Egyptian Copts get TV station —but not tolerance

Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority is to launch its own satellite television this month. After deadly riots in Alexandria Oct. 21, many Copts see the creation of the channel as an essential tool to assert their long-repressed identity. But some fear the church’s patronage of the channel could fan sectarian strife. Aghapy TV—from the Coptic word for “love”—is due to start broadcasting Nov. 14 on Telestar 12, a US-operated satellite network which spans Egypt and several African countries.

“The channel is under the guidance of Pope Shenuda III himself, who appointed a general committee of 13 bishops,” Aghapy executive director Father Bishoy al-Antony said. He said the channel would be run out of a convent northeast of Cairo.

The launch will come less than a month after the CD release of a play produced by a church in Alexandria which was deemed by Muslims as offensive to their faith, sparking the recent violence. Father Bishoy said the controversial film will not be shown on Aghapy TV. (AFP via Lebanon Daily Star)

Three people were killed in a riot outside a Coptic church in Alexandria following a protest against the play. Police used sticks and tear gas to hold back a crowd of some 5,000 protesters who marched on St George’s church. Dozens were injured in the crush. One man who died was trampled and had inhaled tear gas, police said. One Oct. 19, a Muslim man stabbed a nun in protest at the sale of a DVD of the play, staged at the church in 2003.

Entitled I Once Was Blind But Now I See, the drama tells the story of a poor young Copt who is drawn to Islamist militants who then try to kill him. Coptic leaders have said the play depicts the dangers of extremism, not of Islam.

“Copts would never tolerate anyone insulting Islam,” Coptic Bishop Armia was quoted by Egypt’s official MENA news agency.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry described the protesters as “fanatic elements” who “escalated a negative reaction to a play.”

Many Egyptian Copts complain of workplace discrimination, restrictions on church construction and threats from Islamic extremists. (BBC, Oct. 22)

See our last post on Egypt, and on the Copts.