Over the past nine months fanatic elements within the Egyptian Muslim community have stirred up civil unrest all over Egypt. Copts have been attacked, houses and shops looted, and churches burnt down. While it is true that a general degree of anarchy has prevailed in the country since the revolution, one expects that as the new order comes to fruition, such anarchy will quickly be brought under control. THis is to be expected when so drastic a revolution happens in any nation. But acts of violence along religious lines will divide the country and turn it into another Lebanon. As thousands of Egyptian Copts protested the lack of protection from the ruling Army since the revolution, the army opened fire killing dozens of civilians and injuring hundreds. The Army has blamed “unknown culprits” for the violence. Yet surely, there is no doubt as to who did the killing?
If Egypt is ever to become a modern country it has to embrace modern standards of integrity and accountability. Provocateurs are being blamed for inciting the violence, yet we have often seen armies in other countries counter such violence without killing anyone. Why can’t the Egyptian army do the same? Are they not well enough trained? It is simply not good enough to say “they started it”. You are the ones with the training and the weapons!
After this terrible incident any decent army command would very quickly find out who gave the orders to fire on civilians and make a public example of them so that the rest of the soldiers understand that this absolutely unacceptable. The Army showed admirable constraint and what seemed to be great wisdom in refusing to use violence against protesters during the January revolution. Why has that restraint disappeared now? Why does it disappear only against Christians?
If the army does not want to be seen as being selective in who it protects, it MUST take immediate, decisive action against those in its own ranks who have shown this lack of discipline and were responsible for this atrocity. Only in this way can it prevent this tragedy from being repeated. Covering up and blaming others is a green light for atrocities like this to recur in the future. There is an old adage that says, “What you allow, you teach”. If I were a Muslim army officer, with the slightest tendency towards sectarianism, and I saw the perpetrators of this violence getting off scott-free, what message does that give me? If on the other hand, i saw them being severely punished: tried, courtmarshalled, perhaps imprisoned; then I would certainly think twice before repeating their mistake.
Egypt is not at war. Soldiers killing civilians is simply not acceptable! Those responsible have committed murder. When will it be recognised for what it is?
Persecution is nothing new for the Copts. We have survived nearly two thousand years in an environment that has been hostile for the vast majority of that period. But the events unfolding in Cairo are the fork in the road for the Egyptian nation. The Army can use this crisis to point the way for a better, brighter future for all Egyptians by exercising transparency, integrity and responsibility. Or it can just fall back on old ways of the old regime and plunge an Egypt that has tasted true freedom back into the dark ages.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda has called for three days of fasting and prayer starting today on behalf of the peace and security of Egypt. This is indeed a watershed moment.