The entire Coptic community risks becoming heavily implicated in the saga involving the blasphemous anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims”
Nader Fawzy, a Canadian Coptic Orthodox activist and Jacques Attalla are being accused of authoring the amateur anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims which has inflamed Muslim communities in recent weeks, leading to the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Libya. Fawzy has denied all accusations, saying he fears for his life and that of his family and has asked for special protection from the Canadian government. Indeed, a number of Muslim leaders have published a fatwa against him and an arrest warrant has been issued by the Egyptian government against various members of the Coptic Orthodox community in the U.S. and Canada, suspected of participating in the production of the film.
Meanwhile, the Copts’ position in the U.S. is becoming more and more difficult: Bishop Serapion of the Diocese of Los Angeles, in Southern California and Hawaii has condemned the film. Here, it is Nakoula Basseley, one of the alleged producers of the film, who is being targeted. Basseley is a member of the Coptic Orthodox community of Bellflower (not far from Los Angeles). In statements to Associated Press, the bishop rejected all accusations of involvement made against the community which he heads. He did, however, allude to some individuals being responsible. Bishop Angaelos, the leader of the British Coptic community also condemned the offending film.
But Fawzy and Basseley are not isolated cases. Persecution in Egypt is worsening by the day. Last weekend, al-Masry al-Youm newspaper reported the case of seven Coptic families from the cities of Rafah and Arish in the Northern Sinai Peninsula. The newspaper wrote that leaflets were apparently handed out, announcing an ultimatum for the expulsion of Christian communities and threatening to blow up their properties. Some weeks ago, right in the midst of the protests, the Coptic community turned up outside Cairo Cathedral, again, to protest against the film. Given the context, Church leaders stated they wanted to join Muslims in the protests.
The Coptic community is without a doubt facing one of the most difficult moments of its history. Following the death of Pope Shenouda III (who had led the Coptic Church since 1971 and had lived through the diaspora, consecrating South America, Australia and Italy’s first bishops) last March, the Coptic community finds itself right in the middle of the post-Mubarak transition period.
Shenouda III, who had been exiled under Sadat to the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in the Nitrian Desert, had himself expressed his doubts about the outcome of the protests against the “secularist” Mubarak, which many young Copts however took part in. Furthermore, the transition is not proving very beneficial for the Coptic situation: one need only cast one’s mind back to October 2011, about eight months after the Egyptian president’s resignation, when the army brutally murdered some Copts as they were protesting against an attack on a church.
Clashes between Christians and Muslims continue and the diapora looks to be the order of the day for Coptic Orthodox faithful. Meanwhile, in Mursi-free Egypt, Coptic teacher, Bishoy Kamel, has been sentenced to six years in prison for some satirical cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad and the president. A punishment of this kind has not been witnessed since the reign of Mehmet Ali at the beginning of last century.
The film about the Prophet Muhammad which has triggered violent protests throughout the Muslim world is a “diabolic act”. This is how it was defined by Mgr. Paul, the bishop of the Coptic Church in Egypt, according to whom “Satan uses humans as an instrument to offend the religions.” In a press conference with Muslim and Salafi representatives, held by the Egyptian Association of Peace, Bishop Paul called for these events to be viewed in a more objective way seeing as though France published the cartoons (the controversial cartoons published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, about the Prophet Muhammad, Ed.) straight after the film controversy broke out. “We shouldn’t focus too much on these acts as the were not carried out by humans but by Satan, our invisible enemy,” he pointed out.