Coptic activist dissolves movement ahead of Sisi’s electoral triumph
by- 4th June 2014
THE FOUNDING FATHER of modern Coptic activism retires a happy man as Egyptian Christians celebrate the election of a new president as hope dawns for equality.
Two days before the vote that saw Abdel Fattah al-Sisi elected president, Hany el-Gezery, the 60-year old founder of Copts for Egypt, announced the dissolution of his pioneering movement.
‘In light of our great confidence in the noble knight that will govern, whatever his name,’ he wrote in his final statement, ‘we call on all revolutionary and Coptic movements to follow our lead and stand as one to build the future of Egypt.’
Gezery began his activism in 2005 as one of the few Christians in the Kefaya movement opposed to then-President Hosni Mubarak. Throughout his activism he laboured to involve Copts in the secular political struggle.
But in 2009 Gezery made a more direct religious appeal, partnering with Father Mattias Nasr, an Orthodox priest, to found Copts for Egypt.
The alliance aimed to shift an emerging Coptic activism from church to street.
‘We were the first Coptic movement to work in the streets,’ Gezery told Lapido Media. ‘At that time no Christian was bold enough to even open his mouth, and any demonstration would be held inside the cathedral.’
Copts for Egypt differed by coordinating with opposition political parties to recognise and oppose discrimination within the Mubarak regime.
In February 2010 they led the first Coptic protest outside church walls. In January 2011 they concluded a week-long rally against the bombing of a church in Alexandria.
Eighteen days later the 25 January revolution erupted. Youth activists from Copts for Egypt were active throughout, going on to found or join many other diverse movements.
Gezery now calls for them also to end this stage of the struggle. ‘All Egyptians must dissolve back into society,’ he wrote, ‘which after 30 June is free from religious factionalism.’
On 30 June 2013 the popular revolt began against President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. After one year in office he was ousted by president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the landslide winner in last week’s elections, with 96 per cent of the vote.
In declining to name ‘the noble knight’ of his statement, Gezery was keen to emphasise his respect for both candidates, and rest his confidence on the era, not the man.
But the man causes worry among other Coptic activists, including his own disciples.
‘I am not against Sisi, I am afraid of him,’ said Mina Magdy, general coordinator of the Maspero Youth Union (MYU).
‘Coptic movements are needed now more than ever,’ he told Lapido Media, ‘because freedom may be attacked by the regime and the first to feel it will be minorities.’
Magdy called Copts for Egypt a ‘lightning rod’ that was essential in the days of Mubarak. But in May 2011 he and other activists founded MYU as thousands of Copts protested the burning of three churches in a lower-class Cairo neighborhood.
Five months later during another protest, 28 mostly Coptic demonstrators were killed by live gunfire or crushed to death as army vehicles swerved violently through the crowd.
General Sisi was head of military intelligence at the time. His role in the ‘Maspero massacre’ is unknown, but MYU activists disrupted mass to protest the church’s later reception of other military officials, as previously reported by Lapido Media.
But if Magdy is worried about Sisi, another Coptic activist fears the state itself.
Ebram Louis is the founder of the Association for the Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance, which researches, supports, and advocates for missing underage Coptic girls.
‘The state is not responding to our cause,’ he told Lapido Media. ‘They are active if a Muslim is kidnapped but discriminate if it is a Christian.’
Since the January 2011 revolution, Louis has chronicled 500 cases in which a Coptic girl has disappeared from her home.
Only 27 years old, Louis is already a veteran activist through Mohamed al-Baradei’s National Association for Change, a precursor movement to the 25 January protests.
He has a deep respect for Gezery, with whom he has coordinated extensively, but rejects his call: ‘We believe in our cause, and while we all try to work in a national framework, the Coptic movements must continue.’
Gezery told Lapido Media he prefers the movements to merge into political parties or human rights organisations, to strengthen the state. But though he sees a new dawn emerging, his faith is not blind.
From his dilapidated office with paint peeling from the walls, Gezery’s old-time crusty oppositional spirit still held forth.
‘If Sisi does not fulfill the demands of the people,’ he said, ‘he too will fall within a year.’