Egyptian Coptic activists filed a complaint on Wednesday with the
General Persecution Office accusing state-run daily Al-Ahram of
defaming Pope Shenouda III, head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, and inflaming
The move comes after Al-Ahram published a column on Monday that carried an unprecedented attack on Pope Shenouda III.
"We went to the General Prosecution Office in order to stop the
attack on Copts and their spiritual leader by Al-Ahram," Coptic Church
lawyer Naguib Gebraeel told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Gabriel's complaint accuses the government broadsheet of libel, false
reporting, the undermining of social stability, and incitement of
In his weekly column, Al-Ahram journalist Abdel Nasser Salama held
Shenouda accountable for inciting sectarian hatred between Muslims and
Christian for the last four decades.
"Concepts such as sectarianism, citizenship and the resort to foreign
powers for support only began circulating in popular discourse when
Shenouda assumed the papacy in 1971,” Salama wrote.
Shenouda became the 117th pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church in November, 1971.
Salama claims that the pope told a Coptic congregation in 1973 that,
“By the year 2000, the number of Christians will be equal to that of
Muslims, according to the plan the church is implementing.”
Coptic Christians are said to account for roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s population of some 80 million.
In the same address, Salama went on to write, the pope also “called for expelling the ‘Muslim invaders’” from Egypt.
According to Gebraeel, such statements amount to defamation.
"These accusations are illegal since they defame someone and make
claims about things that never happened,” he said. “I repeat--this
alleged address by Pope Shenouda III is a fiction."
Coptic Bishop Sergius Sergius issued a statement on Tuesday accusing the writer of “agitating the state against the church.”
"The issue this time is highly sensitive," said Gabraeel. “It's not a
writer accusing the Copts of something; it's the official newspaper of
the state launching an attack on the church’s spiritual leader. Pope
Shenouda III represents a symbol for millions of Copts inside and
Al-Ahram, Egypt’s most widely-read state newspaper, published the
article in its Monday print edition. It also ran the article on its
website before abruptly removing it.
Al-Masry Al-Youm failed to obtain a reaction to the legal complaint
from Al-Ahram. Al-Ahram Editor-in-Chief Osama Saraya acknowledged on the
front page of the Wednesday edition that Salam had been “out of line,”
but had only been motivated by his fears of rising sectarian tension.
Saraya added that Shenouda represented “a national symbol for all
Egyptians” and was therefore “beyond being evaluated by anybody.”
Salam in his article also accused church officials of recently
planning and staging demonstrations in northern Cairo in which several
police officers were injured and two Coptic protesters were killed. “The
huge number of Molotov cocktails thrown in the Omraniya church riot
shows that churches can be used for stockpiling weapons.”
Shenouda denounced what he described as the excessive use of force
against Christian protesters, who clashed with security forces after
authorities halted construction of a local church. Along with two Coptic
fatalities, 157 were arrested, while church property suffered
significant material damage.
Last September, prominent Islamic scholar Selim al-Awah accused
Egyptian Copts of maintaining their own armed militia and stocking arms
and ammunition in the country’s monasteries and churches. These and
similar remarks caused public uproar among Copts.
The church quickly dismissed the allegations, describing them as “false and baseless” and aimed at igniting sectarian strife.
Several Islamic groups, meanwhile, have staged demonstrations against
the pope in various cities across Egypt, accusing the church of
detaining a Christian woman who they allege attempted to convert to
Islam. The church has denied the allegations, going on to hint that the
state had turned a blind eye to the demonstrations.
"What was written was not a random article," said Gebraeel in
reference to Salama’s article. "The words reflect the government’s
policy of not only marginalizing the Copts, but of also degrading them."
On Sunday, Shenouda refrained from casting a ballot in Egypt’s
parliamentary run-offs in a move that some experts believe signaled his
growing disappointment with the ruling regime of President Hosni
In the first round of polling, Shenouda voted for the liberal
opposition Wafd Party, clearly expressing frustration with the Mubarak
regime. Previously, Shenouda had always called on Copts to vote for
Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP).
Egypt’s Coptic minority has traditionally sided with the NDP, which, say some observers, it looks to for protection.