The massacre this week of Coptic Christians in Cairo stands as a bloody corrective to the idea that the ‘Arab Spring’ was a wonderful uprising of the masses against dictators. Revolutions are not, in themselves, causes for celebration if they create a vacuum that can be filled by evil. The deliberate mowing down of dozens of peaceful demonstrators by armoured vehicles (hundreds of others were shot at point-blank range by Egyptian soldiers) is the starkest indication yet that the land of the Pharaohs is fast becoming a fundamentalist Islamic state, with the blessing of its powerful military establishment.
The slaughter was the worst act of sectarian violence in modern Egyptian history, and it was all the more shocking for having been encouraged by state television news presenters and perpetrated in large part by an army that refused to open fire on demonstrators during the revolution. Radical Islamists even tried to set ablaze a Coptic hospital where the injured were being treated. One soldier was caught on video telling a crowd of Muslims, to a volley of cheers, how proud he was to have shot a Copt in the chest.
None of this should come as a surprise. The massacre is just the latest outburst of violence against Egypt’s Christians — and, to a lesser extent, moderate Sufi Muslims — following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. The ruling military junta has refused to arrest the perpetrators of such violence, even when their identities are well-known. Coptic leaders have instead been told to sit down with their tormentors as part of a series of supposed inter-faith dialogues. The Copts would appreciate what George Orwell said of freedom: without the ability to tell someone what they don’t want to hear, it exists in name only.