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Thursday, January 26, 2006

The non-persecution of Egypt's Christians

OK, it was naïve of me to imagine that the Beeb does its own news-gathering in southern Egypt. The BBC report on the church attack in el-Udaysaat came straight from Reuters.

Compare and contrast this from Reuters…

‘The Christians called the police when the group set fire to building materials with which they planned to turn a house into a church.’

…with this alternative version…

‘Muslims who heard prayers from the all-night service in the community center threw torches into the building at 4 a.m. Thursday, Egyptian daily Al-Akhbar reported today.’ (source here)

Partisan though this source may be, given that two Christians have so far died it seems reasonably plausible to me that something more than an attack on a stack of planks was involved.

Reuters now have an update which in turn comes from IRIN, a news agency run by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This piece is suggestive of an interesting balance of forces within the organization that produced it. On the one hand, somebody somewhere cares enough about the plight of the Copts to make sure the issue got covered. On the other hand, it is clear that somebody else is imposing strict limits on what may be said. There can be ‘sectarian friction’ in Egypt, there can be ‘religious intolerance’, there can be ‘violent clashes’, but what there absolutely mustn’t be is a wave of vicious persecution of Christians by Muslim militants. Who would think of suggesting such a thing, anyway? Well, wouldn’t you know it…

‘Some observers have noted that religious intolerance is often aggravated by external influences.

‘One formidable element of the equation is the expatriate Coptic Christian community based in the United States, which has a history of accusing Cairo of “religious persecution”.’

They’re all brainwashed by the Zionist lobby, I presume.

And since there is friction but no persecution, one incident in particular requires very delicate handling:-

‘By far the biggest incident of sectarian friction in recent history, however, was in the village of El-Kusheh, south of Cairo, in 2000.

'After twenty people were killed in armed clashes between Christian and Muslim residents, the government renamed the village Dar El-Salaam, or “Haven of Peace,” hoping to stamp out all traces of animosity.’

Twenty one people were killed, to be precise. One Muslim, twenty Christians. If the Christians were doing any armed clashing, they were evidently extremely poor shots.

‘Bridging the Information Gap’ is the claim IRIN makes for itself. Sometimes, though, when you’re coordinating humanitarian affairs, information is just too dangerous to be passed on without very careful management.

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