The Associated Press has reported that last week an armed Muslim mob attacked Coptic Christians in Karma, Egypt, looting and burning seven homes and parading an elderly woman naked through the streets. The mob formed after a rumor circulated that the elderly woman’s son had an affair with a Muslim woman.
Edward Said once famously took the scholar Bernard Lewis to task over the history of the Arabic word for “revolution”—thawra. In an essay called “Islamic Concepts of Revolution,” Lewis had traced the term’s usage back to the classical period of the language, and presented evidence showing that it had acquired its current sense only in the 19th century. Before this, Lewis had argued, it would have been more accurately translated by the English terms “excitement,” “uprising,” or, at the most, “rebellion,” having originated in a verb form which literally meant “‘rise up’ (e.g. of a camel).”
In the nearly five years of turmoil that have followed the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, no group in Egypt has suffered more than the 15 million Coptic Christians. Both a religious and ethnic minority, the Copts are descended from the native population of Egypt who lived and ruled there from the time of the pharaohs until the Roman conquest in 31 B.C. They are the largest Christian community in the Middle East today.