New Western Attention to Copts’ Concerns as Easter Approaches without a Pope
Based on a completely unscientific sample (a personal impression), I seem to be seeing more articles about Egypt’s Copts than usual this year. The recent death of Pope Shenouda and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood are key factors, of course, as is the fact that Easter is fast approaching, one of the only two times a year (the other being Christmas) that the Western media remembers that Christianity actually had something to do with the Middle East, and then discovers that there are actually still Christians there. Usually you can count on the usual stories from Bethlehem at Christmas and Jerusalem at Easter, but this year the Copts seem to be getting a bit more attention than usual. That would be good in any event since the Church is so little understood in the West, though it comes at a time when Copts are more uncertain than usual about their future in an Egypt where Islamist activism is growing.
So unsurprisingly, much of the tone of these stories is apprehensive, reflecting the concerns of the Copts themselves in this period of uncharted transition. Who the next President of Egypt will be may have as much effect on the Copts as who the next Pope of Alexandria is; and all of Egypt is uncertain on that front.
And the Church is in the news. The papal selection process is on hold until the mourning period for Shenouda ends, and there seems to be a desire to delay the selection beyond the Presidential elections. But the whole constitutional issue has involved the Copts as well. But just in the past three days or so:
- On Monday, the Church’s representatives quit the constituent assembly in protest over the dominance of that body by Islamists; that rightly garnered world attention, to the point that it is easy to forget that the official representatives of al-Azhar, the official Islamic establishment in other words, had done the same.
- Today, Prime Minister Ganzouri is meeting with the locum tenens of the papal throne, or “interim Pope” as the media calls him, Bishop Bakhomious. The report says they’ll be discussing the papal election process, the role of the Copts, etc. The article fails to note, and Bishop Bakhomious will be too polite no doubt to bring it up, that this whole meeting is a formality, since no one — SCAF, Parliament, and presumably Prime Minister Ganzouri himself — pretends that the Prime Mimister has any power to control events or make real decisions.
- Meanwhile, the sort of petty but persistent obstacles the Church often faces continue. A prominent and controversial Coptic activist, Father Felopateer Aziz, who is under a travel ban for his role in the Maspero clashes last October, was held at the airport for hours before the travel ban was lifted. (His first name, by the way, in this article spelled as above but often unfortunately transliterated “Flopateer,” conceals the old Greek Christian name of Philopater.)
This coming Sunday is Easter in the Western calendar; the following Sunday is this year’s Eastern date, observed by the Copts and most other Eastern churches. It may be to the Copts’ advantage (among many competing disadvantages) that the Pope’s passing and the Brotherhood’s rise have brought attention of the world to their ancient church at the precise moment in the calendar when the Western media perennially discover that there are Christians in the Middle East, before they disappear once again until Christmas.