With hundreds injured across the region and several deaths, continued protests and increased violence, concern is growing for the Coptic Christians in Egypt and Christians around the region.
September 13, 2012 revealed that the director, who was originally thought to be ‘Sam Bacile’, an Israeli Jew, is an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in Los Angeles, California. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula had raised approximately $60,000 from family in Egypt to produce this film that he had written during his 21-month prison sentence for federal bank fraud in 2010.
For some, the concern is now that the anger against the film will be turned against the Copts in Egypt. Copts were quick to join the protests condemning the film, but protests had led to calls to burn the ‘Christian Bible’ in front of the US Embassy.
The Muslim Brotherhood, had promoted the protests calling them a duty for Egyptians, have set the ground for the outrage to grow. In a statement on Thursday the 13th of September they clarified that, “Thus hurting the feelings of one and a half billion Muslims cannot be tolerated, and the people’s anger and fury for their Faith is invariably predictable, often unstoppable.”
With a surge of violence against Copts in Egypt since the January 25 Revolution, the Coptic Church was quick to make a public statement condemning the film. The Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese in Southern California and Hawaii, Bishop Serapion, reaffirmed the rejection of the film, and mentioned to the LA Times that it was unfair to place blame on the Coptic Church. Other Christian leaders even called on the UN to prohibit blasphemy.
These quick and strong responses are clear indications of the anxiety the leaders of the Coptic Church are experiencing. This is evidenced in their willingness to accept further discrimination to preserve the remnants of unity between the two religious communities by requesting an anti-blasphemy statement to be issued globally. But will it protect minorities in Egypt and elsewhere? Will it prevent unnecessary and exaggerated violence any time someone decides to speak their mind?
It would not take much to spark further violence or anger in Egypt and in some countries, the violence because of the film is ongoing. In 2010, five years after the publication of the Danish cartoons that sparked similar protests globally, there were still attempted attacks against the newspaper that published it, and the cartoonists themselves.
While much of the protests were fueled by anti-American sentiments, this can easily spill over to the Coptic population in Egypt and even the Christians in the region at large. Alber Saber, an Egyptian activist, was already a target of mobs at his home and arrested and charged for insulting Islam, which he did by posting the film’s trailer on his Facebook wall.
An anti-blasphemy law in the new constitution will aggravate the high risk of attacks on Christians in a country that has traditionally allowed such with impunity. The fear is that Egypt’s unity is being dangerously fractured. Building genuine unity and respect between the two religious communities in Egypt is crucial for democratic development and growth. Allowing ‘insults’ to become illegal is treading on thin ice for that unity.