While the conflict in Egypt has largely been portrayed as a conflict between secular Egyptians, or "moderate Muslims," who oppose full-blown Sharia, and the Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, who want Taliban-style Sharia to govern the nation, largely missed have been the Christian Copts in the middle, who find themselves in an especially awkward position.
Moderate Muslims are still capable of offering the requisite lip service to Islam—saying "prayers and peace upon Muhammad" and all the other Muslim mantras—even as they reject the full application of Sharia. This makes it more difficult for their radical brethren to portray them as infidel enemies. Moderate Muslims can resist Sharia, but in subtle ways, arguing over Islamic exegesis, calling for ijtihad [modern interpretations, questioning], and so forth.
But when Egypt's Christian Copts resist Sharia—as religious minorities, or dhimmis, they stand to suffer the most under it—pro-Sharia Muslims retaliate with extreme vengeance, portraying them as infidels who reject the law of Allah.
This has been truer than ever in recent days, as President Morsi and his Islamist and jihadi allies push for a Sharia-based constitution and Egypt's secularists resist. Trapped in the middle, the Copts' suffering is only about to begin.
A video that recently surfaced in Egypt shows Salafi Muslims holding an Egyptian man whose hands are tied behind his back under arrest in an alley. They grab him by the collar, interrogating and threatening him, humiliating him by poking and slapping him in the face and calling him "boy"—all as they try to determine if he is a Christian and as he insists "No, I'm a Muslim!" One of his captors can be heard saying "Can you imagine if he turns out to be a Christian?" implying that would be the end of him.
The video ends with him sobbing and saying, "Have mercy," followed by, "There is no god but Allah," the first half of the Islamic shehada, or profession of faith, which, unlike the second half—"and Muhammad is his prophet"—Christians in Egypt are only too happy to declare.
The poking, throttling and slapping are all reminders of the Islamic textbook way of treating dhimmis. Such degradation appears regularly in the commentaries of Islam's doctrines, so that in the Medieval Islamic Civilization Encyclopedia one can read that Muslim "jurists came to view certain repressive and humiliating aspects of dhimma as de rigueur. Dhimmis were required to pay the jizya [tribute] publicly, in broad daylight, with hands turned palm upward, and to receive a smart smack on the forehead or the nape of the neck from the collection officer." Islam's jurists mandated a number of humiliating rituals at the time of jizya payment, including slapping, choking, and pulling the beard of the paying dhimmi.
Such hostility for Christian minorities is not surprising considering that Safwat Hegazy, a longtime Muslim Brotherhood figure and popular preacher, just went on record formally threatening every Coptic Christian who votes against the Sharia-laden constitution. In a video speaking before a throng of Muslims, he said:
A message to the church of Egypt, from an Egyptian Muslim: I tell the church—by Allah, and again, by Allah—if you conspire and unite with the remnants [opposition] to bring Morsi down, that will be another matter [screams of "Allah Akbar!" followed by chants of "With our soul, with our blood, we give to you, O Islam!"]… We say and I say to the Church: yes, you share this country with us; but there are red lines—and our red line is the legitimacy of Dr. Muhammad Morsi. Whoever splashes water on it, we will splash blood on him" [followed by more wild shouts of "Allah Akbar!"]
Then of course there was the case of Mina Philip, one of the protesters who was stripped of his clothes and beat into a bloody pulp by the Egyptian president's Islamic supporters. OnTube, the Egyptian Internet channel complementing ONTV, recently showed the gruesome images of Philip's torture, including, in the host's words, how "Mina Philip was dragged through the streets by a Muslim Brotherhood mob who took off his clothes and beat him, accusing him of being a thug, while in fact he is an engineer who works for an international telecommunications company."
In the video, Mina continuously pleads with his tormentors, "please, I didn't harm anyone." The mob can be heard cursing and threatening him, and demanding his name—probably to determine whether he is Muslim or Christian—which he insists he "forgot." ("Mina Philip" is a distinctly Coptic name.)
Philip provided more information in another interview. He was coming back from work when he stopped to see what was going on with the protests:
As I watched, a group of Muslim Brotherhood men dragged me with others… they surrounded me and started beating me while others took my clothes off so I was topless; they took my wallet and keys and dragged me. They beat me with rocks and rods; I kept on saying that I didn't touch anyone and they would reply with curses, calling me a "secular dog."
He then told the same story recorded by many others—including Muslims who were also attacked by the Muslim Brotherhood: "They later questioned me, asking who was paying me and threatened to leave me for the rest of the Brotherhood's men to kill me if I didn't confess that I received money from Hamdin and Baradei [opposition candidates]."
So it is, Egyptian's moderates and radicals battle it out, while Christian minorities are trapped.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.