Egyptian Copts fearful amid anti-Islam film backlash
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Coptic Christians in Egypt Tuesday condemned an anti-Islam film linked to an Egyptian-born Copt in the USA that unleashed a wave of anger in the Middle East and North Africa. Now they fear they will be targeted by angry protesters.
Coptic Christians in Egypt are decrying an inflammatory movie that denigrates the Prophet Mohammad and has sparked riots outside the American embassy in Cairo and a consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, where a top US diplomat was killed on Tuesday.
An Egyptian-born Christian living in the US has been at the centre of the controversy and Copts in Egypt have quickly rejected affiliation to the figure or the views expressed by the film.
“The official position of the Church is clear, and a majority of Copts in Egypt condemn the movie,” said Kemil Sadek, the spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo. “We do not share the position of those behind the movie, which has nothing to do with Christianity.”
Sadek insisted that the Church completely disavowed “foreign-based fundamentalists” that claimed to speak on its behalf, adding that those people “were not interested in the good of Egypt.”
Egyptian Christians also expressed fear that further violence could be directed towards them. Egypt’s Muslim majority and minority Christians communities have struggled to maintain peaceful relations.
The Coptic community counts some 7.5 million people in Egypt, representing around nine percent of a total population of 84 million.
“I think people are growing very afraid of attacks,” said Ihmed Khalil, a member of Copts for Change, a group that works to improve ties between different religions. “Already I have heard news about a Salafist burning the Holy Bible outside the US embassy [in Cairo].”
Khalil added that the Egyptian public had been largely misinformed about the film’s origin by the media and that many Muslims believed the Coptic Church was behind it.
Who to blame?
Initial reports attributed the two-hour-long ‘Innocence of Muslims’ movie to a man named Sam Bacile, who claimed to be an Israeli-American real estate developer in California. However, reports have since emerged that Sam Bacile was the alias of a Coptic Christian man, who has previously been convicted of financial crimes.
In the crudely produced film, where the Prophet Mohammed is portrayed as a womanizer and a cold-blooded thief, the amateur cast deliver stilted dialogue and parade through flimsy sets in scenes meant to expose the Prophet as a fraud.
The movie has never been screened in full to a significant audience. The outrage in Muslim countries has actually been over a series of short, 2- to 14-minute video excerpts from the film that have been published on the Internet.
Even those clips went largely unnoticed until they were dubbed into Egyptian Arabic last week.
For several days Egyptian media have been reporting on the online videos, and blaming Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who lives in California. Sadek, who is known for his anti-Islam views, has said he was not involved in the making of the movie but has defended it.
He has said the video “explains the problems of the Copts who suffer from Muslims” and that he was promoting it on his website.
Rallying for tolerence
Medhat Klada, a representative of Coptic Christian organisations in Europe, said Sadek's views are not representative of expatriate Copts. Indeed, while Sadek claims to be the president of an organisation called the National American Coptic Assembly, the group’s website seems to be nothing more than a blog page for Sadek to post his own ideas.
Sadek appears to be as obscure as the anti-Islam movie created by the man hiding behind the name Sam Bacile, but with some help from hasty Egyptian commentators, both have converged to unleash a wave of anti-American unrest in the Middle East that threatens to harm Copts and perhaps other Christians in the region.
Ihmed Khalil of Copts for Change said his group was against disrespecting the Prophet, "just as we would be against someone insulting our Coptic Church or Jesus".
Nevertheless, Khalil expressed doubt about the new Islamist-led government of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, which he said was not interested in protecting the religious rights of his Christians.
Despite fears of retaliation, members of the Maspero Youth Union – a group of young Coptic Christians – was planning on holding a vigil outside the US embassy on Wednesday evening “to protest against the film that insults Islam and the Prophet Mohamed”, according to the news website bikyamasr.com.