For Egypt's Christian Copts, the New Year began with threats that their churches would be attacked during Christmas mass (celebrated on January 7). Because many people were watching what might happen—several Coptic churches were previously attacked, including last Christmas (8 dead) and New Year's day (23 dead), not to mention ominous episodes around the world, such as the Nigerian Christmas day church bombings (40 dead) —the Muslim Brotherhood proclaimed it would "protect" the Copts during their church services. Happily, Coptic Christmas came and went without incident.
However, if the Muslim Brotherhood "protected" Coptic churches when many around the world were watching, as soon as attention dissipated, it was business as usual: a large number of Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood members entered a church, asserting that it had no license and no one should pray in it -- accompanied by hints that it might be turned into a mosque: an all too typical approach in Muslim countries where building, or even renovating, churches is next to impossible.
Currently, 2012 appears to be unfolding as the "Year of Dhimmitude" for Egypt's Christians. Consider the following incidents from just last January alone, all of which demonstrate an upsurge in the treatment of Egypt's Copts as dhimmis -- the legal term for Islam's "protected," barely tolerated non-Muslim minorities—"protected," that is, as long as they agree to a number of debilitations, such as those that follow, that render them second-class citizens:
According to the Pact of Omar (also one of the earliest sources banning the construction or renovation of churches), dhimmis must "respect Muslims" and never insult them or their religion. Accordingly, a prominent Christian, Naguib Sawiris, is charged with "contempt of religion," for twittering a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse and a veiled Minnie: "The case has added to fears among many that ultraconservative Islamists may use their new found powers to try to stifle freedom of expression." Nor are the double standards in Egypt's "contempt of religion" law set aside: Christianity is daily disparaged in Egypt with impunity.
Similarly, a 17-year-old Christian student accused of posting a drawing of Islam's prophet on Facebook—which he denies doing, saying it was posted without his permission—triggered days of Muslim violence and havoc, including the burning of three Christian homes to cries of "Allahu Akbar" ["Alah s the Greatest."] The student, who was beaten, is to be "held" for fifteen days, "pending investigation." Muslim leaders agree "that priests should publicly apologize for the images, and that the student, as well as his family, should move out of the governorate."
Also according to the Pact of Omar, non-Muslims "shall not prevent" any of their family members from converting to Islam. Accordingly, thousands of Muslims just attacked a Coptic church, demanding the death of the pastor, who, along with "nearly 100 terrorized Copts sought refuge inside it, while Muslim rioters were pelting the church with stones in an effort to break into the church, assault the Copts and torch the building." They did this, apparently, because a Christian girl who, according to Islamic law, automatically became a Muslim when her father converted to Islam, had fled from her father and was rumored to be hiding in the church. This would not be the first time churches were attacked on similar rumors.
Traditionally, if one dhimmi transgresses, all surrounding dhimmis are collectively punished. As the jurist al-Murtada writes: "The agreement [presumably to "protect" the dhimmis] will be cancelled if all or some of them break it;" another jurist, al-Maghili, taught that "the fact that one individual (or one group) among them has broken the statute is enough to invalidate it for all of them."
Accordingly, a mob of over 3000 Muslims attacked Christians in an Alexandrian village because a Muslim barber accused a Christian of having "intimate photos" of a Muslim woman on his phone (Sharia bans non-Muslim men from marrying Muslim women). Terrified, the Christian, who denies having such photos, turned himself in to the police. Regardless, Coptic homes and shops were looted and set ablaze. Three Christians were injured, while "terrorized" women and children, rendered homeless, stood in the streets with no place to go. As usual, it took the army an hour to drive two kilometers to the village: "This happens every time," a man said: "They wait outside the village until the Muslims have had enough violence, then they appear." None of the perpetrators was arrested.
After the initial attacks, and in an apparent effort to empty the village of its 62 Christian families, Muslims attacked them again, burning more Coptic property. According to police, the woman concerned has denied the whole story, and no photos have been found.
Koran 9:29 commands Muslims to "Fight … the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] until they pay the jizya [monetary tribute] with willing submission and feel themselves subdued." Although abolished under Western pressure during the colonial era, Muslim demands for jizya are back. Even though it has currently not been reinstated, some Muslims have taken matters in their own hands by extorting money from Christians in lieu of jizya. (Who can forget Abu Ishaq al-Huwaini's lament that Muslims could alleviate their economic woes if only they returned to the good old days of Islam, when plundering, abducting, and selling/ransoming infidels was a great way of making a living?) Thus, Two Christians were killed "after a Muslim racketeer opened fire on them for refusing to pay him extortion money." The local bishop said, "I hold security forces and local Muslims fully responsible for terrorizing the Copts living there, who are continually being subjected to terror and kidnapping."
There is also the Islamic principle that necessity makes that which is forbidden permissible. The rights of dhimmis can be therefore trampled upon so long as an Islamic interest is served. Accordingly, in a region that is half Christian, Muslim mobs went on a rampage, attacking Christians, destroying and torching their homes and property to more screams of "Allahu Akbar." Why? To prevent Copts from voting to ensure that a Salafist candidate would win. "No Copt from Rahmaniya-Kebly was able to vote today, so the Salafists will win the elections," said a witness. Also telling is that, while the population of this region is half Christian, there are 300 mosques and only one church.
Perhaps nothing better demonstrates the return of dhimmitude for Copts as when the Egyptian government itself—as opposed to "radicals" or "mobs"—openly treats Christians as second-class citizens. Aside from the "contempt of religion" cases mentioned above, other events that surfacing in January included a legal case revolving around the abduction of a 16-year old Christian girl. In a decision that Coptic activists are saying will "encourage Islamists to continue unabated the abduction of Christian minors for conversion to Islam," the court sided with the Islamist lawyers. Moreover, rather than punishing the aggressors, the government has arrested and is trying two priests in connection with the Maspero massacre, when the military opened fire on, and ran tanks over, Copts protesting the constant destruction of their churches.
Finally even though Egypt's new parliament has 409 seats, only 7 are held by Copts. As Copts make up at least 10% of the population, they should probably hold approximately 40 seats.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.