An interesting piece by Reuters’s religion editor Tom Heneghan explains why Western support for Egypt’s Coptic Christians may cause more harm than good. Although well-meaning, Western support tends to associate Copts with foreigners and make Egyptian Muslims suspicious. For example, when Pope Benedict expressed outrage at a suicide bombing that killed 23 Copts in a church in Alexandria earlier this year, the rector of the most important Islamic seminary in Egypt, Al-Alzhar, suspended interfaith dialogue with the Vatican in protest. The Copts are Egyptians, the rector complained, and not the Vatican’s concern. The idea that Christians are disloyal foreigners surfaces periodically in the history of the Muslim Middle East and has led to retaliation against them. To give just one instance, suspicion that Christian communities were collaborating with the Empire’s European rivals contributed to widespread massacres in Ottoman Turkey in the nineteenth century. Heneghan’s piece makes clear how bad things are for Copts today: even expressions of sympathy can place them in serious danger.

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