THE COPTIC STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY IN EGYPT – Vickie Janson
The following is a chapter from the recently release book “Free the Copts” This chapter was written by Vickie Janson, the Australian Christians senate candidate for Victoria.
THE COPTIC STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY IN EGYPT: NOW A STRUGGLE FOR SURVIVAL
The struggle faced today by Coptic Christians for basic human rights and recognition as equal
citizens is neither new nor, sad to say, unique to Egypt. With the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in
Egypt, however, Coptic Christians have become particularly vulnerable. Violent crimes against the
Copts are increasing, though to view these incidents as localised and isolated would be wrong. Such crimes
are surging all around the world and must be seen within their broader context.
The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood is, of course, the rise of political Islam, and the rise of political Islam
is the rise of sharia—the rise of Islamic law. This is bad news for anyone who cares about equality and
human rights. A 2011 survey undertaken in the United States of 100 random mosques illustrates this point
well, and highlights that there is nothing localised about the problem of theologically sanctioned violent
crime against non-Muslims. The survey was conducted to measure the correlation between sharia adherence
and dogma calling for violence against nonbelievers. And the results are telling:
Mosques that presented as Sharia adherent were more likely to feature violence-positive texts on site than were their non-
Sharia-adherent counterparts. In 84.5% of the mosques, the imam recommended studying violence-positive texts. The
leadership at Sharia-adherent mosques was more likely to recommend that a worshipper study violence-positive texts than
leadership at non-Sharia adherent mosques. Fifty-eight percent of the mosques invited guest imams known to promote violent
jihad. The leadership of mosques that featured violence-positive literature was more likely to invite guest imams who were
known to promote violent jihad than was the leadership of mosques that did not feature violence-positive literature on mosque
So in mosques where sharia compliance is promoted—a feature of political Islam—there is an increase in
the promotion of violence against non-Muslims and an escalation in human rights abuses generally. Sharia
adherence causes problems. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam in Egypt shows what
happens when this theology is applied to a society.
In Egypt, churches and Christians have been attacked, and Coptic girls have been abducted, raped,
forcibly converted to Islam, and married against their will to Muslim men. Why? Because according to sharia,
Christians are inferior to Muslims. While Coptic Christians are familiar with systematic discrimination, this
greater emphasis on sharia compliance under an Islamist regime merely legalises the continuing inequality.
Minorities are suffering. And no one is suffering more than the minority within the minority: Egypt’s
Christian women. Islamic sharia devastates women’s rights and autonomy.
But sharia wrath in Egypt is not limited to Copts, with mainstream Egyptian television covering (earlier
2012) the slow beheading of a Tunisian Muslim convert to Christianity—a sharia punishment for apostates.
Although much of the worldwide Muslim community displays zero tolerance for any publicity they deem
offensive, it is ironic that a person can be beheaded on mainstream Egyptian television. No one rioted for
this poor soul’s treatment; no one declared this an offence against humanity and decency.
In another display of growing extremism, even contemporary celebrations are being hijacked for Islamist
purposes. In March 2012, for instance, the Egyptian Parliament recognised International Women’s Day. Yet
the Parliament chose to celebrate the day by calling for less human rights for women, even though earlier in
the year there had been a degree of outrage when woman were subjected to virginity testing. In calling for
less human rights for women, the Egyptian Parliament condemned the 1978 UN convention against gender
discrimination as being “incompatible with the values of Islamic sharia”.
Egypt’s new draft constitution is also more sharia compliant. This is hardly surprising given that the
spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, assisted in its drafting. This is a man who
only two years ago publicly stated that Muslims must obey the commands of Islam’s prophet—even to
murder. The clear prohibitions against slavery in the former Egyptian constitution have been removed, since
slavery is a sharia-approved Islamic principle. The new draft includes neither a clear ban on human
trafficking nor an obligation to adhere to international rights treaties. This is terrible for Egypt’s Christian
minority—especially the many young Christian girls who are abducted, raped, and forced to convert to Islam.
Yet all girls will suffer, not just Christians.
In line with the sharia dictate allowing girls as young as nine years to be wed, the newly drafted
constitution provides no minimum age limit for marriage. This will only fuel the child-bride and sex-slave
industries, and is deeply worrying for all Egypt’s daughters, especially in light of a 2011 report detailing
gender- and religious-based violence against Coptic women and girls in particular. To quote from this report,
“Tell My Mother I Miss Her” by Michele Clark and Nadia Ghaly:
Coptic women in Egypt are disappearing from their homes, their schools, and their places of work. They go missing while
returning from church, picking up their children from school, or traveling to the sick bed of an aging parent. They are often
held as captives, subjected to physical and psychological abuse in the form of rapes, beatings, domestic labor without pay,
forced marriage and forced conversion to Islam. Their lives, and the lives of their families, are severely damaged.
This is a tragedy. Rather than a progressive move into a liberal form of democracy, many Copts fear a
regression to an even stricter prejudicial legal framework than the one introduced after the coup in 1952.
There are even rumblings that resemble the declarations of early leaders, like Fatimid Caliph al-Hakem
B’Amr Allah (996–1021). He decreed that any person, including women and children, using the Coptic
language in the home or street would be punished by cutting his tongue. Consequently, the Coptic Patriarch
Gabriel II (1131–1145) declared that all liturgical readings take place in Arabic.2
We would all expect cutting out a person’s tongue to be relegated to the dark ages. Yet Dr Abdullah Badr,
an Al-Azhar graduate and a professor of Islamic exegesis, recently announced the return of this age of
intolerance. He threatened that those who mock sharia or Islam would have their tongues cut out.
This worldwide trend to stop all criticism of Islam takes a less-violent form in Western nations, where
they use “lawfare” rather than warfare. Yet it produces a similar result: it silences all opposition and legally
cuts out the tongues of critics. As in Egypt, however, there will always be some sharia zealots spurred on by
the decree to wield the sword of Islam and physically remove freedom of speech: the foundation stone of
liberal democracy and the thorn in the side of Islamists.
The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood has also allowed political Islam to flourish—along with draconian
sharia laws and punishments. What was once the Coptic struggle for equality appears now to have regressed
to a struggle for survival.
Vickie Janson is the Victorian Senate candidate for the federal political party Australian Christians
<www.australianchristians.com.au>. She is also the author of Ideological Jihad, which outlines the struggle of ideas in
understanding Islam in Australia. Vickie is a public speaker and human rights advocate who resides in Melbourne with her
husband, Michael, and son, Nathan.
1 See <http://mappingsharia.com>. This webpage was accessed on 15 December 2012.
2 See Iris Habib El-Misry, The Story of the Coptic Church, book 3 (Arabic), p. 134.