As I have stated before, human-rights activists have long viewed the safety of Egypt's ancient Coptic churches as a highly symbolic issue -- the canary in the coal mine that is that complex land. This is especially important right now, as the fragile coalition that currently leads Egypt tries to find its way along the tricky road from what was to what is and on to what will be. Many people are overjoyed and elated. Others are being cautious and quiet -- with good cause.
However, I think anyone who knows anything about Egypt would have to say that journalists should be keeping their eyes on the actions of the military.
After all, the army is in charge right now.
With that fact in mind, the following Assyrian International News Agency report is troubling, to say the least:
For the second time in as many days, Egyptian armed force stormed the 5th century old St. Bishoy monastery in Wadi el-Natroun, 110 kilometers from Cairo. Live ammunition was fired, wounding two monks and six Coptic monastery workers. Several sources confirmed the army's use of RPG ammunition. Four people have been arrested including three monks and a Coptic lawyer who was at the monastery investigating yesterday's army attack.
Monk Aksios Ava Bishoy told activist Nader Shoukry of Freecopts the armed forces stormed the main entrance gate to the monastery in the morning using five tanks, armored vehicles and a bulldozer to demolish the fence built by the monastery last month to protect themselves and the monastery from the lawlessness which prevailed in Egypt during the January 25 Uprising.
"When we tried to address them, the army fired live bullets, wounding Father Feltaows in the leg and Father Barnabas in the abdomen," said Monk Ava Bishoy. "Six Coptic workers in the monastery were also injured, some with serious injuries to the chest." ...
Father Hemanot Ava Bishoy said the army fired live ammunition and RPGs continuously for 30 minutes, which hit part of the ancient fence inside the monastery. "The army was shocked to see the monks standing there praying 'Lord have mercy' without running away. This is what really upset them," he said. "As the soldiers were demolishing the gate and the fence they were chanting 'Allahu Akbar' and 'Victory, Victory'."
These are inflammatory and disturbing images, to say the least. The story includes similar reports from other monasteries, including more injuries from live ammunition and monks being beaten with batons by soldiers.
It is crucial, at this stage, to realize that there have been high-profile demonstrations in recent weeks in which many Muslims and Copts have stood together in calling for reform and for peace and cooperation between the vast majority of the nation that is Muslim and the 10 percent of the population that is Coptic, as well as members of Egypt's other minority religions.
As always, however, it's crucial to remember that there is no one Islam in this scene, including in the leadership of the nation's army. That is a fact that is worthy of news coverage. Period.
One would hope that mainstream journalists would realize the intense symbolism of Egyptian soldiers attacking ancient monasteries that contain some of the land's most treasured Christian icons, altars, relics and texts. Live ammunition used on monks who have attempted to guard the perimeter of their sanctuary? If there is another side to this report -- and their might well be -- journalists need to find it.
But here is the key: Let me know if you see a single mainstream news report that follows up on these attacks. Got news?
Alas, once again, these attacks seem to be material worthy of "Christian" or even "conservative" news, while mainstream journalists have not tuned in the reports. Here is a typical Google News search. Search around.
Well, there is this Associated Press report:
The deputy to Osama bin Laden issued al-Qaida's second message since the Egyptian uprising, accusing the nation's Christian leadership of inciting interfaith tensions and denying that the terror network was behind last month's bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria that killed 21 and sparked protests.
The message Friday from Ayman al-Zawahri, the No. 2 leader of the terror network, comes amid renewed Muslim-Christian tension over the slaying of a Coptic priest and a dispute involving a monastery.
As with his first message, delivered Feb. 18, al-Zawahri in his new, 35-minute videotape makes no mention of the protests or Hosni Mubarak's fall from power. Al-Qaida had advocated for the destruction of Mubarak's regime -- and al-Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor, was part of a failed militant uprising against the former president in the 1990s.
But the pro-democracy tone of the protests, led by secular liberals, contrasted greatly with the Islamic state al-Qaida envisions. In the latest video, al-Zawahri devoted much of the time to the Muslim-Christian divide. But he denied that his group was behind the Alexandria bombing, according to a transcript by the SITE Intel group, a U.S. group that monitors militant messages.
Ahead of the bombing, extremist Islamic websites affiliated with al-Qaida circulated lists of Coptic churches in Egypt and Europe -- including one that was hit on New Year's -- along with instructions on how to attack them.
Egypt is a complex and dangerous place at the moment, even as the celebrations continue. Journalists attempting to find their way deeper into this coal mind might want to keep an eye on the canaries.