Clashes in Egypt have reportedly led to more than 500 deaths and 3,000 injuries, many of them members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which continues to protest against the military’s removal of Mohamed Morsi. Yet the Muslim Brotherhood is itself no saintly victim.
Over 30 Christian churches have been burned by its zealous members. Jonathan Tobin does a great job explaining why the Muslim Brotherhood uses this tactic.
The first reason is because the Christian minority, unlike the military, is vulnerable. Throughout the long year when Egypt suffered under Morsi’s Islamist rule, Christians and their churches were increasingly subject to attacks as the Muslim movement sought to make the position of the religious minority untenable. As the Brotherhood seeks to demonstrate that it is still a viable force in the country’s streets even after its Cairo strongholds are uprooted, expect more attacks on Christians to remind Egyptians that the Islamists are still a force to be reckoned with.
Second, the attacks on churches are not just a regrettable sideshow in what may be soon seen as a civil war as the Islamists seek to regain power after losing in the wake of the massive street protests that encouraged the army to launch the coup that ended Morsi’s rule. Rather, such attacks are an inextricable part of their worldview as they seek to transform Egypt in their own Islamist image. In the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt, there is no room for Christians or even secular Muslims. That is why so many in Egypt applauded the coup as perhaps the last chance to save the country from permanent Islamist rule.
The picture in Egypt is far from clear and the competing cultural cleavages are many. For Egypt’s Christian minority, these are trying times. It’s important to recognize that Coptic Christians are not some tiny sect, but rather nearly 12 million people. Attacks on such a large group could lead the country further into chaos and possibly civil war. In the media’s rush to make sense of what is happening on the ground, they often fall into oversimplification. The latest such example comes from the New York Times:
Many of those waiting outside the makeshift morgue talked of civil war. Some blamed members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority for supporting the military takeover. A few argued openly for a turn to violence.
“The solution might be an assassination list,” said Ahmed, 27, who like others refused to use his full name for fear of reprisals from the new authorities. “Shoot anyone in uniform. It doesn’t matter if the good is taken with the bad, because that is what happened to us last night.”
Mohamed Rasmy, a 30-year-old engineer, interrupted. “That is not the solution,” he said, insisting that Islamist leaders would re-emerge with a plan “to come together in protest.”
Other outlets, like CNN, have focused on the condemnation for the military’s actions and begun to use the term massacre. This coverage suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood was protesting peacefully, which underplays the violent elements it contains. The problem in Egypt, like elsewhere in the Middle East, is that there are no clear-cut good guys and bad guys.