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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Egyptian state-run media defames Coptic Pope

A recently published column in the state-run daily al-Ahram newspaper carried an unprecedented attack on Egypt's patriarch, Pope Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic Church, and the Copts in general. The column entitled "2010 Copts," by Abdel-Nasser Salama, an obscure journalist, appeared on December 6; it accused Pope Shenouda of having instigated sectarian tension in Egypt ever since he became Pope in 1971, by introducing into the Egyptian society "terms such as sectarianism, sectarian strife, citizenship and the resort to foreign powers for support."

Salama accused Pope Shenouda of giving a speech in 1973 to the congregation in Alexandria in which he said, according to Salama, "the number of Christians in Egypt will be at par with the number of Muslims by the year 2000, according to the plan the church is implementing, described in the speech." In addition Salama claimed that the Pope allegedly called for "expelling the 'Muslim invaders' from Egypt".

The Chief editor of Coptic Newspaper Watani, Youssef Sidhom, wrote an editorial on December 12, blaming al-Ahram's editorial executives of allowing an article with such offensive and undocumented material to be published. "The column cited 'information which it claimed was historical fact and which 'proved' that Copts have been for decades acting in a treacherous manner against their homeland." Sidhom added that "it takes no effort to determine that the so-called 'information' is entirely groundless; its only base is in the writer's imagination."

"The issue this time is highly sensitive," said Dr. Gabraeel in an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm. "It's not a writer accusing the Copts of something; it's the official newspaper of the state launching an attack on the church's spiritual leader, Pope Shenouda III, who is a symbol for millions of Copts in and outs Egypt."

Dr. Naguib Gabraeel, who is head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization (EUHRO), filed a complaint on December 8 with the General Persecution Office, accusing al-Ahram of defaming Pope Shenouda III. The complaint included libel, false reporting, undermining social security and inciting sectarian unrest.

Salama said Copts are being "pampered" and "coddled" by the state, referring to the Incident of St. Mary and St.Michel Church in Omraniya on November 24 and the ensuing Coptic protests against halting their church construction, and the precedent of security forces opening fire on Coptic protesters, resulting in 4 Coptic fatalities, 79 injured and 157 Coptic detainees including women, teens and children as young as 11-years-old.

Several writers touched on the point of the state

's pampering and coddling of Copts and whether this was consistent with the different massacres of Copts such as el-Kosheh and the Christmas Eve Massacre in Nag Hammadi in 2010, the frequent torching of Copts' homes, looting of their property, displacement from their villages, abductions and forced Islamization of the minor girls and lack of freedom for worship.

Salama accused church officials of planning and staging the demonstrations in Omrania by bringing over youth from Upper Egypt for this purpose, and of aiming their aggression at police officers who were allegedly injured.

"How did our clergy plan these demonstrations when the Governor of Giza's secretary visited the premises and told the congregation on November 23 that the church permit has been changed," said Yacoub, "and congratulated them on the new church. This was on the evening of the surprise attack on them by security forces"

"The large amount of Molotov cocktails seized from the protesters, raises the question about the presence of weapons in churches," Mr. Salama wrote. The accusation of the Coptic church stockpiling weapons was claimed by Islamist Dr. El-Awa on September 15, during an interview of Al-Jezeera TV Channel.

Attorney Adel Mikhail, defense lawyer, confirmed that according to police reports, " no trace of Molotov cocktails whatsoever was found on the 157 detained demonstrators or any kind of weapons seized from them." He said that the detainees said that they never took part in the protestes but were picked up at ramdom and arrested by the police.

Mr. Salama said that the stance adopted by Pope Shenouda of non-condemnationn of the Copts involved in the recent attack "is quiet surprising and confirms that matters ought to be firmly resolved."

Pope Shenouda III, denounced what he described as the "excessive use of force against Coptic protesters", and announced that the Copts will not forget the blood of those who died during the church incident on November 24, adding "Power should be used to serve the people, not for violence. Violence only generates counter-violence."

During his weekly sermon on Wednesday December 8, the pope vowed that the church will do its best to bring justice to the victims even if it meant going to court, adding that "Coptic blood is not cheap"

Al-Ahram Editor in Chief Osama Saraya's apologized to Pope Shenouda on a front-page editorial on December 8 and the Church accepted his apologies and said it will not take legal action against the paper.

Copts were not satisfied , however, with this apology, viewing that Saraya highlighted the good qualities of Pope Shenouda, but did not refer to the other claims in the article. "On the contrary Saraya protected Salama by finding excuses for him," said Yacoub.

It was reported on December 11, that the Chairman of al-Ahram has stopped Abdel Nasser Salama from writing his column every Monday.

The majority of Coptic observers believe that this defamatory article would not have seen the light of day had it not been instigated by the State Security authorities. "What Salama has written was not a random article," said Dr. Gabraeel "The words reflect the government's policy of not only marginalizing the Copts, but of also degrading them."

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