Student witnesses Egypt differently than the media portrayal


Rev. Gavin Rogers and Matthew Aragones visit a burned church in Egypt. 

If you go to your average news source right now and search for Coptic Christians, another name for Egyptian Christians, one is likely to find hundreds of images of burned churches, shops and homes.

You will find literature on how they have been attacked, persecuted and their communities maimed under a Muslim majority.

Yet St. Edward’s Senior Matthew Aragones just returned from Egypt and has a different story.

“The media has yet to show the willingness of Muslims and Christians to seek reconciliation between each other. All we get is the violence that is occurring,” Aragones said. 

Aragones returned Oct. 14 from what he described as a “pilgrimage” to go visit the Coptic Christians, an Eastern sect of Christianity that has been in Egypt since around 42 A.D. He went along with one other person, Rev. Gavin Rogers, with the goal of “being present” with these communities knowing that before any help could be provided or missionaries planned, first they had to listen to their stories.

After spending a week going around the country to Suez and Cairo to Coptic monasteries in the desert as well as meeting with different people to understand the issue, he explained that the media coverage has yet to capture the complexity of relationship webs in the country.

To place Christians on one side and Muslims on the other would be to overlook a place marked more by confusion than anything, which stemmed from the many political changes that have occurred since the 2011 revolution and overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. 

“The majority of Egyptians, both Muslim and Christian are ashamed of the attacks that have occurred because of a militant minority,” Aragones said.

There has been even more upheaval in Egypt since the military coup in July that took down the democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi. 

Though many different groups called for the removal, the military and the Christians who stood alongside the military during the take down are two groups that have since been systematically targeted.

It is thought that the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest and largest Islamic group in Egypt that rose to power and then fell with the ousted Morsi, is behind the attacks.

As recent as mid October, there have been incidents of targeting including a firing on an Oct. 20 wedding, which killed four people and wounded many others.

Matthew Aragones and Rev. Rogers met with both members of Muslim and Coptic Christian communities as well as visited some of the sites of destruction.

Their goal was to stand in solidarity with the persecuted Egyptian Christians, whose experience as people of faith they recognized as being vastly different from theirs as American Christians. 

“It’s amazing to see such a strong orthodox faith in a minority,” said Aragones’ Rev. Rogers. 

Rev. Rogers said he was amazed to see the energy in the Coptic Christian community, evident in both their packed services and communal spaces, where many still gather to teach, pray, share tea or even play soccer.

They also met with the Coptic Pope, Tawadros II. When Aragones asked what message he should take home, Pope Tawadros II said that the Coptic Christians needed to be remembered.

“People need to understand what is happening here. They need to support Egypt through education, prayer and human rights.”

Tawadros II was standing alongside the chief of the army, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisiwith when it was announced that Morsi had been removed from power last July. It is thought that he is part of the reason the Christians have been blamed for the ousting and targeted so fiercely.

One of the few times Aragones feared for his life during his trip to Egypt, whose scenery is becoming more and more marked by military checkpoints, tanks and military men following the summer’s military coup, was when visiting a burned church. Some gunmen fired shots into the church to try and scare them away.

Still Aragones insists that the violence in Egypt is made out to be more than it really is by the media.

“Most of the violence I encountered could be found in parts of the United States.”

As for the tension between Muslims and Christians, in his experience, he found more Muslims looking for reconciliation with Christians than Christians looking for reconciliation with Muslims.

“The majority want order and peace. Egyptians want it to be like its always been: Muslims and Christians living, working and playing together.”

The Coptic Christians are one of the oldest sects of Christianity present in Egypt since 42 A.D., centuries before Islam came to be the majority. Today roughly 10 percent of the population identifies as Coptic Christians while the remaining 90 percent are mostly Sunni Muslims.