What did Pope Tawadros say? When did he say it? (updated)

At the pivotal event announcing the fall of President Mohamed Morsi, a number of symbolic leaders stood with General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in a coalition backing this action, following days of massive public protests dominated by young, mostly secular Egyptians.

Yes, one of those leaders was Coptic Orthodox Tawadros II, who called the military takeover a “defining moment in the nation’s history.” Of course, Egypt’s grand imam, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, also took part in that press conference. So did the leader of the Constitution Party, Mohamed el-Baradei, Nobel Laureate Mohamed El Bareidi, Tamarod movement leader Mohamed Badr, former Morsi advisor Sekina Fouad and several others.

Anyone who has followed religion trends in Egypt for several decades knows that it was unusual for Tawadros to take such a public stand, knowing that Coptic Christians have always been a convenient scapegoat for mob violence in Egypt — no matter who is in power. Things were getting worse under Muslim Brotherhood control, but things were also bad under previous military strongmen.

The crucial point is that Tawadros did not stand alone, but as part of a coalition that included key Islamic players in tensions with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now, with that in mind, read the following chunk of a gripping New York Times report from David D. Kirkpatrick:

A tense quiet settled over Cairo as the city braced for new protests by supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, after the Friday Prayer. The new government authorized the police to use lethal force if they felt endangered.

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.”

So some blamed the nation’s 10 percent Coptic minority, even though the coalition that — in that crucial press conference — endorsed the fall of Morsi was much broader than that. But the Coptic-blame game is a statement of fact on the street. Kirkpatrick handles other references to the views of this symbolic religious minority with similar caution:

Egyptian Islamists continued to lash out across the country. Scores of them blocked a main highway circling the capital. In Alexandria, hundreds battled with opponents and the police in the streets and health officials said at least nine died. Others hurled firebombs that ignited a provincial government headquarters near the pyramids in Giza. In the latest in a string of attacks on Coptic Christian churches and businesses, at least one more church was set on fire, in Fayoum.

Outside the mosque in Cairo, some Islamists contended that the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, had appeared to endorse the crackdown, and they portrayed attacks on churches around the country as a counterattack. “When Pope Tawadros comes out after a massacre to thank the military and the police, then don’t accuse me of sectarianism,” said Mamdouh Hamdi, 35, an accountant.

Once again, Times readers are given material from the point of view of the pro-Morsi protestors. Readers are told that the pope “appeared to” endorse the crackdown and that Islamists believe that he thanked the police and soldiers for their actions. It is certainly true that activists on that side of the bloody conflict believe that to be the truth and, for some reason, they blame Tawadros more than others.

But what is missing, from this report and many others? A key voice is missing.

What, in fact, has the Coptic pope actually said and done since early July? If violence against Coptic Christians is going to be a major story line in the emerging meltdown — which certainly appears to be the case — isn’t it crucial to actually cite quotes from Tawadros and others? Consider this from ABCNews (including video report):

The leader of country’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, had previously expressed his support for the military coup that unseated the country’s first Islamist president last month. Coptic Christians widely supported Morsi’s opponent in presidential elections last year. Copts make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people.

Forty churches were burned across Egypt Wednesday, according to local nongovernmental organizations and the Coptic Church’s youth group. The Egyptian military pledged to reconstruct and restore all the burned churches, state media reported.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights group based in Cairo, documented additional attacks against Coptic monasteries, schools and shops, according to the group’s representative Ishaq Ibrahim, The Associated Press reported. The attacks on Coptic churches continued today, officials and monitor said.

At this point, readers know what Islamists believe the Coptic pope has said and done. But what has he actually said and done, described in materials from from actual public statements, as opposed to second-hand accusations? I’m sincerely interested and I am looking for new material on that front.

It is likely that the pope has been cautious, if not silence, and that his critics are continuing to refer to that early press conference. That’s all they need, to awaken hatred of a familiar minority group, a familiar scapegoat.

All I am saying is that it is crucial, in this story with many competing Egyptian voices, to actually quote the key players. Let them speak for themselves — especially when their words are being cited as justification for acts of mass destruction and terror.

UPDATE: Just noticed, in an Orthodox media source, a link to an excellent multi-media graphic at USA Today offering details on what Christian institutions are under attack across Egypt. Click here to go there.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    It probably makes no difference in Egypt what the Coptic pope actually said but his l words should at least be fully and correctly reported on here.
    One media report I saw said (accurately, in my opinion) that the Coptic Christians of Egypt are treated the same as Jews were in 1930′s Germany. That is a chilling thought about what the future might hold for Coptic Christians in Egypt. Have the past few days of Islamists burning 38 churches and cathedrals and Coptic owned businesses been Egypt’s Kristilnacht?????

  • Julia B

    The coverage lumps all Coptics together and sometimes even all Christians together. Are there churches and people being torched who aren’t Orthodox?

    • jaybird1951

      Yes, there are. I know of at least one Catholic church (not sure of which rite) and an Anglican church.

  • John Fisher

    Egyptians do not grasp that Islam is an Arab invention and part of the Arab conquest and domination of Egypt. The ancient Coptic Christians speak and use the language of the pharaohs in they worship using ancient Copt. They are a fusion of indigenous culture with Hellenism and they are more Egyptian than Islam is! If you read the history of the Coptic Church and of the way in which they were forced to wear distinctive clothing that marked them out, they were kicked of the street if they walked past a Moslem, women raped, legs of clergy broken with metal bars, more recently of the all this violence which is a hallmark of Islam everywhere. This is not about any ballot of vote. It is about the Islamic Brotherhood majority bullying minorities and ethnically purging the indigenous minority. As with Islam everywhere it kills Christians whom they conquer and who are unable to repulse them.
    it is perfectly legitimate for troops to shoot violent protestors.

    • Howard

      “do not grasp”? Look, I’m sympathetic with the Copts, but let’s be fair to the other Egyptians, too. They KNOW that Islam came to them from the Arabian Peninsula, but because they believe Islam they see it as having been revealed to Muhammad, not invented by him. “They are a fusion of indigenous culture with Hellenism and they are more Egyptian than Islam is!” By your standard a New Age practice that is “a fusion of indigenous [Native American] culture” with Oprah Winfrey is “more [American] than [Christianity] is!” Since a Christian would respond with, “So what?”, why are you surprised that an Egyptian Muslim would do the same?

      • John Fisher

        Alexandria was a Greek city. St Mark went to Alexandria. The jewish community that produced the Septuagint Bible in Greek were from Alexandria. My point is obvious. Any Nationalist Egyptian should realise Islam is the religion of an invader.. not unlike the USA they despise. They are not being so Egyptian in wanting Arab culture over any other. Islam is the religion of oppression.

        • Howard

          John, I can’t tell if you are a troll or if you really just don’t get it. Your argument doesn’t even work by its own terms. “Alexandria was a Greek city…. Any Nationalist Egyptian should realize Islam is the religion of an invader….” In which part of Egypt do you think Macedonia lies — Upper Egypt or Lower Egypt? Alexander may have been more popular than the Achaemenids, but he was still an outsider and a conqueror.

          And again, the question is why they should give a crap. Are you yourself so completely fooled by the genetic fallacy that you really think that anyone who isn’t likewise taken in by it must be stupid? That appears to be what you are saying with “Egyptians do not grasp that Islam is an Arab invention and part of the Arab conquest and domination of Egypt.”

          • John Fisher

            Bearded one. Do not call me a “troll”. As you should know American. When foreigners immigrate they usually assimilate after a period. In some countries like the USA it is plastic culture. Yet there is a fusion that takes place.. correct?
            The Copts PREDATE Islam. Correct? They are themselves a fusion of Christianity in an Egyptian cultural form and it is an indigenous acculturated form. Correct? Invading Arabs brought Islam to Egypt and imposed it. The policy of obliterating the Copts has its origin in the need for hegemony.
            That means that in every society pluralism is a temporary state and usually over time one group uses every means at in disposal to gain dominance over others.
            It happens through violence, outbreeding and social political dominance. My point. Why can’t Copts be considered MORE Egyptian because of their longer existence and being a synthesis of even earlier Egyptian culture?
            I never hear Copts saying “we are the true Egyptians and we have been here longer than you!” That might be a good way to be more nationalist than the other terrorist elements from outside Egypt who push the line Islam and being Egyptian are the same thing!

          • Howard

            YOU ARE COMMITTING THE GENETIC FALLACY.

    • Manfred Arcane

      Copts don’t really speak Coptic which is pretty much a dead language (more dead than Syriac/Aramaic where there are still towns and villages of Christians who speak it). Although Coptic activists over the past century have tried to revive the language (a la Ben Yehuda did with Hebrew), it hasn’t caught on. It is a small part of the Coptic liturgy, of course.

      • John Fisher

        They use it in there liturgy much in the same way we used latin. Yet coptic is indigenous and Arabic is not. When Egyptologists were trying to decipher hieroglyphics they turned to the Copts in order to comprehend there meaning. The Copts have more of a claim to being Egyptian than Islam. That is my point. Islam like Mormonism is unhistorical fiction and has no chronological or cultural link with either Christianity or Judaism. I side with the Army. The chaos is ever so Islamic and only force wielded by a strong ruler works. It has ever been so since the religious/political strong man and fake Mohammed hit upon the successful formula that has been a pattern ever since. A psuedo religious/political dicattorship!

  • Jay

    All very true tmatt…

    Thanks for the media source with the information about Christian institutions being targeted.

  • Dan Arnold

    When you mention that “Tawadros did not stand alone, but as part of a coalition that included key Islamic players,” one thing the that seems to be missing in the coverage is just who are those players and how are they perceived by the public at large and common, Egyptian Muslims specifically. Egypt has both state supported Mosques as well as popular Mosques which are largely but not necessarily exclusively supported by donations from those who attend. Over the last 30 or more years, these popular Mosques have grown in both number and influence. So, for example, even though Ahmed el-Tayeb is both the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Mosque and president of the Al Azhar University, it’s unclear how important that would be to many in Egypt who may have grown to distrust people in such positions.

    In other words, a journalistic question left unasked is: What role do both state-supported and popular Mosques play in Egypt in general and in the current situation specifically.

    ?????? ?????

  • Steve

    Watched CBS last night, and NBC this evening. In the States what people receive is that there is one Egypt: the Muslim Brotherhood. I’d be curious to compare and contrast the coverage this struggle with the democratic elections held in a European country in March, 1933.

    • Howard

      30 years ago, perhaps CBS and NBC (and ABC) really could control news consumption in the states. Today, they average 22.5 million viewers per night — out of a nation of 314 million. Those who are really interested in the news get it online, and those who don’t care only watch the news because it comes on after Wheel of Fortune.

      • Steve

        I’m not proposing that the old “Big Three” are leading the coverage, just presenting them as examples of what is being delivered. And they still serve as an important source of news for many Americans even though the alternatives have become ascendant. Those Wheel of Fortune fans are watching.

        • Howard

          Well, you could make the point that all the major American news outlets — including cable news and newspapers — tend to be no more different from each other than Pepsi is from Coke. That typically is the case; the various outlets in the US all use the same “play-by-play man” and differ only in the “color commentator”. So the people who do not seek out the news all get the same cake, but with slightly different frosting; but they are self-selected as people who do not much care, so it is not clear whether it makes much difference what they are served.

          Maybe you think that they *would* care if the coverage were deeper and more accurate? It’s possible, but I doubt that most Americans care about what happens in Egypt as long as it stays in Egypt.

  • John Fisher

    Even in my country which wrongly has Moslem immigration there are interviews with the head of the Egyptian Islamic Society giving a big “boo hoo” about the violence in Egypt. I ask if we did not let them in them they would not share their dysfunction with us!

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    The overall news coverage in the mainstream media seems to favor the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi (With little reporting on how he apparently had gone back very quickly on his diversity pledges.)
    Now little reported is the pledge of the military to help Christians rebuild their destroyed churches (38 to 50 at one count) and protect Christians while the Muslim Brotherhood is planting their flags on the rubble they created as they terrorize and kill Egyptian Christians..

    • John Fisher

      It is because the Army like Nasa and Saddat are secularists. They alone wish to have a non religious constitution and political view.


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