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Apocalyptic Egypt Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Saturday, 26 January 2013

Once a hack, always a hack: I am writing every day on a variety of “issues,” many the same with which I wrestled as a newspaper pundit, in the job I retired from last summer. And yet, for months now, I do not recall touching on the Middle East, even in passing. It is not that I haven’t been following the news.  It is not that I have run out of “angles.” Rather it is a form of acedia: an exhaustion with “Islamism” and what appears to be its unalterable course.

It has made me wonder if there were anti-Appeasement journalists in the 1930s, who simply shut up about Hitler, because they were sick of repeating themselves, and nothing they wrote would make any difference. I had this impression glancing in old files of the British newspaper, The Yorkshire Post. It was in the day quite remarkable for its Churchillian forecast of the cost of Appeasement. But towards the beginning of the War itself, it seemed to fall silent. What was left to say?

For some years after 9/11, my voice was frequently employed on events in the Middle East. There were at first few writers with much background on the region; and with Afghan and Iraqi wars looming, I had remarkable freedom to expound views untypical of the “Main Stream Media.”

I’d had luck before that. The remarkable then-editor of the Ottawa Citizen had sent me on an extended tour of Israel and Egypt in 1998. In Egypt, my principal assignment was to look into the persecution of Coptic Christians. That such an assignment would even occur to the editor of a metropolitan daily newspaper was remarkable enough. More, he actually thought it important.

Reading the latest installment of George Marlin’s excellent work on “The Persecuted Church,” Wednesday, I am reminded how badly I flubbed that task.

For sure, I did a lot of digging through Egypt’s Coptic community, interviewed various members of the church hierarchy, came away with many vivid impressions. I spoke with every Egyptian “human rights advocate” I could find, inquired into the veracity of atrocity reports, listened patiently to such as the Sheikh of Al-Azhar (Islamic Egypts equivalent to the Archbishop of Canterbury).

Lots of platitudes: about “brotherly love” between the followers of Egypts “two religions.” Did I know that the Coptic Pope and the Sheikh even went golfing together? “Incidental” massacres of Christians in Egyptian villages of the Delta and far South were always earnestly condemned.

At this end, I had read diligently what I could find from standard sources. In Congress at the time, there was a small “Coptic lobby” trying to call attention to persecutions in Egypt, and to get the U.S. government to do something about it. From their literature, and field reports by American Evangelicals who had made themselves interested, I’d set out with plenty of “factoids,” at least.

        Inside the Coptic cave church at Manshiyat Naser (Garbage City)

And truth to tell, I had a hugely good time. My socks were bowled off by the positive reality I encountered in Egypt: by the presence of a faith among the Copts that made me think of the very first century after Christ.

From an old clipping, I see that I told a colleague, “There is the feeling that the Saints of the Church, the angels, even Mother Mary and Christ Himself are lurking around the corner.” My longer reports, from neighborhoods like the “Garbage City” that Christian street-sweepers occupied in outer suburban Cairo – where they had carved, e.g., four cathedrals into the stone cliffs at the edge of the Eastern Desert – were intended to convey my exhilaration in witnessing true Christian faith.

The statuary I saw being freshly carved, in subtle defiance of Islamic iconoclasm, was especially arresting. It was “primitive” peasant stuff, but the figures were pulsating with a life that recalled the earliest Christian art. In a desert monastery, I was likewise filled with amazement, at how this remnant from Egypts Christian past had withstood the centuries since the Islamic conquest, mostly cut off from the Catholic civilization their missionary ancestors had once seeded in Ireland and Europe.

Yet thirteen years before the “Arab Spring,” I could feel in my bowels that the end was near; that the apocalypse of Egyptian Christendom was coming. And curiously enough, I sensed this, too, in many of the more articulate Copts I spoke with: that there was something different in kind, in spirit, about the Islamist threat, now even coming from within the Mubarak government, which nominally protected them.

Over the centuries there had been persecution enough, and occasional pogroms; there had been constant pressure on Christians to convert to Islam, by which a nation still probably majority Christian at the time of the first Crusades gradually became overwhelmingly Muslim. Yet all this had been mostly against a background of “live and let live.” Now, perceptibly, the ground rules were changing. “Islamism” wasnt “Islam” any more.

Almost to a man and woman, the Copts I spoke with begged me not to write about persecution, and for Gods sake to do nothing that would encourage their self-appointed “friends” in Washington to make another scene. This would, I was told again and again, make things so much worse for them.

Largely, I complied, denying myself the opportunity as a journalist to “break a few stories.” Today, I feel guilt for having been so cautious on their behalf; yet had I not been, I would be carrying the much worse guilt of having blood on my hands. For I couldnt have written clearly without exposing sources who would quite certainly have suffered reprisals.

Here is my nightmare. It is that, had I been sent by a similarly astute editor to investigate the persecution of Jews in 1930s Germany, I would have confronted the same situation. I would have been begged, by the Jews themselves, not to make things worse for them.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and, until recently, a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at:
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


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Comments (8)Add Comment
written by Other Joe, January 26, 2013
The comparison with the 1930s is apt. In the early days of the regime in Germany only the Jews suffered, and of course political rivals. Who cared about the Jews? Yet Jesus said, "What you do to the least of these, you do to me." The regime in Germany had set their flag against God. The rest was inevitable; the mass murder, the fire from the sky, the destruction of ancient cities and towns with their populations, customs and art. We would like to think that it was not inevitable, but a culture of death must have its full expression.

There is a new (but old as time) regime in town that has set its flag against God. A very short time ago we were assured by our secular masters (as we were assured by them about Hitler in the 1930s) that there is a small number of hardliners setting the pace, but they would soon tire. Evil does not tire. It feeds on death. By the late 1930s the smart set no longer wanted to upset the beast less it swipe outward with its claws. That is where we are today. The mood seems to be that if we do not provoke it, it will go back to sleep. From 1934 when the German regime could be passed off as a kind of a cartoon joke to 1938 when it was an obvious menace to civilization is only four years. That is how fast it happens; from sneers to fears in only 4 years.
written by Hans Moleman, January 26, 2013
Thank you for the reminder that we must never grow weary of shouting the truth, even to an unhearing world.

In my own blog,, I have sometime felt that I was endlessly repeating the same message: "Iran is planning the next Holocaust. We must act!"

The Hagel nomination is only the latest evidence that the lesson of the 1930's, that our enemies' threats must be taken at face value, seems unlearnable by the modern West.

Yet we must persevere. Again, thanks.
written by Mrs. Rene O'Riordan, January 26, 2013
At Ashraf Ramelah's website, Voice of the Copts, he reports on what is happening to the Copts in Egypt. You may find it of interest and also Ashraf would probably be glad of any input from you.
written by prasad, January 26, 2013
This 'cancer' is not only in Middle East, but also in Asia, particularly here in India,Europe, US, all over the globe.

One truly wonders how to contain this 'Cancer' which poses its threat where ever it exists, across the whole world. Where is peace where it puts out its ugly teeth. The very source of this 7th century 'religion' is evil and its roots are inherently terror driven.

We have the solid assurance from the MASTER, "take courage, I have conquered the world" [Jn. 16:33]. And so one must continue to shout the truth aloud even in the face of its nasty tricks to devour the world.
written by Jack J. Szpytman, January 27, 2013
Mr.David Warren,
Five years after WWII, I visited Poland and experienced personal visits to concentration camps and execution sites throughout this land. I have written a book (TELL THEM -- about these experiences. An unprecedented message for all nations from God the Father is also included in this book.
If you reply by my Email with your address, I will send to you a complimentary copy of my book.
Jack J. Szpytman

written by kendallpeak, January 27, 2013
While the topic is saddening, to hear there are others who recognize the evil for what it is, is encouraging.
written by Howard, January 27, 2013
Since you must bring attention to these stories, but cannot bring them to the attention of the world without grave consequences, my suggestion is that you bring them to the attention of the Church. Write your detailed article, but do not publish it; send it instead to your bishop and to other bishops who might pay attention, even if you must add a request that the article not be made public. Send it to the relevant offices of the USCCB and the Vatican. By all means find some contemplative religious who will pray for it -- this is a major part of their service to the Church.
written by Nancy, January 28, 2013
The second holocaust began in 1973 with the brutal violence against the unborn. The third could be the persecution of ALL Christians. May God have mercy.

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