Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mohamed Soltan and Hussam Ayloush at UC Irvine

Who Is Persecuting the Copts in Egypt?

(Not clear, but the oppressive rulers are trying to divide everybody)

On April 12, the Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace co- sponsored a speaking appearance by Egyptian-American activist Mohamed Soltan and CAIR Southern California CEO Hussam Ayloush, the latter of whom acted as moderator. The audience consisted of about 60-70 people mostly students and some community members. The event was billed as a discussion of human rights in Egypt and the Middle East. Soltan, a resident of Ohio, was present in Egypt during the 2011 revolution as well as the subsequent takeover by the military which deposed Mohamad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power. He participated in protests against the military takeover.  He was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. His father, Salah Soltan, is still on death row in Egypt. Mohamed Soltan was eventually released and deported back to the US after intercession by the US State Department and the Obama administration.

Soltan described his experiences in Egypt while participating in protests and his incarceration, his physical mistreatment, hunger strike  and his eventual release. I videotaped the event and asked a question about the plight of the Coptic Christians during the q and a. The video is below.

Before proceeding to the video, a few comments. I don't know enough about Mohamed Soltan to make any definitive judgments about him although I find many of the quotes attributed to his father very troubling. Mohamed spoke passionately and emotionally about his experiences. He said he left his university studies at Ohio State early to return to Egypt (where he was born) during the events that led to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak. He remained in Egypt caring for his mother, who had cancer. He also participated in demonstrations in Egypt after Morsi was deposed, and was present at one protest that turned bloody when police and soldiers intervened. He was later arrested at this home.

As to his release, he said that initially, the only thing the American embassy did was visit him once a month and press for him to get medical treatment. Eventually, due to pressure, the State Department worked hard to get him released and President Obama personally called Egyptian officials on his behalf.

In his closing, Soltan encouraged the young people in the audience to be involved and to organize. At one point (during the overall presentation), he gave a shout out to one of the members of the so-called Irvine 11, Taher Herzallah, who was present in the audience. To his credit, he twice referred to the United States as the greatest country in the world and also said that the founding fathers had instituted a system by which if the country wandered off course, a mechanism existed to correct it. (I am paraphrasing.)

During the q and a, I got the first question and directed it to Soltan . Since the event was advertised as a discussion of human rights in Egypt and the Middle East,  I asked him to comment about the situation regarding Coptic Christians in Egypt since that had not been mentioned. (Soltan did mention the Maspero massacre in passing without referring specifically to Christians.) I asked Soltan to specifically address the situation regarding Copts prior to the Morsi regime, during and after ( next to last tape segment -223 at 5:45 mark).

Soltan replied that he was not a political analyst and was not able to expound on the sectarian situation. He did say that the supporters of the January 25 revolution came from across the spectrum of Egyptian society and that there were those who benefited from the corruption of the state and who opposed the revolution from across the spectrum of Egyptian society. people who had an interest in maintaining the empire. He added that one of his fellow prisoners in the next cell was a Copt who had been accused of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He stated that the struggle in Egyptian was non- sectarian-just people who wanted democracy and an equal distribution of the wealth. (I am paraphrasing.)

Ayloush then added that democracy and human rights work for everybody. He said that the oppressive rulers use the tactic of divide and conquer-that is pitting groups against each other. He also mentioned the Egyptian media of doing this-getting groups of people to fear each other.

Comment: In my view, both speakers dodged the question. They knew I was asking about the persecution of the Copts before, during and after the Morsi regime. Yet they said nothing about the burning of churches, the killings of Copts, kidnappings and forced conversions of their children. The persecution of Copts is a long-standing problem in Egypt, as it is across the Middle East. It continues to this day. Prior to my question, the condition of Copts in Egypt was not discussed.

Then, after the event concluded and I shut off my camera, an Arab gentlemen came over to me and said he wanted to address my question. I told him that I was trying to ask about the persecution of the Copts both before, during and after the Morsi regime and who was responsible for the burning of churches etc. He spoke hurriedly because he had to leave, but what he said in essence was this:

He reminded me of the Maspero massacre, which Soltan had mentioned. He also said that the government blames opposition for acts like these. In response to my question, he told me the Maspero massacre occurred after Mubarak resigned but before the election that put Morsi in power. I asked him specifically who was burning the churches. His answer was that it was not clear. Both before and after the Morsi regime, he said that the government blamed it on the opposition. As to during the Morsi regime-not clear.

So it appears from this event that it is all a big mystery behind who is persecuting the Copts in Egypts. It may as well be the Martians.

Here is the video. You will note that in the opening few minutes, the camera was shut off during introductions and a reading of the Koran by two MSU students. That is because I make it my personal policy not to videotape students. All together the tape runs about one hour and 45 minutes.

1 comment:

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I think the human rights crisis in the Middle East began with the reign of Sargon of Akkad, if not the formation of the Sumerian city states before that. It has continued unabated ever since. What is new?