The Islamists want to portray the Coptic Christians as an alien force, a fifth column working to subvert the country, when in fact the Christians were there first by a matter of centuries. The Coptic church was founded in Alexandria around 50 A.D.
The stagecraft of some of the anti-Christian attacks is eliminationist. After a mob ransacked a Franciscan school in suburban Cairo, knocking the cross off the gate and replacing it with a black banner, the nuns were paraded through the streets like “prisoners of war,” in the words of one.
Reports say more than 50 churches have been targeted and the attacks have continued since the initial onslaught Aug. 14. According to Sam Tadros of the Hudson Institute, a Coptic Christian who is author of the new book Motherland Lost, there has been nothing like it since 1321, when a similar wave of church burnings signaled a centuries-long period of intense persecution that saw the Coptic Christian community decline from somewhat less than half of Egypt’s population to its current 10 percent.
For the Islamists, the ongoing pogrom serves the immediate purpose of whipping up popular sentiment and the longer-term one of cleansing the country of Christians, who may ultimately face the fate of Egypt’s Jews. They went from a population of 80,000 after World War II to literally a handful today. If Muslim Brotherhood rule would have been particularly dire for Coptic Christians, none of the recent regimes in Egypt — including the latest set of military rulers — has shown any interest in protecting them.
Our power to change that is limited. At the very least, we should take an active interest. In his remarks after the bloodshed began in Egypt, President Barack Obama relegated his concern over the anti-Christian attacks to a three-word dependent clause at the end of one sentence. More substantively, we should be pushing for the adoption of a non-Islamist constitution that protects religious freedom.
But the hour is late. Aug. 14, 2013, may be remembered as the day that Egypt’s churches and monasteries began to go dark.
— Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.