(AINA) -- A new wave of defamation by Islamists against Coptic Pope Shenouda III and the Coptic Church is seen by many observers as a serious provocation to sectarian violence against the Copts, and the possibility of Egypt being dragged into civil war.
On September 15, Qatar-owned Al-Jezirah TV broadcast a program called Without Limits, presented by moderator Ahmad Mansour, who hosted the Islamist Dr. Selim el-Awah, former Secretary-General of the World Council of Muslim Scholars, which has stunned and enraged Copts inside and outside of Egypt. "El-Awah is simply threatening Copts that the forthcoming chaos after Mubarak dies will see mass violence against the Copts," says Magdy Khalil, Coptic activist and head of Middle East Freedom Forum.
The program alleged the Church has its own militia and hides weapons and ammunition in monasteries and churches, preparing for a war "against the Muslims." el-Awah said that "Israel is in the heart of the Coptic Cause," and the Church gets weapons from Israel. He cited as evidence an incident in mid-August, in which the son of a priest in Port Said, Mr. Joseph El-Gabalawy, was falsely accused of importing weapons from Israel. Although he was cleared of charges and released, as the imported goods were children's fireworks from China and did not belong to him, he is still detained by State Security.
The television program also charged the Church of concealing Muslim converts to Christianity, besides abducting and torturing Christian converts to Islam. Out of the thousands of Christian woman who converted to Islam, willingly or unwillingly, el-Awah mentioned only two wives of priests whom he claimed converted to Islam and consequently were imprisoned in monasteries, Wafa Constantine and Mary Abdallah. Speaking on the latest crisis over Camelia Shehata, about whom Muslims fabricated rumors of her conversion to Islam, he said that she never converted to Islam and was handed over by State Security to her two married sisters (AINA 11-1-2015).
The nearly two-hour program went on to accuse the Coptic Church of being a "State within the Egyptian State," allegedly taking advantage of the weakness of the present regime, behaving as if it is above the law. The Church was also accused of making an "inheritance" deal with the regime to support President Mubarak's son in succeeding his father as president in exchange for benefits.
Selim el-Awah said that ever since Pope Shenouda came out of detention, having been banished to a desert monastery by the late President Sadat in 1981 and released by President Mubarak in 1982, there has been "scientific preparation" to demand the division of Egypt into a Muslim State and a Coptic secular State"
He warned that if the status of the Church remains as such, the "country will burn" and called on Muslims to go out in demonstrations as the "only answer left to counteract the strength of the Church." He said "If they go out to the streets, who can control them?"
"For the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel," says Magdy Khalil, "someone has accused the Coptic Church of stockpiling weapons from Israel as a prelude to waging war on Muslims, claiming that Israel is at the heart of the Coptic issue."
In response to the seriousness of the accusations, the Church aired a program on its own TV channel, Agape, denying all allegations and accusing Al-Jezirah of being hostile towards Egypt. It discussed the whereabouts of the two priests' wives, who had marital problems but never converted to Islam. "Constantine chose to remain in a monastery and Abdallah lives in a house alone with her children paid by the church," said Father Abdelmassih Baseet.
In a Middle East Freedom Forum press release on September 20, Magdy Khalil said that what Dr. Selim el-Awah said "amounts to incitement to murder and ethnic cleansing of a minority, which are crimes in Egyptian and international law" and if Al-Awah's words of hate and incitement are overlooked by the Egyptian government, "this would mean that they are partners in these crimes." The Forum invited national lawyers, Muslims and Christians, to join its campaign for the prosecution of Dr. el-Awah for crimes of incitement.
Dr. Naguib Gobrail, legal counselor to the Coptic Church and president of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations, presented on September 20 a memorandum to the Prosecutor General against Dr. Selim el-Awah and Al-Jezirah's Egyptian moderator Ahmad Mansour, accusing both men of propagating lies which would affect social peace and harm national security. The memo went on to say that they accused the Church of storing weapons and Christians of "high treason," since these weapons would "normally be used against the State and their Muslim brethren," a claim, if true, would subject 15 million Christians to the charge of high treason, which carries the death penalty.
Coptic attorney Mamdouh Nakhla, head of AL-Kalema Centre for Human Rights, told Freecopts the TV program included reference to a terrorist plan for several massacres to be committed against the Copts. "el-Awah said that the simple Coptic citizen will be the real victim of those massacres, while the Coptic clergy will hide in the monasteries," said Nakhla. "Such remarks should not be ignored and el-Awah should be questioned about the facts and what information he knows about those plans." He added that he will present a complaint to the prosecutor general against el-Awah and Al-Jezirah Channel for spreading unfounded lies that could provoke incitement against the Church and the Copts.
The Egyptian media has accused el-Awah of claiming the Church is storing weapons without having any evidence. Al-Jezirah was accused by renowned writer Salah Issah, editor of Cairo Daily, of not adhering to the Press Charter, which prohibits covering anything that would cause sectarian strife, stressing the network has committed professional errors.
Observers see that el-Awah statements of September 15, coming only two days after the call of the banned Front of Al-Azhar Scholars, on September 13, to boycott Coptic businesses, professionals and schools, only confirms that there is secret coordination between the Islamist religious groups, "who have one thing in mind, which is to burn the homeland," say Muslim thinker Ayman Abdel Rassol. He added that weapons are stored in mosques, especially in upper Egypt. Abdel Rassol called for the prosecution of Dr. el-Awah for crimes of incitement.
A Muslim demonstration is called for Friday September 24, in Alexandria demanding the disposal of Pope Shenouda III.
Khalil recollects similar circumstances taking place at the end of the seventies when rumors circulated about a plan by Pope Shenouda to establish a Coptic state in the Upper Egyptian Province of Assiut, and about the storage of weapons in monasteries, "those rumors were justifications for a series of attacks against the Copts over decades," he said.
He believes that this dangerous talk by Dr. el-Awah is an introduction to the destruction of the Copts in the event of a the outbreak of chaos in Egypt after Mubarak's death. "It will not be like what happened in the seventies, but it could evolve to become like the Armenian genocide that occurred in Turkey in 1915," said Khalil.
By Mary Abdelmassih