In the wake of the lethal rocket attack on State Department personnel in Benghazi, and salafi protesters’ assault upon the US Embassy in Cairo, Egyptian blogger Zeinobia draws attention to “the protest that everyone ignored.” (Thanks to Zeinobia for the images below.)
This demonstration took place in Tahrir Square on September 11. It was small, but just as worthy of attention as the salafis. The demonstrators were Coptic Christians, and they were there to denounce the stupid, incendiary we-hate-Muslims film allegedly produced by an Israeli Jew named Sam Bacile and promoted via the Internet by the self-styled Coptic-American activist Morris (or, as he sometimes calls himself, Maurice) Sadek. Sadek is well known for risible exaggeration about the proportion of Copts in the Egyptian population and clumsy attempts to exploit Islamophobia in the West to “help” his co-religionists in Egypt. That this film is also lauded by knuckle-dragging Florida evangelical Terry Jones — he of Qur’an-burning infamy — is telling in more ways than one.
Laura Rozen and Sarah Posner, in preliminary investigations, suggest that “Sam Bacile” does not exist and that his identification as an Israeli Jew is “misdirection” on the part of the film’s backers, one of whom now says that “Bacile” is a pseudonym. “Why the misdirection?” Rozen asks on Twitter. Hard to say, but some of the ramifications are made clear by going back to the demonstration in Tahrir Square.
Here is a photo of Mary Daniel, sister of Mina Daniel, a revolutionary activist and advocate for a “civil state” (dawla madaniyya) who was murdered by the Egyptian army in their rampage through the ranks of Copts and Muslim sympathizers outside the Maspero state media building on October 9, 2011. Her placard reads: “Egypt shall become like Mina Daniel and Sheikh ‘Imad ‘Iffat wanted it to be.” ‘Iffat was an Azhari cleric killed by an army sniper during the standoffs downtown in early December.
And here is a group called Copts 38. Their banner reads: “The Christians and Muslims of Egypt are one hand. We reject the casting of aspersions upon the prophet of Islam, and we condemn racism and sectarianism.”
These are not the images of Egyptian Christians that the likes of Sadek want the world to see. They imply the resiliency of a strong commitment to non-sectarian politics and coexistence in Egyptian society. They belie the notion that Copts and Muslims are necessarily separate or opposed to one another, despite all the discrimination against Copts that demonstrably occurs and the cowardice or complicity of the Egyptian state in its face.
No direct connection has been established between the film, its dissemination and acts of violence.
But it is clear that the images that Sadek and his ilk want the world to see are those of Muslim protesters scaling the US Embassy walls and burning the American flag. (Copts, on the other hand, should only appear as victims.) The film they are hawking is grade-D agit-prop intended to instill hatred, not just of Muslims, but also in Muslims, and thereby fulfill its own prophecy of an inevitable clash of civilizations. There’s no quicker way to stir up these antipathies than to imply an Israeli connection, playing upon anger about Palestine (and, yes, some anti-Semitism) among people conditioned by decades of deceitful state media practices to see a “foreign hand” behind everything. In this project, they find willing de facto collaborators among salafis, who also take advantage of prejudice and poor education for their own purposes.
And the Copts of Egypt, who have long regarded Sadek with bemused contempt, are right in the middle of the whole toxic mess, forced by people with an Islamophobic agenda constantly to assert their patriotism and sense of belonging in Egypt, much as Muslims have to do in the United States.