More evidence has emerged of rifts within the Egyptian church as the Arab Spring grips young Coptic activists who refuse peace at any price.
YouTube captures the moment when ten young activists shouted slogans at Christmas mass in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo on January 7, as Pope Shenouda extended greetings to military council members who had asked to join the service.
Among those present was General Hamdy Badeen, head of the military police whom activists hold responsible for the deaths of 27 people during a mostly Coptic protest at the state TV station at Maspero on October 9th, when tanks ran over unarmed protesters.
The world press including the editor of the UK’s Spectator magazine, has been wrongly reporting this massacre as Islamist, stoking further hatred, even though the killings were carried out under the eye of the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), who claim tanks accidentally ran over protesters.
The pope has faced challenges as he strives to lead the church during the revolution, yet he welcomed those whom many activists consider at odds with the Copts. This represents not only the military council, but also the Muslim Brotherhood, reported previously by Lapido Media.
Ramy Kamel , a leading member of the Maspero Youth Union, and who organized the Christmas protest in the cathedral, later resigned from the MYU over its silence on the church's stand.
‘It has not yet been three months since Maspero and they invite the military council? The MYU was becoming content simply to issue statements, but people need to be awoken into action,’ he told Lapido.
Sameh Saad of the Maspero Youth Union echoed this dismay.
‘We are very angry because the pope invited them. Nothing has happened to hold anyone in the military accountable since Maspero, and we do not want to greet them.
‘Still, we will be silent because we love the pope.’
Copts traditionally accord the highest respect to the pope. Yet it was Kamel’s mother Karima Salama, who urged her son to make a stand, knowing the church had threatened to set dogs on any protester.
‘I pushed him to go. The common Copts here in our neighborhood are outraged, so how could my son sit at home doing nothing?
‘We must not say the pope makes mistakes but here he did.
‘The church should welcome all but the pope should not have invited them [the military council].’
Theological disputes appear to be behind the difference in approach. Ordinary people want justice. The leadership appear to be bending theology to avoid a difficult confrontation.
Bishop Bisenti defends the pope’s stance: ‘The pope expresses his love to welcome all, and if they want to come they are invited as brothers.
‘Those who reject this are looking from the point of view of punishment for what happened in Maspero, but we look from the point of view of love.
‘The question of punishment is left to the judge and we will accept this.’
The military council has stated lower ranking officers are being investigated concerning the tragedy at Maspero. Official charges, however, have been leveled so far only against activists, including a Muslim sympathetic to the Copts.
A week before Christmas, Coptic confusion increased over the church’s reluctance to demand military accountability. Pope Shenouda stated peace and security prevailed in Egypt due to the military council, as reported in the local press.
Amir Bushra, another member of the Maspero Youth Union, was among those affected by Kamel’s protest.
‘I personally apologize to Ramy Kamel because I was opposed to doing anything in the cathedral, but realized I was mistaken when I saw Pope Shenouda with Gen. Hamdy Badeen.
‘The church should take pride in her sons, because their chants are the chants of all who lost loved ones at Maspero.’
A further blow of protest was struck a week later at mass by Fr Yuhanna Fuad, priest of the Virgin Mary Church in Old Cairo, also broadcast on YouTube. He was present at the cathedral on Christmas.
‘Hamdy Badeen greeted me. I apologize that I kissed him and shook his hand and was pictured with him. He arranged this to improve his image.
‘You have to know that your priest is honest and has to say the truth. These people are unjust. They are liars and thieves, holding on to power.’
Samir Morcos is a respected writer and researcher in Coptic Church affairs. He states, ‘This is a new dynamic we must accept after January 25 , especially among the young people.’
He believes no one knows exactly the extent of Coptic frustration with the church, in its accommodation to the military council.
It is clear, however, there is an undercurrent of revolutionary sympathy. Ramy Kamel wants it to transform the church.
‘No one should be able to represent the position of the church absolutely, no matter who he is.’
For many, this is itself a revolutionary idea.