For more than a week now, the mainstream press has been wrestling with the events in Egypt. It's safe to say that this is the biggest news story, period, on planet Earth right now. I mean, other than Super Bowl XLV. However, when we were taping this week's GetReligion podcast -- click here to listen to that or to download it -- Todd Wilken of Issues, Etc., asked me a really interesting question. He asked if what's going on is really "new" from the perspective of the Coptic Christians who are the most ancient people group in the truly ancient land of Egypt.
My brain went spinning in circles when he asked that as I tried to figure out an answer.
I mean, yes, what is happening is "new" because the fall of the government of President Hosni Mubarak would certainly be "news" in the sense that it would have to impact the Copts in some new ways different -- good or bad -- in comparison to recent decades.
Then again, if these events lead to even more persecution than normal, then the proper answer would be to say "no," because the Coptic Orthodox Church and other smaller groups of Coptic Christians have been undergoing waves of persecution, some worse than others, for centuries. I mean, what's "new" in that? Tragically, that would be pretty ordinary.
But wait a minute, you could also say that the best answer is "maybe" or "we don't know."
It's possible that Egypt could develop some form of Islamic majority government that actually guards the rights of religious minorities, rights as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I mean, Egypt is in the United Nations, correct?
However, how can a new government emerge from these remarkable protests that truly protects the rights of the Copts and other religious minorities in the sense defined under Article 18 of that document? That's the one that says:
* Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
However, what if the Gallup people are right, and 88 percent of Egyptians really do want Sharia law (of some form or another) to be the land's only law or a major source of its law (one that cannot be contradicted)? If that's the case, and Egypt trades it's current flawed semi-secularism for some form of Islamist republic, how can religious liberty be preserved for those who blaspheme and insult Mohammad?
So is the right answer to Todd's question "yes," "no" or "we don't know"? What think thee, readers and listeners? How does this uncertainty affect the news coverage?
One other point: Todd also asked me if many or most mainstream journalists have the background knowledge in terms of history and, especially, church history, to cover this story. Ouch.
Perhaps that is one reason that the Copts -- 10 percent or so of the Egyptian population and the largest Christian minority left in the Muslim world -- remain off so many MSM radar screens. Feel free to listen to the podcast the weigh in on that one, too.