite the identical parrot calls of Fairfax’s McGeough, Koutsoukis and Fisk, there is much doubt about whether the Muslim Brotherhood or even an ostensible secularist like Mohamed El Baredei would run Egypt any better.
ASPI’s Carl Ungerer was right to point out that an election that brings the brotherhood to power may be the last election Egypt has.
The dramatic attacks on the Coptic Christians in Egypt, had an immediate effect in Australia involving the Al Qaeda listing of four local Coptic churches. Surprisingly, back around New Year, none of our Australian, Jerusalem-based reporters ventured to Alexandria or Egypt over that period. They are all in Cairo now, but this news lapse wasn’t just an Australian phenomena. Jeffrey Goldberg writing in the Atlantic Monthly, noted what he thought was ”the lackadaisical coverage of the most important story coming out of the Middle East now.” It’s easier to report from the comfort of Jerusalem’s coffee shops or sound off about the dreadful Israeli’s with Palestine confederates at the cosy American Colony hotel.
Goldberg was right to see the wider murderous anti-Christian campaign in Egypt and Iraq, indeed as a phenomenon throughout the Middle East. Just last October, Al Qaeda boasted of its slaughter in a Baghdad church. There Jihadists murdered 58 men, women and children in church, including priests praying at the altar; 80% of Iraqi Christians have fled the country targeted particularly by Al Qaeda of Iraq.
Christians are under siege from Islamist in the Palestinian territories. Only in Lebanon where the disgraceful Christian warlord General Aoun is in alliance with Hezbollah is there a brief reprieve for Nasrerllah’s benighted Christian collaborator . With his assistance, Iran via Hezbollah been able to install their proxy, Najib Mikati, as Prime Minister of Lebanon.
Counter intuitively to the perverse BBC/Guardian/Fairfax worldview about the Middle East, only Israel has seen the number of Christians increase from 34,000 in 1948 to 151,700 (according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics Report of 2010). Where is World Vision, Care or the Uniting Church, off on the same tangent with Israel-obsessed radicals of the Middle East Council of Christians?
In contrast, Pope Benedict insisted that: “Government’s do more to protect religious minorities.” Mubarak’s maladroit response was to withdraw the Egyptian Ambassador to the Vatican. Pope Benedict argued “Words are not enough in confronting religious intolerance, there must be a concrete and constant effort by the world’s nations”. US President Obama and French President Sarkozy also specifically denounced the anti-Coptic violence. There were questions about whether Australia had spoken out loudly enough. Although a delegation of senior Labor politicians led by Federal Minister Martin Ferguson, in which I participated, had a very useful meeting with the Coptic Bishop and most of Melbourne’Coptic Ministers.
Waheed Ra'fat, one of the managing editors of Mubarak’s NDP’s Al-Watani Al-Yom publication, with the usual diversionary and delusional , reacted to the attack on the Copts as follows.
"Mossad is the accused because it stands to benefit most from distracting Egypt's attention from what is going to happen in South Sudan on January 9]. .. The Mossad has a strategy of instigating fitna [civil war, disagreement and division within Islam.
Just as local Egyptian writer Mona Eltahawy writes: “Meanwhile, the uprisings are curing the Arab world of its obsession with Israel. Successive Arab dictators have tried to keep discontent at bay by distracting people with the Israeli-Arab Conflict.”
She obviously had in mind the Governor of Sinai who said Egyptian officials believed that a fatal shark attack in one of their resorts could have been a “plot” by the Mossad. And remember Saudi authorities arrested “a Zionist vulture” last month, in reality a bird tagged in a Haifa University bird migration experiment.
Peter Day, writing in the Australian Spectator, noted the violence against Egypt’s Christians meant its fate was on the line.
“Hani Shukrallah, an independent journalist and former editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, writes in the paper that an Egypt free of its ancient Christian Coptic minority is for the first time not beyond his imagining. He hopes to be dead before that: ‘This will be an Egypt which I do not recognise and to which I have no desire to belong’.”
Sadly we need to be aware that the Middle East faces something wider even then the fate of Egypt. It is another aspect of Al Qaeda Jihadist war- the systematic attempt to drive Christianity out of the Middle East. This organised attack on Middle East Christians is but a part of the Salafist war waged against the world. It is fought by their many satellites and franchises from the Algerian “Salafist front of the Combat and Call”, to “Jemah Islamiya” in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Home grown Jihadists are what we in Australia have to fear the most. Fortunately for Australia, our security agencies and laws have so far foiled all attempts of terror attacks on mainland Australia. Even if all Jewish and Coptic sites in Australia have to remain highly guarded, it may be necessary so Australia continues to avoid mass causality attacks.
Michael Danby is Member for Melbourne Ports 8 February, 2011