If and when the Obama administration accepts Victor Davis Hanson’s sound counsel and makes publicly clear that what America wishes for Egypt is a “non-Islamist constitutional state,” the administration ought to add that any such state should be one that is safe for Coptic and other Christians.
While the current upheaval in Egypt cannot be traced to recent assaults on the Copts there, the safety of this ancient Christian community, which played a major role in the country’s cultural life centuries before Islam (and almost two millennia before Mohammad el-Baradei), would be one important test of whether post-Mubarak Egypt has moved beyond one of the little-remarked but nonetheless odious aspects of Mubarak’s rule: namely, his appeasement of those Muslims who insist that there is no room in their country’s culture or public life for Coptic Christianity or indeed any other form of Christianity.
Three weeks ago, the Egyptian government withdrew its ambassador from the Vatican after the Muslim leadership at al-Azhar, usually described as the “intellectual center of Sunni Islam,” pitched a hissy fit at Pope Benedict XVI, who had dared criticize the brutal murder of Copts during his annual address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See – a criticism that al-Azhar deemed a gross interference in “internal affairs.” The government caved to the Muslim clerisy and withdrew its diplomatic representation.
When that kind of nonsense stops, we’ll know that a corner has been turned in Egypt. Meanwhile, here is an opportunity for the administration, which has been whittling away at the idea of religious freedom by reducing it to “freedom of worship,” to regain the ground it has supinely lost in the global struggle to defend religious freedom in full.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.