Egyptian Copts’ reactions to the ‘Innocence of Muslims’

The Innocence of Muslims trailer caused fierce anger not only in the Muslim world but also globally. The unfortunate consequences led one headline to ask if support for the Arab Spring was worthwhile! They trivialize the legitimate demands and achievements of the Arab street. On the other hand, Morris Sadek’s connections with Sam Bacile and his promotion of Islamophobia in the west to help his Coptic fellow-travellers has complicated matters considerably, since the Muslims did not protest or used violence against the Copts but blamed the US for the film. Why and how did the Copts react?

On September 11, Egypt’s Copts protested against the film as they found it blasphemous, denounced Islamophobia and drew a distinction between themselves and some radical figures of the diaspora. However, they still fear they will suffer attacks once the storm is over. Despite the leadership gap in the Coptic Orthodox Church due to an ongoing election process, both local officials and branches in the US were quick to denounce such acts and show empathy with their fellow Muslim Egyptians. Indeed, such reactions are significant gestures towards coexistence. As one of my Coptic friends recently told me, “despite many problems regarding the new political climate in Egypt, we reject sectarianism and want to be in full harmony with Muslims”.  For years now, many have believed that the Copts of Egypt and the Muslim majority are at loggerheads. But my research in Egypt shows that the tendencies towards conflict and coexistence between the Copts and majority Muslims are more complex and depend on a legion of unaddressed causes, ranging from the policies of Mubarak’s authoritarian regime, to the rise of different religious groups, or the nature of the entente between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the regime.
The Coptic diaspora has always been more radical than those at home, championing their mobilization of by drawing attention to the discrimination and grieving over their co-religionists’ experience of it. Nevertheless, the Copts at home have not necessarily agreed with this activism – not because they have not experienced discrimination, but because the young generations of the diaspora are too radical and lacking experience in coexistence with Muslims. In many ways, the diaspora Copts take their bearings from the European and American workings of Islam, which limits their understanding of Islam on the ground. They left the persecution of the Copts unaddressed as they continued with their protests.
Recently, some figures of the Coptic diaspora condemned the film and its content as they were smart enough to see how it might harm their co-religionists as well as their own diasporic claims. This significant development may be instrumental in directing attention to actual and practical problems of the Copts that could prompt more thoughtful solutions and contribute to the development of Egypt. For example, instead of highlighting profound religious differences and calling for action against certain Muslim groups, it would be wise to work on how the Copts can achieve full equality, implement democratic political reforms, and challenge President Morsi to keep his word regarding the appointment of a Coptic vice president.
Nevertheless, the discussion above does not necessarily ignore the Salafi trend’s and other political institutes actions against the Copts. However, it is important to identify which Salafi group or public institutions encourage such divisive policies in order to revive the Revolutionary spirit that will reconstruct Egypt and give the position to the Copts they deserve.