News from Newark:
The Fourth International Coptic Conference Convenes in New Jersey
June 19th marked the first day of the Fourth International Coptic Conference.
The event was attended by many great thinkers and writers, both "Middle Eastern"
and American, both "Coptic" and not.
In fact, one of the discussions swirling about during the coffee breaks was
“What is a Copt, anyway?”
As you know, I have explored this question many times in my writings, but it was
certainly thought-provoking to hear so many different explanations.
For example, some suggested that all Egyptians are (for the most part) Copts,
while others maintained that only Egyptian Christians deserve such an honor.
Still others narrowed their use of the word to denote those of the Coptic
Orthodox faith. And in an interview with Dr. Ahmed Sobhy Mansour (who very
graciously took the time to talk to my camera, along with many other dear and
learned people during my three-day stay in Newark), the scholar informed me that
he thought the word referred to the religion of our forefathers, the ancient
Interesting viewpoints, all, but I must confess that I am no closer to having
formed an opinion on the matter than I was last week.
As I mentioned two seconds ago, the conference was held in Newark, New Jersey,
and hosted by Copts United and the International Christian Union. The shindig
had previously been slated to take place at the United Nations Building in New
York, but got shifted to the Holiday Inn in New Jersey for security reasons.
The wide range of speakers did a great job covering their respective issues;
these distinguished guests included conference staples Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim,
Father Keith Roderick, and Dr. Wafaa Sultan, as well as a Rabbi, a Bishop, and
Other visible attendees included Dr. Gihad Ouda (political scientist, author,
and mega-nice guy), Engineer Cameel Halim and Dr. Mounir Dawoud (who hosted the
conference), and the unmistakable, electronically-transmitted presence of
Conference Chairman and the dear Father of the Coptic cause, Engineer Adly
Two speeches that stood out to me were Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim’s (which posited
that the problem in Egypt is dictatorship) and Daniel Pipes’ (which mentioned
reciprocity, among other things). And, of course, my own, which was a
five-minute rhapsody about solidarity despite differences, and the strength of
The title of this celebration of unity—“Religious Freedom of Christian
Minorities in the Middle East”—was fitting, letting attendees know that the
conference wasn’t just about Copts or even Egyptians in general. In fact, the
Conference Resolutions actually included a whole section about “The Lebanese
Speaking of the Resolutions, let’s have a look at the ones that were decided
upon this time around.
The Coptic Issue
First: Declaring the Coptic movement in the Diaspora and in Egypt – that
represent no less than fifteen million according to international estimates- as
a national and public peaceful movement against the aggression and despotism
practiced by the ruling regime with its corrupt institutions.
Second: To work towards the amendment of the second article of the constitution
and to eliminate the phrase “Islam is the religion of the state” and to affirm
the Egyptian identity.
Third: To work- through all available peaceful means- to stop the persecution
and the physical elimination of the Copts, to stop the repeated massacres and
attacks on churches, and to bring the assailants to a re-trial after their
acquittal as a result of the non-Independence of the judiciary system and the
interference of the executive authorities in the previous trials such as in Al
Kosheh and elsewhere.
Fourth: To seriously and decisively confront- with all legal means –the
extremist and fanatic groups that facilitate and incite and engage in the forced
conversion and luring of Christian teenage girls into Islam. Everyone has the
right to choose his/her faith on free will and without coercion.
Fifth: The Copts have the right to restitution of their physical and moral
rights they were deprived from in addition to the compensation of their harms.
Sixth: To work through all legal means and demand the recognition of the rights
of the converts to Christianity in obtaining new identification cards that
reflect their Christian identity without bringing them to trial.
Seventh: Change the ideologies that protect and incite…inspired by religious
convictions and beliefs.
Eighth: Request an official apology to the Copts from the ruling regime for the
injustices committed by the authorities against the Copts.
Ninth: Forming a general secretary of the Coptic movement with subcommittees and
work to safeguard funding means to proceed forward with the movement.
Tenth: Warn against the attempted infiltrations of this rising movement by other
anti-government movement such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and the infiltration by
the regime and its institution and to not engage in negotiations over the
principals of this movement.
Eleventh: This declaration stands until the formation of the general secretary
that will be established within 90 days of this date.
Twelfth: Lifting the restriction imposed by the state on building and renovating
Moving on, the Resolutions for “The Lebanese Issue” are as follows:
First: Disarming all
factions and militias, especially the Palestinian and the Shiite Hezbollah, and
limit arms only to the official state represented by the army and the security
forces, and take the necessary safeguards to stop the smuggling of weapons to
Lebanon through strict control of its borders and implementing the UN resolution
Second: Inaugurating a monitoring of security systems and control of fund
transfers that are being illegally smuggled into Lebanon through a joint
international – Lebanese system to prevent Lebanon from turning into a conflict
ground for the benefit of either the Wahhabi or the Shiite Persian factions or
Third: Setting short and long term strategies to stop the rising tide of
immigration of Lebanese youth and families by creating an attractive environment
for the Lebanese Christians through affirmative actions to counter the
demographic imbalance that we referred to in the introduction.
Fourth: Requesting that the international community, especially the United
States and the European Union… [would] establish… a supportive fund to provide
international assistance and extend a hand to Christians in Lebanon, and the
creation of jobs for them, to establish developmental and investing project to
accommodate them and reconstruct their affected areas.
Fifth: To review the school curricula throughout all education levels in order
to clear it of the inciting materials and to confront all forms of intellectual
terrorism either by political, social, or media means along with the
reaffirmation of the importance of coexistence between all sects, denominations
and religions under a secular and modern state that does not discriminate
between its citizens based on religious, sectarian or denominational
Sixth: The international community should place strict measures that prohibit
the interference of regional forces and neighboring countries in the Middle East
in the internal affairs of Lebanon, specially Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran,
these countries are required to bear their responsibilities in compensating
Lebanon for the sabotage and afflictions it suffered from these countries and
its interference in Lebanon.
All in all, it was an action-packed 48 hours, and I was glad to attend.
(Check the July issue of www.xculturemag.com for photos of the conference and
“Sally Bishai’s 30 Minutes With… Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim,” and stay tuned for the
summer 2006 edition of Photo X Quarterly for even more conference coverage.)
* Sally Bishai is
author of Mideast Meets West: On Being and Becoming a Modern Arab American and
director of Children of Kemet: The Copts, Culture and Democracy of Egypt.
Visit her online at http://www.sallybishai.com/