Tuesday, March 31, 2015
On Copts, Libya and Nationalism
One of the most astounding phenomena following the brutal slaying of 21 Copts, who had been kidnapped since December 2014, is the hyper-nationalistic reactions within Egyptian society. These reactions of immediate unquestioning support to military response in Libya extend to numerous revolutionary hardliners who are greatly opposed to Al-Sisi’s rule, yet found in this atrociousness a chance to unite against a common enemy, temporarily putting aside fundamental differences with the regime. Considering the outrage, it is difficult to believe that three years ago, the Egyptian military ran over more Copts in Egypt than “Islamic State” killed in Libya, and no one was brought to account.
I have not seen the video of the brutal executions, it is haunting as it is to know it’s out there. The screen-shots splattered across social media are traumatic enough. The manner in which this news was released in Egypt was through airing the horrendous video on satellite television shows known to be largely steered by the government’s security apparatus. Some of the victims’ family members found out through this insensitive broadcast. The air-strike that ensued, took place without warning or evacuating Egyptians in Libya, which caused more to be kidnapped by ”Islamic State”.
I would have thought it unnecessary to fervidly condemn these atrocious killings, since there can be no doubt as to their extreme brutality, but perhaps with the frenzy surrounding the war on terror it may be required.
There is a prevalent point of view that perceives this as an opportunity to align against a common enemy. No one can seriously undermine the threat of extremism, irrespective of which powers and countries fund it, since more and more it appears to be tapping into an existing resource of fanatic thought running through a great many Middle Eastern societies, posing a threat to the region, and indeed the world.
Yet the sentiment that now is not the time to differ over what policy is used to counter this terror, as has been repeated incessantly by numerous Egyptian personalities and the media, is deeply flawed. It is the policy with which we deal with this sort of extremism that will determine the outcome of this battle.
What’s more, the regime’s response is viewed as an improvement to how Copts are perceived by the regime. Yet how can this be regarded as advancement of Coptic rights, knowing that Egypt continues to have discriminatory laws and regulations against Copts? Some more meaningful gestures towards the Coptic community would be: to issue the unified law on building houses of worship, to activate laws that punish discrimination, to remove the religion field from the identity card, allow for freedom to change religion, nullify the “defamation of religion” law, release prisoners of conscience tried under the defamation of religion law, hold participants of sectarian events accountable, allow more Christians to hold government positions, or at least allow Christians to serve in the country’s General Intelligence.
None of these changes have taken place, and perhaps none are likely to happen. The regime has only engaged in short-term gestures, rather than meaningful policy change.
It is worth noting that Egypt has long been offering support in Libya, and reportedly conducted airstrikes in August 2014.
The deadly attack on Egyptians is not the first in Libya, but perhaps the biggest and most covered due to the brutality of the video released. In February 2014, seven Egyptians were kidnapped and executed by shots to their heads and their bodies dumped. Also in December 2014, an Egyptian doctor, his wife and his child were killed.
Both the government and church have been largely silent about such incidents, and vocal against media, human rights, activists, and other “threats”.
What strikes me as particularly odd is that Egypt would claim the strikes in Libya as retaliation and some sort of method of payback, because some of its citizens were killed. In fact, the only real response took place after images of the Copts in orange death roll jumpsuits had been published by “Islamic State”. We are asked to believe that Egypt’s swift response is an angry reaction to the killing of the hostages, considering they had been kidnapped for nearly 45 days with very little attention highlighted by the government. But is it because the citizens mean something to the Egyptian regime?
How can we expect a regime that has killed its own flower-holding citizens to care about those killed outside its borders? How can we reconcile the fact that the Egyptian police set a trap for nearly 20 football fans by firing teargas into the crowd, together with mourning over the kidnapped Copts in Libya? If Egyptian lives are so precious, why doesn’t Egypt prosecute its security apparatus targeting its citizens and hold it to account?
It is unlikely that there was something the Egyptian government could have done to save those hostages, much like others who have been executed, because of difficulty of negotiating with extremists. But the reality is that we don’t really know. There has been very little information, and the little that we know indicates scant efforts. There is a great opaqueness about what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the presidency and General Intelligence did from the time extremists announced they had kidnapped 21 Egyptians. What we saw is a regime obsessed with how foreign media portrays it, instead of what happens to its citizens.
We have no means of accountability, had there been a dereliction of duties on the part of the Egyptian government. It is increasingly difficult to understand the motivations of the regime, particularly with all the blind support it continues to be granted for its policies, many of which are murky, poor and counterproductive.
First published on 21 February, 2015