Dear Pope Francis: Don't go to Egypt now
I will make no introductions except to say that like Your Holiness I too believe in a merciful and loving god.
Like you, I condemn the arbitrary killing of innocents.
A trip now could only serve to legitimise a murderous administration that is complicit in the killing of tens of Christians and hundreds of Muslims
Like you, it pains me to see so much suffering from “wars and terrorism, from interests that are armed and ready to strike".
Like you, I denounce how women and men are “cheated, violated in their dignity, discarded” as you recently commented after news of the heinous church bombings in Egypt that snatched the lives of at least 44 worshippers and wounded 100 others.
As Your Holiness knows, it’s not the first time this has happened. Egypt has an ignominious record of church bombings, the most significant of which was on New Year’s Day, January 2011, just 25 days before a popular uprising changed the course of history in the region. Just last December, 25 were killed when a bomb went off at churches near the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo. So-called Islamic State terrorists claimed the attack, as they did this weekend’s Palm Sunday massacre.
What Your Holiness may not be aware of, however, is that unconscionable acts of violence have plagued the country since the uprising, mostly by the state against civilians of all faiths.
In fact, on a fateful October night in 2011, 27 Coptic protesters were crushed to death by Egyptian armoured personnel carriers guarding the state television building, called Maspero, the breeding ground of hate speech and conspiracy theories.
To this day, not a single army officer has been held accountable.
Another massacre Your Holiness may not be aware of took place not at a church, but near a mosque in the heart of Cairo called Rabaa Al-Adaweya, named after a female religious icon in Islamic popular culture. Egyptian police, protected by army personnel, were given the go-ahead by the de facto president and head of the military coup (who removed an elected president from office and held him incommunicado for months) set fire to the mosque after killing some 1,000 peaceful protesters.
In the span of a few hours, the Egyptian state committed what Human Rights Watch later described as “likely crimes against humanity” and “the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history”. When they torched the mosque after the violent dispersal, it was functioning as a field hospital. Tens of suffering wounded were burnt alive.
The coup leader who swore he had no ambitions for the presidency and yet is the current president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, built his mandate on promises of safety and security, stability and justice, economic prosperity and social cohesion.
Your Holiness may have learnt that in 2015 Sisi became the first Egyptian president to attend Coptic Christmas Mass. He made all the requisite pleasantries but still, not a single army officer was convicted for Maspero.
It was the same story over and over again, whether the perpetrators were official uniformed officers, or barefooted villagers on a sectarian rampage. No legal path to justice. No closure for the families of victims but lots of tempestuous speeches about religious unity and the need to eradicate terrorism.
The means don't justify the ends
Your Holiness may also know that to that end (of eradicating terrorism), Sisi has dedicated endless resources to military operations that have demolished thousands of homes and forced the eviction of at least 3,200 families in North Sinai, a veritable media black hole since no unofficial media or journalists are allowed in.
Your Holiness is best advised not to associate with ruthless dictators like Sisi who will be the only one to gain from your visit at the expense of thousands of unjustly incarcerated Egyptians
Yet recent leaked reports by activists attest to the abject failure of Operation “Right of the Martyr”, the army’s campaign against terrorists in the Sinai peninsula that began in September 2015. In fact, the insurgents in the region continue to grow stronger, sowing fear among Muslims and vowing to kill more Christians whom the government has consistently failed to protect.
As I understand, Your Holiness plans to visit Egypt on 28-29 April. While as an Egyptian Muslim citizen, I would be honoured by your visit to my country, I beseech you to reconsider this trip.
My reasoning is clear and simple: apart from the palpable physical danger of being in Egypt at this volatile moment (note that Coptic Pope Tawadros was the target of Sunday's Alexandria bombing as he was inside St Mark’s Cathedral when it happened), such a trip could only serve to legitimise a murderous administration that is complicit in the killing of tens of Christians and hundreds of Muslims.
The only one to gain
Your Holiness is best advised not to associate with ruthless dictators like Sisi who will be the only one to gain from your visit at the expense of thousands of unjustly incarcerated Egyptians with no recourse to a fair trial and often with false charges levelled against them.
As an inspiring force for good in the world, once during a 2015 audience with children of the Peace Factory, Your Holiness said: “We all have the same rights. When we do not see this, society is unjust. It does not follow the rule of justice, and where there is no justice, there cannot be peace. … where there is no justice, there is no peace!”
There is no justice in Sisi’s Egypt and, unless the world starts to treat him like the pariah he is, then there will never be peace.
- Rania Elmalky is the former editor-in-chief of Cairo-based newspaper Daily News Egypt.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Pope Francis arrives for a weekly general audience at St Peter's Square on April 5, 2017 (AFP)
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.