The Christian Copts of Egypt are not Arabs; but they are Arab-speakers.
They are, in a certain strong sense, the true or authentic Egyptians. The Coptic national church existed long before the Arabs invaded and forced their religion, Islam, on the indigenous peoples of Egypt.
The Copts can even claim to be the real descendants of the ancient Egyptians. This also means, ethnically speaking, that the blood of the Copts has been largely unmixed with Arabic blood.
Coptic Christians, then, are an ancient ethnic and religious grouping.
Early in the 20th century, the rural area around Minia and Asyut, being so separated geographical and ethnically/religious from the rest of (Muslim) Egypt, effectively closed in on itself. In other words, it was never completely destroyed by Islam or by the Arab invaders. In this area, Nilotic Christianity was more successful than any other Christian grouping in the rest of Egypt. The Copts made up 18% of the overall population in the province of Minia and 19% in Asyut. In terms of much of the rest of Egypt, Copts only make up around 6% of the population. (This percentage of Copts in Egypt is roughly the same as the Muslim population of the UK, if slightly higher.)
Before the persecution of Copts took on a more Islamic tinge in recent history, their main crime was that they weren’t Arabs. That is not to say this was a racial problem or accusation; though it was clearly a cultural and political one. The Copts saw themselves as being Egyptian rather than Arabic. In fact they were not really Arabic at all.
As a result, at least up until the late 1960s (before the recent rise of Islamism), Egyptianism, rather than Arabism, was seen by many Arabists as actually being a largely (or wholly) Coptic invention, or at least as being too much under the influence of the Copts.
In response to years of Islamic persecution, or Dhimmitude, followed by Arabist persecution (still of course tinged with Islam), the Copts left Egypt in their thousands. As a result of this, and because of the relative wealth and industry of certain Copts in Egypt over the years, Egypt is effectively losing - or driving out - the most enterprising and well-qualified elements of their society.
This has also happened in other Arab countries. In Israel, on the other hand, the state, and Israelis generally, have kept hold, as it were, of the two million or so Arabs who live and often prosper in Israel. (Whether the Arabs of Israel as as enterprising and useful as the Copts in Egypt are, or used to be, is of course another question.)
Of course today the Egyptian state claims that the Copts are equal citizens and enjoy complete equality in law. This is relatively true. But only relatively so. Compared to how they have been treated by Egyptian Islamists, Islamic fundamentalists and even just everyday Muslims (today and in the past), the Egyptian state has been relatively benign to the Copts. But, again, that is only a relative comparison. This may well mean that if the ‘spring revolutionaries’, or the Islamists, do take over Egypt, then the position of the Copts will almost definitely deteriorate, rather than improve. (This is not a forecast you often hear from the Left/liberal media in the West and even in the United States.)
Coptic Dhimmitude: Then and Now
In the specific terms of Egyptian Copts, under the dhimmi system, the Copts were basically a barely tolerated minority.
Even after Egyptian Islam was watered down (in the late 19th and 20th centuries), they still suffered and had a lesser status. It was precisely because of this enforced poll tax (jiziyya) that the Copts of Middle Egypt, in the Coptic Congress of 1911, debated the possibility of a creation of a Christian state in Middle Egypt.
When it comes to the Islamic requirement that all non-Muslims should respect Dhimmi law, as it were, this clearly displayed and still displays itself with the Egyptian Copts. For example, very recently Muslims, not only Islamists or Islamic radicals, still believe that Copts should be forced into to paying the Muslim ‘protection tax’ which is laid down in Islamic law (i.e. Sharia law). This is the tax which all non-Muslims should or must pay if they live in a Muslim - let alone an Islamic - state.
Muslim Persecution of the Copts From the 1970s Onwards
Let's take the Gamaat Islamiya faction, which came into fruition in the 1970s. This Islamist group specifically had it in for the Copts. The spiritual leader of the Gamaa, then, was the Sheik Omar Rahman. He issued many fatwas against the Copts. For example, he fatwa-ed Coptic jewellers and goldsmiths. He also often ordered their murder, specifically when he needed money from them in order to finance his latest jihadist expedition.
Because of the Islamic requirement of dhimmitude for all non-Muslims, the Gamaa Islamiya were shocked that the Copts were not ‘humble and submissive’ enough for Muslims. That is, like the Jews in other Arab/Muslim lands, they were too rich or well-off for their own good. At the same time as this, the Gamaa argued, many Muslims were ‘oppressed and poor’ and that they also ‘suffered’. As also with the Jews, these radical Islamists simply ignored the inconvenient fact that many Copts were as poor - if not poorer - than the many of the Muslims the Islamists were claiming to defend and protect.
Because of these false or exaggerated claims of Coptic wealth, as well as their distinct lack of dhimmi subservience and humility, the Islamists used these issues to further their own cause against the Copts as well as against the Egyptian authorities generally.
Just as with the Arabic/Muslim attitude towards the Jews, Copts were - and still are - characterised as perverted animals who exploit and take advantage of their undeserved position within what is supposed to be a Muslim state. And again, as with the Jews, they were also portrayed as the agents of foreign powers and even the ‘tools of Western Crusaders’. These very same Crusaders were also attempting, it was claimed by Islamists and by everyday Muslims, to force Muslims into Christianity. The Copts, like the Jews, were the ‘corrupters’ of Muslims - especially of ‘Muslim youth’!
For example, a Copt from Minia was accused, by Muslims, of selling young Muslims into prostitution and then selling video tapes of the results. Because of this accusation, and others, Copt-owned pharmacies and jewellery shops were often targeted by Muslims. On top of that, the Islamic radicals also managed to bring about many Muslim riots against what they called ‘those arrogant Christians’.
Later on, in the late 1980s, Gamaat Islamiya attacks against Copts increased dramatically in the Upper Egypt region.
Specifically, in 1984, the shops of Copts were looted, their churches were burned down and many Copts themselves were systematically beaten or killed. And why did the radical Muslims do all this? They did all these things simply because they were carrying out the virtuous task of ‘hunting down evil’.
More Recent Examples of Persecution
Now let’s fast forward a little to 2006. In that year, Muslims set fire, in one night, to at least 10 homes belonging to Coptic Christians in a village in southern Egypt. Again, the rumours that instigated this were aimed squarely at Coptic ‘immorality’, as with the earlier examples. This situation was so bad that it nearly spread to neighbouring towns but for the swift intervention of the Egyptian police (who are slightly more sympathetic to the Copts than most Islamists or all radical Muslims).
In 2010, an Egyptian policeman boarded a train, identifying Christians by the small, tattooed cross on their wrists, and opened fire, killing one and wounding five to the Islamic war cry of 'Allah Akbar’.
On New Year’s Eve of that same year, 2010/11, Islamists bombed an Egyptian church, leaving over 20 Copts dead, and dozens maimed.
Of course, in classic Muslim/Arabic style, the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, claimed that ‘foreign hands' and ‘a terrorist operation that is alien to us’ were where the blame was, rather than with native jihadists or Islamists. He went on to say that ‘all of Egypt is targeted’. Finally, he stated:
‘This blind terrorism does not differentiate between Copts and Muslims.’
Yet Islamist or radical Muslim terroristism, rather than simple 'blind terrorism’ (or even just the non-descriptive and very unhelpful ‘terrorism’), does ‘differentiate’ between Muslims and Copts in Egypt; as it did, indeed, on this occasion. Why? Because no mosque was targeted and no Muslim was killed.
Barack Obama also joined in this Muslim song about there being ‘no such thing as “Islamic terrorism” ’, as Obama has also stressed in the past. Despite that, Obama at least had the decency, and the honesty, to admit that ‘the perpetrators of this attack were clearly targeting Christian worshippers’. However, he also made the mistake, or he lied, by adding that the attack killed and injured people ‘from both the Christian and Muslim communities’. Again: no Muslims were actually killed or injured in the attack.
All this also stresses the fact that the Western media descriptions of many of these crimes as ‘sectrarian strife’ are very misleading, if not completely false. Calling what happens in Egypt, regarding the Copts, ‘sectrarian strife’ is almost as bad as saying there was ‘sectarian strife’ between the Jews and Germans/Nazis in 1930s and 1940s Germany.
Finally, let’s get right up to date. Just around two weeks ago, on the 8th of May, Egyptian Salafists went on a killing spree and killed 12 Christian Copts. Again, there were strong similarities between this event and all those Muslim attacks and killings I have already covered. The fact that I have not mentioned Salafists before is not really important. The various Egyptian Islamist groups/sects share very much more than what they don't share. And what they do share is a fierce commitment to Islam and its supremacy over all non-Muslims. (For those readers who live in Birmingham. The very same Salafists, though English rather than Egyptian ones, hold a stall every Sunday on New Street - right in the middle of Birmingham’s city centre.)
A Shortened Wikipedia List of Persecution Since 1981
Muslims attack and burn a prayer meeting by Egyptian Christian Copts at the Holy Scripture College, an attack which preceded the infamous Khanka attacks on the Copts.
*) 17th November, 1981:
81 Copts were killed by Muslims.
*) 20th September, 1991:
Coptic priest, the Reverend Maximose Guirguis, is kidnapped and threatened with death if he does not denounce his Christianity and publicly convert to Islam. He refuses and his throat is cut leaving him bleeding to death.
*) 4th May, 1992:
Manshiet Nasser, Dyroot, Upper Egypt. A Copt son of a farmer, Badr Abdullah Massoud, is gunned down after refusing to pay a tax of about $166 to the local leader of Islamic Group. Massoud's body is then hacked with knives.
*) 12th May, 1992:
Villages of Manshia and Weesa in Dyroot, Upper Egypt. After being Manshiet Naser's Christians for weeks, an Islamic extremist methodically shoots 13 of them to death. Victims included ten farmers and a child tending their fields, a doctor leaving his home for work, and an elementary school teacher giving a class.
*) 15th & 16th October, 1992:
Bloodshed in Manfaloot, Upper Egypt, on the Coptic Easter day with 6 Copts murdered and 50 injured.
*) 2nd December, 1992:
Muslims attacks with burning and looting of shops and 42 houses owned by Christian Copts, with 3 Copts injured and the destruction of an estimated 5 Million pounds of property, live stock, merchandise and work places Kafr Demian in Sharqueyya in the Nile Delta.
*) 13th March, 1997:
Muslims attack Copts in the Village of Meer, Al Quosseya, Upper Egypt, murdering four Copts and slitting the throat of a Coptic jeweller for refusing to pay protection money.
Muslims attack a tourist train with Spanish Tourists, killing 13 Christians and injuring 6, in the Village of Nakhla near Nagge Hammadi.
The terrorists increased the frequency of their attacks and widened it to include whom the viewed as collaborators with the security force, launching an attack on the eve of the Adha Eid using automatic weapons killing Copts as well as Muslims.
*) January, 2000:
Abu Qurqas. ‘hree masked terrorist’ entered St. George Church in Abu Qurqas and shoot dead eight Copts at a weekly youth group meeting. 'As the attackers fled, they gunned down a Christian farmer watering his fields.'
*) 19th November, 2000:
Al Kosheh, a ‘predominantly Christian town' in southern Egypt. After a Muslim customer and a Christian shoe-store owner fall into an argument, three days of rioting and street fighting erupt leaving 20 Christians, (including four children) and one Muslim, dead. In the aftermath, 38 Muslim defendants are charged with murder in connection with the deaths of the 20 Copts. But all are acquitted of murder charges, and only four are convicting of any (lesser) charges, with the longest sentence given being 10 years. After protest by the Coptic Pope Shenouda the government granted a new trial.
*) 19th April, 2009:
Muslims attempt to force a Copt to pronounce the Islamic faith declarations (Shehadas) then beat him to death when he refuses their demand.
*) 6th January, 2010:
A group of Muslims opened fire at Christians on Easter's Eve killing two and injuring another. This event was in Hegaza village, Koos city. On 22 February 2010, they were sentenced to 25 years of jail while crimes of this level in Egypt should face the death penalty.
*) April/May, 2010:
A machine gun attack by Muslims on Coptic Christians celebrating an Egyptian Christian feast. Seven are killed (including a Muslim officer in his trial to defend them) and scores injured, and lots of lives ruined.
*) 1st January, 2011:
In Marsa Matrouh, 3,000 Muslims attack the city's Coptic Christian population, with 400 Copts having to barricade themselves in their church while the mob destroyed 18 homes, 23 shops and 16 cars.
*) 11th January, 2011:
A car bomb exploded in front of an Alexandria Coptic Orthodox Church killing at least 21 and injuring at least 79. The incident happened a few minutes after midnight as Christians were leaving a New Year's eve Church service
*) 5th March, 2011:
A policeman opened fire on 6 Christians in a train in Samalout station in Minya province resulting in the death of a 71-year old man and injury of 5 others.