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Targeting Christians in Egypt is also a way for Islamists to attack the leaders of the most important Arab country

Egpytian soldiers (Jose Antonio Sanchez)

After the New Year's Day church bombing in Alexandria, Egypt, there are at least two ways we can choose to interpret this grave, anti-Christian attack. The first focuses on the peculiarities of the most important of Arab countries; the second requires examining the overall dynamics of the Middle East and the general deterioration of security (shall we say: survival) of Christians throughout the Arab and Islamic world. My view is that the two are so intertwined that they must be kept simultaneously in mind if you really want to understand the scope of the events that we are witnessing.

What appears to be underway is a real push to homogenize the social fabric throughout the Middle East from a religious point of view. For a long time, the Muslim world has experienced a scourge of revolt against those leaders deemed corrupt and apostate by the movement that considers itself the only true interpreters of the message of the Prophet.

Thinking of Egypt, the courageous Anwar Sadat and his trip to Jerusalem immediately comes to mind, recalling how the Egyptian president was assassinated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood a few years after the first peace agreements with Israel were signed. In the Shiite camp, with its necessary distinctions made clear, it is impossible to forget the Khomeini revolution, which led to the fall of the Shah Reza Pahlavi and the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

In reality, this violent rebellion and tyrannicide is an ancient practice, dating back to the fall of the Umayyad caliphate in the eighth century and the Kharijites, which since the beginning of the Arab-Islamic tradition (Muhammad preachings date to the seventh century) has helped add legitimacy to violence as an instrument of political struggle. The "paradise of the martyrs' has always been open because almost nothing has changed in the management style of the political regimes in the region over the past 1200 years.

It matters little whether you call it a distant and confused socialist revolution (Egypt), religious obscurantism (Saudi Arabia), or some conceptual jumble born from foreign control after the violent fall of a former tyrant (Iraq ): the fact remains that the effective areas of tolerance and respect for diversity and individual sovereignty that such regimes contemplate are so ridiculous that they end up legitimizing the violence that we are witnessing.

It is what the violent fundamentalist call a ‘fitna" (a struggle within the Muslim world against apostates and heretics), and it has now raged on for more than a decade sparking a real jihad whose aim is to purify society of any Christian presence. This is due in part to the simplistic overlap between Christianity and the West, which has been marked since the 20th century by the political marginalization of the former and predominance of the latter. But it is also linked to making Arab societies religiously uniform, so that there are no more obstacles to obscure the message exclusively associated with the political revolts and the radical Islamist interpretation.

On the other hand, in the many illiberal regimes that have long dotted the region, Christians have found protection (but not rights) as a community committed to the political powers that be, and not as individuals, as indeed the same Koranic tradition and the long custom of the first Arab and Ottoman domination had taught them. This is why it has always been particularly easy and hateful to finger their leaders as "abettor" of the tyrant, linked to the leader yet distinct from the wider society constructed so vulgarly and violently as something monolithic.

Egypt is traditionally the most important country in the Arab world, and the only real ally (rather than client) of the Americans. It was in Cairo that Barack Obama chose to deliver his most important and ultimately unsuccessful speech to the Muslim world. Two years later, the regime seems to be more and more tangled up in a transitional crisis with no acceptable exit strategy, where the introduction of elections by a puppet government has further exacerbated the political and social tensions -- and where the future of the Christian minority that has struggled for 2,000 years seems bleaker than ever.

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