Monday, February 7, 2011

Egypt, Revolution, and the Coptic Question

Oh my it's been awhile. September 10 was when I defended the Estate System against what I feel to be a violent usurpation of Democracy. How droll.

In the past twenty four hours, I've developed a taste for pop tarts and hard salami. Dr. Pepper features prominently in that as well, but when does it not feature prominently in my diet? I've also developed a severely belated interest in Timothy Leary the underground comix scene from the '60's and '70's, and steampunk renditions of common, everyday items.

I've also reappraised myself, looked out upon the vast collection of stuff I call my possessions, and turned my eyes eastward to Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, where a domino effect of calamity is taking its toll.

Mubarak is offering to step down at the end of his term. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government has utterly collapsed and has no authority outside the presidential home. Obama wants the Vice President to take over, despite the Egyptian constitution explicitly stating the Speaker of Parliament must succeed the President (whoops. Obama can't grasp the content of Egypt's constitution either). Parliamentary democrats are (temporarily) united with the Muslim Brotherhood to bring regime change. Molotovs are thrown at the crowd by Mubarak supporters while protesters arrest police men who are looting downtown Cairo. All of this has filled the airwaves, the twitter feeds, the Egyptian, European, and American blogospheres, Reuters, Wall Street, and the NYTimes. But what about the one group of Egyptian society that is so rarely heard about and even more rarely understood--the Copts?

Coptic Christianity has always entertained a strange position in Egypt. Early Christianity had a tendency to lump it in with the Gnostics and go after Copts as much as Gnostics. Crusaders thought they were heretics, and the Coptic Church refused to take sides in the Great Schism, thus becoming the third traditional branch of Christianity alongside Orthodoxy and Catholicism. When Islam rolled through, the Copts didn't submit, even at the point of the sword, and continued to worship in the ancient streets of Alexandria. Colonial governments were not much more favorable in the treatment of the Copts, seeing them as strange superstitious remnants of a bygone era, and modern Egyptian governments under Nasser and then Mubarak have been equally unforgiving. What place do they have in the new Egypt?

A democratic Egypt has the most promise for them, but they would very likely be marginalized in a society seeking to distance itself from radical Islam (read: religion) and orient itself towards a very Euro-style secular state. In a Taliban-style theocracy, marginalization will be the best they can hope for. Systematic persecution, exile, and massacre is on the more realistic end of things.

And where would they go? Would they go to America where the melting pot melts little and foments much? Would they go to Europe where anything brown is treated as a potential Muslim terrorist and proponent of European Shariah? Would they go to Russia of all places where they would be perceived as Central Asian yak herders needing to pitied, and given substandard wages like a strange reinterpretation of Latino migrant workers in our own country? To be completely honest, from my own understanding of the geopolitical position of anyone in that part of the world, Israel is really the only place for Copts to run to. The disillusionment being felt in America's youth and up-and-coming intelligentsia does not engender pity. The fear for safety in Europe treats everyone with suspicion. The sheer racism and xenophobia of the modern Russian experiment is hardly conducive to anyone seeking any kind of asylum. Israel, with its own vibrant Christian minorities and its complexes about having a place one can call home is the only place a Copt could reasonably be expected to settle down amidst this chaos if all goes to hell.

But these are musings because, apparently, the West doesn't give two shits about them. We have one of the largest Coptic diasporas in the world in the United States. So why don't we look in on their plight in Egypt? They are, after all, in a seriously difficult position where they stand to lose more than they stand to gain.