[Editor: Jayson Casper attended this Coptic demonstration on July 14]
Traditionally, it is the Copts who look to America for support of their minority rights. With the Muslim Brotherhood now in the presidency, though not in full power, some Copts wonder if the United States is switching sides.
The statement of ‘looking to America’ should not be taken as normative. The Coptic Orthodox Church and most leaders of influence insist on Egyptian solutions to Egyptian problems. They believe an appeal to the West would brand Copts as traitors in their own land. Average Copts, however, often state a sentiment of longing for America – either for pressure on Cairo or as an escape through emigration.
Amid frequent meetings between Islamists and members of the US administration, however, some Copts believe Washington’s interests are beginning to trump its commitment to human rights.
‘We believe there is an alliance between the Obama administration and the Muslim Brotherhood,’ stated Bishoy Tamrī, a member of the political bureau of the Maspero Youth Union, a mostly Coptic revolutionary group formed after attacks on Egyptian churches in 2011. ‘This alliance is to support fascism in the Middle East. The US thinks the Muslim Brotherhood will protect their interests in the region, but this will be over our bodies as minorities.’
The revolutionary character of the Maspero Youth Union plays a role in seeing the United States making a deal with the devil. ‘We knew the next president must have US support,’ Tamrī continued, ‘because the military council rules Egypt and the US pays the military council.’
Most of the United States’ foreign aid to Egypt is in the form of military support, with smaller percentages given to economic and civil society development.
A few hundred people gathered at the US Embassy in Cairo to protest the visit of Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. Early chants at the demonstration included, ‘The people and the army are one hand’, but these were silenced by Maspero Youth Union leaders. Tamrī explained their group called for an open protest, and some attendees see the military council as the best means to limit or even depose Islamist rule.
One such group is the supporters of Egyptian television presenter Tawfīq ‘Ukāshah, somewhat comparable to America’s Glenn Beck. These are strong supporters of the military council and clashed briefly with assembled protestors when they arrived, according to Rāmī Kāmel, an independent Coptic activist helping organize the demonstration. This drove the protest ten minutes south to the Four Seasons Hotel.
According to Nādir Shukrī, the media spokesman for the Maspero Youth Union, the United States is looking to preserve its interests after the Arab Spring shook their control of local governments. Yet their eye is not on the region’s good, but on its destruction. ‘[The US] knows Islamist rule will bring ruin to these countries, and the best evidence of this is their previous experience.’
As for proof of this alliance, it is found in their frequent meetings. ‘We see evidence in the pre-election visits of US representatives to the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters,’ said Tamrī. ‘If the US was looking simply to political representatives it would have visited their Freedom and Justice Party.’
Others see this reasoning as absurd.
‘The United States has relations with every nation in the world,’ said Ra’ed Sharqāwī, an investigative journalist present at the demonstration. ‘The United States is also the shield for the Copts, and always will be. This protest is foolish.’
During Clinton’s visit she asked President Mursī to ‘assert the full authority of his position’. The president is currently engaged in a struggle with the military council over the dissolution of parliament. His party, the FJP is also pushing him to confront the military over its supplementary constitutional declaration to preserve some of its powers until a new constitution is written. Clinton did state the details of the transition should be left to the Egyptian people to determine, but urged the military return to its role of protecting the borders.
It is an open and contested question if the military is seeking to preserve its power and resist the revolution, or if it is defending democracy against a premature Islamist takeover of all institutions of government.
Nevertheless, whether the demonstrations against Clinton are foolish or astute, it is a dramatic step for a segment of the Coptic community to turn against the United States so publically.