At the pivotal event announcing the fall of President Mohamed Morsi, a number of symbolic leaders stood with General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in a coalition backing this action, following days of massive public protests dominated by young, mostly secular Egyptians.
Yes, one of those leaders was Coptic Orthodox Tawadros II, who called the military takeover a “defining moment in the nation’s history.” Of course, Egypt's grand imam, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, also took part in that press conference. So did the leader of the Constitution Party, Mohamed el-Baradei, Nobel Laureate Mohamed El Bareidi, Tamarod movement leader Mohamed Badr, former Morsi advisor Sekina Fouad and several others.
Anyone who has followed religion trends in Egypt for several decades knows that it was unusual for Tawadros to take such a public stand, knowing that Coptic Christians have always been a convenient scapegoat for mob violence in Egypt -- no matter who is in power. Things were getting worse under Muslim Brotherhood control, but things were also bad under previous military strongmen.
The crucial point is that Tawadros did not stand alone, but as part of a coalition that included key Islamic players in tensions with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Now, with that in mind, read the following chunk of a gripping New York Times report from David D. Kirkpatrick:
A tense quiet settled over Cairo as the city braced for new protests by supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, after the Friday Prayer. The new government authorized the police to use lethal force if they felt endangered.
Many of those waiting outside the makeshift morgue talked of civil war. Some blamed members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority for supporting the military takeover. A few argued openly for a turn to violence.
“The solution might be an assassination list,” said Ahmed, 27, who like others refused to use his full name for fear of reprisals from the new authorities. “Shoot anyone in uniform. It doesn’t matter if the good is taken with the bad, because that is what happened to us last night.”
So some blamed the nation's 10 percent Coptic minority, even though the coalition that -- in that crucial press conference -- endorsed the fall of Morsi was much broader than that. But the Coptic-blame game is a statement of fact on the street. Kirkpatrick handles other references to the views of this symbolic religious minority with similar caution:
Egyptian Islamists continued to lash out across the country. Scores of them blocked a main highway circling the capital. In Alexandria, hundreds battled with opponents and the police in the streets and health officials said at least nine died. Others hurled firebombs that ignited a provincial government headquarters near the pyramids in Giza. In the latest in a string of attacks on Coptic Christian churches and businesses, at least one more church was set on fire, in Fayoum.
Outside the mosque in Cairo, some Islamists contended that the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, had appeared to endorse the crackdown, and they portrayed attacks on churches around the country as a counterattack. “When Pope Tawadros comes out after a massacre to thank the military and the police, then don’t accuse me of sectarianism,” said Mamdouh Hamdi, 35, an accountant.
Once again, Times readers are given material from the point of view of the pro-Morsi protestors. Readers are told that the pope "appeared to" endorse the crackdown and that Islamists believe that he thanked the police and soldiers for their actions. It is certainly true that activists on that side of the bloody conflict believe that to be the truth and, for some reason, they blame Tawadros more than others.
But what is missing, from this report and many others? A key voice is missing.
What, in fact, has the Coptic pope actually said and done since early July? If violence against Coptic Christians is going to be a major story line in the emerging meltdown -- which certainly appears to be the case -- isn't it crucial to actually cite quotes from Tawadros and others? Consider this from ABCNews (including video report):
The leader of country’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, had previously expressed his support for the military coup that unseated the country’s first Islamist president last month. Coptic Christians widely supported Morsi’s opponent in presidential elections last year. Copts make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people.
Forty churches were burned across Egypt Wednesday, according to local nongovernmental organizations and the Coptic Church’s youth group. The Egyptian military pledged to reconstruct and restore all the burned churches, state media reported.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights group based in Cairo, documented additional attacks against Coptic monasteries, schools and shops, according to the group’s representative Ishaq Ibrahim, The Associated Press reported. The attacks on Coptic churches continued today, officials and monitor said.
At this point, readers know what Islamists believe the Coptic pope has said and done. But what has he actually said and done, described in materials from from actual public statements, as opposed to second-hand accusations? I'm sincerely interested and I am looking for new material on that front.
It is likely that the pope has been cautious, if not silence, and that his critics are continuing to refer to that early press conference. That's all they need, to awaken hatred of a familiar minority group, a familiar scapegoat.
All I am saying is that it is crucial, in this story with many competing Egyptian voices, to actually quote the key players. Let them speak for themselves -- especially when their words are being cited as justification for acts of mass destruction and terror.
UPDATE: Just noticed, in an Orthodox media source, a link to an excellent multi-media graphic at USA Today offering details on what Christian institutions are under attack across Egypt. Click here to go there.