Joseph’s BrothersPosted: July 8, 2012
A recent post in this blog about why Copts leave Egypt (Why Do Copts Leave? ) elicited many excellent comments. Many were along the line “the author is an American Copt”, which is of course true. A few days later Joseph Fahim wrote an astute and passionate column “Not My President” , in which he describes his experience as an Egyptian Copt at the pole end of a large Egyptian-American family of Copts. In essence, Fahim finds his extended family sympathetic but a bit clueless. He understands their fears, respects the reasons why they left Egypt but insists, or hopes, that their current state of fear will prove unfounded. He hopes that Egyptians have changed permanently and that they, and he, will never allow the Mubarak oppression to rise again in any form.
Most sensible non-Egyptian Copts fear the physical destruction of the community less than they fear its long term decline into cultural torpor and loss of identity and vigor. The events of the last 18 months in Egypt can be taken in many ways. But for those who suffered discrimination, large and small, in Egypt and have found the US far more embracing, the arrow has but one direction. The Muslim Brotherhood is a closed, cult-like organization. Its upper echelon is inter-related by blood and marriage. Its lower echelon, once firmly joined, risks loss of jobs and friends if they voice any criticism. The closest American analogy would be Scientology. Once Sadat relaxed the vigil against Islamists, they began to take over corners of the Egyptian culture and society. Entire University departments, professional syndicates and other organizations became MB-only bastions. As avenues in the society-at-large closed off, Copts left or became insular. The rise of the MB is the proverbial slow boiling of the frog. More lower state positions will now be MB zones. The “signifying” will be clear and unequivocal. Trimmed beards and Zebibas will be as critical for advancement as competence. The fight will slowly extend to all corners of society. Starting or maintaining a business will be difficult for Copts, as the customers and contracts will mysteriously evaporate. State jobs will become scarce. Perhaps a few exceptional individuals or families will do well, but the majority will find the walls closing in. And if the MB finally takes over the police and army, as the next battles are shaping to be, then the social threats will take on a more menacing aspect.
We have seen this before. In the 14th century, the Mameluke rulers of Egypt were eager for legitimacy of their rule, which they sought in narrow religious terms. They imported some sorry ideas from Europe, including pogroms. Gangs of “Brotherhood” members attacked Copts and looted and killed with abandon. Finally an implicit agreement was made with the rulers. Coptic communities were allowed to decay in many places. A few Copts did well by working for the ruler and bought some protection for the community. But in general Copts sank to a state of cultural and physical decline. No one seemed to notice that the decline of the Copts was also the decline of Egypt. Coptic fortunes are invariably a barometer of the country at large.
History is not an improvement machine. Things can go bad very quickly and sometimes irrevocably. Those who say that things are different now because of better communication and attention of the world are missing the point. There will be no spectacles of oppression that draw the attention of the fickle Western media. A slow strangulation will set in, and every complaint will be balanced with a more favorable view of what the Islamists are doing. The cultural changes seen since the late 1970’s in Egypt will simply accelerate and have state legitimacy.
Still one hopes that the word from America will not be “I told you so”, but “I am glad I was wrong” .. perhaps.