In both cases, Egypt’s Christians suffer the most, especially under the concept of “collective punishment,” wherein Islam’s “dhimmi” Christians are attacked in response to other Christians: during the Mamluk era, when Muslims were fighting and defining themselves against the Christian Crusaders, today as the Muslim world becomes increasingly hostile to and defines itself against all things Western, including Christianity.
Reading Adel Guindy’s Hikayat al-Ihtilal ["Stories of Occupation"], an Arabic study of the various occupying forces of Egypt since the Arab invasion ca. 640, one comes across centuries of burned churches and persecuted Christians, forced conversions, and exorbitant jizya—taxes imposed on non-Muslims, who were, and evidently still are, treated as sub-human, second-class citizens (see Quran 9:29). These abuses of non-Muslim “infidels” were everyday features of Mamluk Egypt, so much so that it was then that the majority of Egypt’s Christians sought relief by converting to Islam.
Currently, under military rule, Egypt’s Christians are persecuted, calls for jizya are back, and churches are destroyed with regularity.
Hikayat al-Ihtilal describes how, over 500 years ago, Muslims screaming “Allahu Akbar!” would destroy and plunder churches while Mamluk rulers sat by and looked on, as usual blaming the Christians. Today’s upsurge in church attacks—with officials either looking the other way oreven justifying them—is, in fact, what caused Christians to protest at Maspero in the first place, only to be massacred.
At the close of his study concerning the Mamluk era, Guindy makes an especially pertinent observation: with the Mamluks’ rise to power, “Egypt entered into a five-and-a-half-century coma, which it did not revive from until the voice of Napoleon was heard knocking on its doors in 1798.”
In fact, it was only during the colonial era and into the 20th century—when Egyptians sought to emulate the ways of a then-confident West—that the Mamluk “approach” went dormant.
Today, as both Western appeal and influence fade in the Middle East—in Egypt, starting with Nasser’s Free Officers’ coup in 1952 and culminating in Tantawi’s pure military dictatorship—the threat of Egypt lapsing back into a “coma” becomes all too real, particularly under Muslim Brotherhood and/or Salafist rule, which early elections indicate.
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