Copts are the new Jews

by - 29th August 2013

Lela Gilbert in Jerusalem

In 1969, Rachel Lipkin’s family fled to Israel from Egypt. The young girl’s father had finally been released from prison, after signing away all the family assets to the Egyptian government. During his three-year imprisonment (thousands of Egyptian Jewish men were locked up after the 1967 ‘Six Day War’), Rachel recalls the generosity of their Coptic neighbors, who regularly brought eggs, milk and bread to her mother.

‘I was just 11-years-old at the time, but I clearly remember what our neighbor said. “They are coming after you Jews, and once they have driven you out of the country, then they will come after us Christians. We know this will happen.”’

As I wrote in my book Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojouner, in 1948, the number of Jews living in Egypt was estimated between 85,000 and 100,000. Today fewer than 25 Jews remain there openly, and most are elderly and infirm. This story repeated itself in at least 10 Muslim majority countries.

Another Jewish refugee from Egypt, Joseph Wahed, wrote of his own experience in a letter to the Wall Street Journal in 2011, following a WSJ story titled ‘Clashes between Christians, Police Rock Cairo.’

This reminded me of what our Coptic neighbor told my family as we were being expelled from Egypt in November 1952: ‘After Saturday comes Sunday.’ He accurately predicted that the Coptic community also would feel the wrath and hatred of Egyptians, much of it inspired by radical Islam.

As anyone paying close attention can attest, ‘First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People’ is no longer just an Islamist slogan. At its worst it states, ‘On Saturday we kill the Jews; on Sunday we kill the Christians.’ Today, as we read about and watch the deadly violence in Egypt, that slogan has become an observable reality.

On August 27, I found a message in my inbox from Egypt’s Maspero Youth Union, an organization of young, outspoken Coptic Christians. It was a report about the widespread attacks on Coptic communities by the Muslim Brotherhood between August 14-16:

  • 38 Churches completely destroyed, burned and looted
  • 23 Churches attacked and partially damaged

In addition the following:

  • 58 houses owned by Copts in different areas burned and looted
  • 85 shops owned by Copts
  • 16 pharmacies
  • 3 hotels (Horus, Susana & Akhnaton)
  • 75 cars, buses owned by churches
  • 6 people killed based on their religious Christian identity
  • 7 Coptic people kidnapped in Upper Egypt governorates

Why are the Copts being attacked with such rage?

They comprise the largest and oldest Christian community in the Middle East. Founded by St Mark in around 65 CE, they are not Arabs, but represent the primeval Pharaonic race.

But today, the Muslim Brotherhood has blamed the overthrow of President Mahmoud Morsi on two specific groups: Jews and Christians (specifically the Copts).

Jews/Zionists are the favorite scapegoat in the Arab world, and perhaps most notably in Egypt, where anti-Semitism is rampant among some 90 per cent of the population.

The sight of Coptic Pope Tawadros II seated alongside General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, when Sisi seized the reins of Egypt’s government, infuriated the Muslim Brotherhood. The Copts were clearly on Sisi’s side – why not retaliate?

Little has been made of the fact that the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Mosque (and University), Ahmed Al-Tayeb – al-Azhar is the most authoritative voice of Sunni Islam in Egypt – was also on the platform, backing the general. So, too, was a representative of the Al-Nour Salafist party. 

Thus far, there have been no reports of vandalism, arson or other violent attacks on al-Azhar or on any Salafist targets – mosques, homes, schools or leadership.

The flag says, in Arabic, ‘First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People’. Reprinted by permission from Israel TodayOnly the Coptic Church has been ruthlessly assaulted. And according to Samuel Tadros, a Coptic scholar and fellow at Hudson Institute, this present pogrom against the Copts is the most severe since 1321.  

I live in Israel. And when I talk to old-timers, they recall all too well the flood of refugees who arrived from Muslim lands between 1948 and 1970. At least 850,000 women, men and children were driven out of their ancient homelands, and many fled to the young Jewish state, which could barely house them. In fact, most of them lived in tents for more than a year.

Today, history is repeating itself.  The Jews, the ‘Saturday People,’ who ran for their lives not so long ago, have found new homes, new lives and a new homeland in Israel or in other Western countries.

But the story isn’t over.  Middle East-based scholar Ali Selim writes:  ‘The Islamists have now started on Sunday: the Christians are in their crosshairs, and when they have finished, the Islamists will return to Saturday and destroy the Jews. The Zionists in Israel understand the threats of radical Islam and its intentions for their country far better than the US administration will ever be able to. The Jews do not fear to show their determination and willingness to fight a life-and-death battle for their continued existence; it is that determination which has made the Islamists avoid confronting them for the present and target the Christians instead.’

The Christians that can flee from Egypt are doing so by the thousands. But many Egyptian Christians simply do not have the financial resources or the international connections to flee.

Where will these ‘Sunday People’ go? There is no Christian ‘Israel,’ no homeland to take them in and offer them ‘right of return.’ There are between eight and ten million Christians in Egypt, perhaps more, who are also living in a relentless nightmare.

Will anyone defend them? Who will help them when and if they have to abandon their homes, properties and assets? Who will take them in?


Lela Gilbert is the author of Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner, and co-author of Persecuted: the Global Assault on Christians. She is an adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute.