Written by Gamal Scharoubim
30 June 2009
In the last few years there has been a lot of hues and cries by official Egypt about the Coptic activity in Diaspora. It is impossible to have a meaningful view of the current events of the Coptic society without at least a cursory review of the past history of our nation. This is why I have no choice but to start from the point of the Arab Invasion of Egypt and what transpired from this catastrophic event.
Egypt was the cradle of civilization.. From ancient times Egyptians strived to plumb the depths of knowledge in many fields and did achieve quite a remarkable progress in pursuing their endeavors. The monuments that they left behind them leave no doubt in any one’s mind about the excellence of their achievements and the strides of progress they accomplished.
When the Arabs invaded Egypt , they were basically primitive uncultured people who never experienced the feeling of success in any field other than pirating trade caravans. They were hungry people looking for some food to eat and some water to drink and Egypt in their mind had it all. A Nile of soft water that irrigated the fields of Egypt producing ample food not just for Egypt but for all the known world at the time. Egypt was the bread basket of the World and the Arabs saliva ran at the sight of the bounty of Egypt .
The Arabs had no education or culture. So they were not able to manage the conquered countries. They found it in their best interest to leave the management of the country to its people as long as they paid the Jizia and the Kharag and gave them a share of the bounty to feed on. Thus a unique system of occupation developed based on a symbiotic relation between the invader and the people of the land; as long as the invader got a share of the bounty of the land in addition to the ransom money in the form of Kharaj and Jizia, the people of the country were basically a country within the country. A degree of self government occurred. Indeed both Umar Ibn El-Khattab and Umar Ibn Abd El-Aziz issued directives to their prefects not to force every one to embrace Islam as long as they are paying the dues other wise they will have no one to pay the Jizia. This proves beyond doubt that the main purpose of invading countries was not to spread Islam but to plunder these lands and to collect a ransom. In simple terms it was an act of thuggery.
The relations between the invaders and the occupied remained a whimsical one. Sometimes hostile and sometimes reasonably peaceful co-existence. And the world got by with some sort on internal independence enjoyed by the occupied people. When things went to extremes there was a sort of passive resistance and sometimes an outright strike and civil disobedience in response to the harsh hostilities practiced by the conqueror. For example in the year 648 AD when the imposed Kharaj was overburdening to the farmers, they left the fields unattended and went to the hills to hide. As a result the World suffered the famine of 649 AD. Both the nation and the occupier suffered dearly as a result. We are told that Umar Ibn El-Khattab urged Amr Ibn El-Aas to send to Yathreb all he can because the famine was so bad. Amr told him that he is sending to him a caravan the first of it will be In Yathreb while its end will be still in Egypt . The Caliph response to this was; “If this means devastation for Egypt to save Yathreb so be it.” We are also told that – in his state of panic – Umar urged the ruler of Syria to send to Yathreb all that he can because the situation in Yathreb was so terrible and intolerable. Naturally after the Caliph experienced this form of punishment some rationale prevailed as a result of this and things returned to normalcy if we can call it that. However, the relation between the ruler and the ruled continued to swing from reasonable to the impossible across the ages.
One of the most important factors to consider in examining these relations is the fact that the economy in the occupied lands was based on individual abilities of professionalism and artisanship. There was no infra-structure per se as we witness to day in developed economies, there was no means to influence or control the economic activities of the markets or to skew them in one direction or the other. The absence of a central authority to interfere with the workings of the market place ensured the freedom of the markets which in turn protected the livelihood of the population.
The Copts had no qualms about learning foreign languages, while the Molsems abstained from learning any other language except the Arabic one. Their motive was that Arabic is the language of the Quran and that no “descendation” occurred in any of the foreign languages. As a consequence, the Copts spearheaded the path of progress dealing with other nations and engaged in trade with foreign countries while the Moslem tarried behind. As a result, a feeling of envy and jealousy grew among the ignorant majority against the success of the Coptic “minority” and was always a source of inflaming the relations between both. The Copts did not want to regress and the Moslems did not want to progress; this was the point of friction between the two segments of the society. Under the secular rule of the tutelage there was nothing that can change the status quo.
Then came the Moslem Brotherhood junta euphemistically called the Revolution. By that time a well developed economic system was in place composed of an industrial infra structure and a companion financial system that served the needs of the country. The government at that time nationalized all productive institutions and used the power of the state to control the economy in a total and absolute manner. The policy had a bias against the successful minority. This was the point of decline for all what the Christians worked for all their lives. It is very evident from all what the junta did that the target of its actions was to strangle the Coptic economy, to confiscate their property, to strip them from everything they earned over the years and to make sure that they will not be revived again. A series of confiscations - euphemistically called nationalizations – occurred and a new rule of performance was introduced; ability ain’t worth nothing without loyalty. Loyalty was defined by whether you are a Moslem or not. Of course many of those “nots” saw a very bleak future for them in the country unless they become Moslems. Their instincts of survival led them to leave their birth land and head to other lands where they can be free of all the hallucinations they were subjected to in the motherland. The Islamic rulers in their mother land cheered this emigration exodus as a welcome development to rid Egypt of the non-Moslems. However – and here is the irony – it turned out that loyalty without ability ain’t worth nothing at all. The skills drain led to a deterioration of the situation in Egypt and the public suffered the dire results of this foolish policy. The junta received an economy with a half a billion Sterling in foreign currency reserves, the parity of the Egyptian Pound was more than six Dollars to the E.P. Today we have a totally inverted parity of six E.P. to a Dollar. When inflation is factored in the Egyptian Pound today is worth one half of one percent of its value when the junta took over. This should sum up the results of the foolish policy adopted by the Junta.
The Copts abroad did not desert Egypt , they just emigrated and kept it on their minds. They thrived and became successful and the thought of what happened to those they left behind kept nudging them to champion their cause. I would be remiss if I did not pay homage here to the Late Dr. Shawky Karras who awakened the émigrés conscience to the need to organize and defend the Copts at home. Asserting their message and goal in response to the aggression inflicted on their kin at home they managed to exert their influence on the international community, something that irked the authorities at home. To contain this movement abroad and to blunt its activities and influence they resorted to put pressure on the Church to issue expressions of fraternity with their “Moslem Brothers” at home and to insinuate that the Coptic influence abroad is an extremist movement that neither appeal to the folks at home nor does it have their support. The game plan for the Islamists of Egypt is to ignore the Copts abroad and to brand them as a splinter group nothing else.
The game plan for the Copts abroad is to continue to push for their rights at home until the Government acknowledges their rights and their fair share in their birth land. The two sides are on a collision course right now. And indeed we should be. We should not be dissuaded by the acts of the government to forgo the rights of the Copts at home. And we should not allow the government to think that it can toy with the Church to serve their evil purposes at home. I would like to caution the Church here that the importance of the clergy that the government is counting on comes from the respect we have for them. The day they lose our respect is the day the government will dismiss them as nothing. When we call on the Church to stay out of politics, the church should heed our call because it is in their best interest. Look at what the history teaches us; in France the insistence of the Church to support the rulers against the people led to the French Revolution and the dechristianization of France . In Russia , the same issue resulted in the Bulshevik revolution. Egypt will be no exception to these realities. The suffering of the people in Egypt will result in a similar action that will destroy every sacred. Do not be the criminals who cause this to happen, because then you will not be worth a penny to any one. The childish concept that we should discuss our problem at home does not deserve any attention from any one. Why ? Look at Muhammad Naguib the fellow officer who shielded the Junta with his position and image was kidnapped from his home and arrested for some eleven years by the very people who used him to achieve the success of their movement. Is this a rebuttal enough for the naïve voices that urge us to dismiss the advantage of the freedom we have now in favor of a silly idea that we are all brothers. Gentlemen, brothers do not attack the churches of their brothers, they do not kidnap the daughters of their brothers and defile them. Let me tell right now; I have no need for brothers who commit these crimes and quite candidly, I do not think of the Moslem Brother Hoods as my brothers period. To be blunt about it, I see them as my enemies.
The fact is that with the increased success of the Diaspora Copts, they are wielding more influence on the International community to take the proper actions. This is disturbing to the government of Egypt . Instead of acting wisely they decided to follow the old foolish path of the past. They think that if they ignore the nascent realities in the global community they might get away with the wrong they are perpetrating. This will harden our position and our resistance to the disrespect for the law that is the rule in Egypt . It will stretch and embitter the fight which will not serve anyone. Gamal Scharoubim is an MBA in International Business and finance from the University of Chicago.