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Are There ‘Good Guys’ in the Egyptian Conflict?

Experts on Egypt situation

Nasser Nouri

Brantly Millegan - published on 08/22/13

Our Aleteia Experts strongly advise against US military intervention in Egypt - even though they agree the situation is bleak for Egyptian Christians.

Violence rages on in Egypt, with hundreds if not thousands killed in recent weeks, and scores of Christian churches attacked. We asked our Aleteia Experts what they thought of the situation. Should the US intervene? And how does the future look for Egyptian Christians?

What Makes a True Democracy

"As Robert Reilly argues, authoritarians are always preferable to totalitarians," says author John Zmirak. "The Muslim Brotherhood is a totalitarian movement, which wants to impose a modern, ideologized version of an already intolerant traditional Islam on a nation where millions wish to live as Christians, or more secularized Muslims. So force is warranted to stop it. If 51% of Americans voted democratically to enslave the other 49%, would we expect that election result to be honored?"

Adel Guindy, President of Coptic Solidarity, sees a similar problem with simplistic notions of democracy. "[W]hat's in the best interest of Egypt, regional peace and US strategic interests? A stable and 'democratic' Egypt, no question. The catchword, however, is 'democratic'. […] The example of the democratically-elected Hitler…[shows] it's impossible to have any semblance of democracy without its founding principles of freedom and equality. These values are anathemas for groups like the Muslim Brotherhood…"

"[T]he 'good guys' must be those who oppose such fascistic ideologies. The 'liberals' in Egypt (defined in the old European sense of the term, not the current American one – which means 'leftist') are the ones who defend the idea of a democratic (based on freedom & equality) Egypt."

"So, in a nutshell, the liberal and 'secularist' forces are – in every sense – the 'good guys.' Nobody wishes for a military rule, but until the country can stand up again, security resorted and the rules of the political game drawn, there's no alternative for an army-backed government for the next year or two.

Zmirak also views the actions of the Egyptian military positively. "Insofar as the Egyptian military starts to protect religious minorities, and restrict its use of force to the minimum necessary to stop a totalitarian takeover, it would be the better party in the conflict." But he also doesn't think the US should get involved. "[N]either side deserves U.S. support. This is absolutely none of our business. We will only make things worse, as we did in Vietnam."

In a recent piece for the American Spectator, George Neumayr says he also supports the actions of the Egyptian military. "The truth is that Egypt’s military deserves a bonus for beating back the Muslim Brotherhood. If U.S. aid has in fact gone into that effort, it is money well spent."

Wilhelmus Valkenberg, professor of religion and culture at Catholic University of America, thinks there are no "good guys" in this conflict, and that supporting one side or another is a bad idea for the US: "I am amazed that the American government does not seem able to say anything meaningful about this conflict. However, there are no good guys and whatever they will decide, it will be used against the US. […] They talk about democracy but when a president is chosen democratically, they do not support this."

The Fate of Egyptian Christians?

"Christians are unarmed, and make a handy target for the thugs of the Muslim Brotherhood to vent their rage," says Zmirak.

Valkenberg points to three other factors to explain why Christians are being targeted by violence. "First, in times of tensions it is always easy to find an identifiable enemy, and so Christians form an easy target since religion is always an easy identifier in times of tension."

"Second, the new pope of the Coptic Christians has been more outspoken politically than his predecessor, and has also publicly supported the role of the army, so he can easily be seen as an enemy of the Brotherhood."

"Last but not least, Christians in Egypt are always seen as being closely attached to the West: they are often better off economically or have ties to families and friends in the West."

Guindy puts the recent violence against Christians in a broader context. "Attacking Christians has a long history, since the Arab-Islamic invasion in AD 640. They're now the scapegoats of every conflict between any regime and the Islamists."

"After the fall of Morsi they've been directly accused of siding with the forces that 'overthrew the first Islamist ruler in modern times.' They hence are considered not to practice their rights as citizens, but to have broken the dhimmi covent (whereby Christians or Jews could – under Islamic jurisprudence – be tolerated as long as they live in submission and not instigate the slightest trouble for the ruler), and hence are no more 'protected.' This means their lives, churches and possessions are free game."

So how does the future of Christianity in Egypt look? "Bleak!", says Guindy. "But Copts have seen worse over 14 centuries and their tenacity is not to be underestimated."

"I would like there to be Christians in the Middle East," says Zmirak, "but if I had a Christian friend who lived there, I'd be trying to help him get a visa to the U.S."

The following Aleteia Experts contributed to this article:

Adel Guindy is President of Coptic Solidarity.

George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.

Wilhelmus Valkenberg is a professor of religion and culture at Catholic University of America.

John Zmirak is the author, most recently, of The Bad Catholics Guide to the Catechism. He blogs at The Bad Catholics Bingo Hall.

Christians in the Middle EastCoptic ChristiansEgyptFaithIslam
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