Nearly 100 days after the fall of President Hosni Mubarek, the fate of Egypt’s Arab Spring uprising remains unclear. Recent attacks against Egypt’s Coptic Christian community that left hundreds dead highlight the insecurity and sectarian violence that has clouded the spirit of the Tahrir Square revolution.Blogging for the New York Review of Books, Yasmine El Rashidi gives the most illuminating report we’ve read so far of Egypt’s descent into sectarianism and the factors in play during Egypt’s chaotic political transition.
In her eyewitness account, El Rashidi points out that the attacks against Coptic Christians reflect longstanding discrimination against the Copts, which account for about 10% of Egypt’s population. Under Mubarek, persecution against the Copts subsided and conditions improved. At the same time, however, his regime was increasingly lenient towards Egypt’s Salafist sect.
“Since Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, hardline Salafis —who were kept under tight control by the former regime—have become vocal opponents of the church. Although they command only a small fraction of the followers of the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis’ brand of purist Islam is popular among some in conservative and working class districts, where there is growing resentment that the revolution hasn’t brought any tangible benefits…In some areas, Salafi Sheikhs have been using their Friday sermons to incite violence against Copts, whom they regard as infidels, and preach against democracy, which they say is not compatible with their goal of establishing an Islamic State.”
But while Salafists have been the most obvious instigators of the recent attacks on Egypt’s Coptic churches, El Rashidi notes that a broader variety of groups appear to have a hand in encouraging the violence.
El Rashidi concludes that a confluence of interests – including the ruling military council’s desire to consolidate power, radical Islamists attempts impose sharia law and elements of the ancien regime looking to foment instability – have created an extremely insecure situation for Egypt’s minorities.
In the face of growing economic uncertainty and political chaos, the situation is likely to get much worse.