September 14th, 2012
12:05 PM ET

Controversy over anti-Islamic film shines light on Coptic Christianity

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) -Violence in the Muslim world over an anti-Islamic film that appears to have been produced by a Coptic Christian is bringing uncomfortable focus on the religious tradition.

A staffer on the film, which has provoked anti-American protests and violence across the Muslim world, said he believed that the filmmaker is a Coptic Christian, information that has sent shock waves through the Coptic community.

The staffer said the filmmaker told him he'd been to Alexandria, Egypt, to raise money for the film, suggesting that Copts were helping finance it. Media in Egypt, where Copt-Muslim relations are tense, jumped on the news.

"Islamists' use of this idea that Copts were behind it was apparently effective in drumming up support for those attacks," said Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church released a statement Wednesday condemning the film, its funding and its production. The film's "release at this specific time is part of a malicious campaign targeting defamation of religions, aiming to divide the people, most notably the Egyptian people," the statement said.

"The defamation of religion, its symbols and teachings is incompatible with Christian values, the teaching of Jesus Christ and the apostles as is demonstrated in the Bible," the statement continued, "so those who participate in such a production, display or promotion of such a films should be held fully accountable for operating outside of Christian principles and church laws."

Coptic Christians are part of the Orthodox Christian tradition, one of three main traditions under the Christian umbrella, alongside Catholicism and Protestantism. Copts split from other Christians in the fifth century over the definition of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Copts trace their history to the Apostle Mark, the New Testament figure who they say introduced Christianity to Egypt in A.D. 43. Egypt holds a special place for Coptic Christians because, according to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus' family fled there shortly after his birth to escape King Herod, who was calling for the execution of all Jewish boys under the age of 2.

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The largest group of Copts in the world is still in Egypt, where they make up between 8% and 11% of the nation's 80 million citizens, most of whom are Sunni Muslims.

In the United States, there are approximately 90,000 Copts organized under 170 parishes, according to Alexei Krindatch, research coordinator for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States. Many Copts came to the U.S. from Egypt, Kridatch said.

"Most of them came here as highly professional people, so you've got a lot of medical doctors and electrical engineers," he said. "So basically, the Coptic community in the United States is very well-educated and, you could also say, a very prosperous community."

Coptic churches tend to be ornately decorated, and members often stay at the church all day on Sunday for worship services and communal meals, Kridatch said.

The American Coptic community is close-knit: The tradition's churches tend to be social hubs as well as religious centers.

In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been target of recent violence.

A Coptic church was bombed in Alexandria in January, killing 21 people. Last fall, during clashes with Egyptian security forces, two dozen Coptic Christians and their supporters were killed.

Sectarian violence in Egypt is nothing new. Maha Azzam, associate fellow of the Middle East and North African Program at the Chatham House think tank in London, says the sources of tension have focused on religious conversions, attacks on places of worship and Coptic resentment that they are not being given licenses to build new churches.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent bipartisan federal agency, added Egypt this year to a list of the worst violators of religious freedom.

- CNN's Dave Gilbert and Brian Todd contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Coptic Church

soundoff (350 Responses)
  1. Atheism is Great for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and let's them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, were just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago**; and that other things, like god, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds and don't need a religion. Sometimes, religious folk run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, they disserve society). Sometimes, religious folk are easily offended when someone mocks their make-believe characters – and, as we can see they can get really CRAZY!

    Religions are just big old evil clubs – each trying to out do each other and inspiring hate and division along the way (disguised as love).

    So instead of praying to make-believe people, get a good cup of tea and go on and sit down and collect your damn thoughts. My goodness.

    ** (yes, charlatan spam started long before the Bible; what would make your think it hadn't?)

    mama kindless

    September 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  2. Truth1117

    Keep up the good work Middle East! You're back on the path toward dictatorships and no freedom. Sorry we every tried to help and celebrate the "arab spring". We didn't know you'd collapse right back into muslim extremist leadership.

    You can't fix stupid.

    September 14, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  3. NorCalMojo

    They're a tough bunch and they're ready and unified. If the nutcases try to move on the copts, they'll be in for a fight.

    September 14, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  4. AgrippaMT

    Egyptian Copts are one of the most loathsome and selfish Christian sects in the Middle East. They rank right up there with the Christian Phalangists of Lebanon. For decades they have whined about the way they are treated in Egypt when the trurth is they have been treated very well and are wealthier than most ordinary Egyptians. The ones that have emigrated to the United States are the worst of all. Selfish, greedy, self-centered and horribly bigoted against Muslims. Their co-religionists in Egypt will now pay a very heavy price for their actions. American Copts will have lots of blood on their hands.

    September 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • fu lozer

      Copts are the most persecuted poeple in the ME by Muslims.
      then comes the Zorastrians, Bahai, Jews, Ahamadis, Azeras

      September 14, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • AT

      Thats an ignorant comment. Refer to your history first before making accusations maybe then you can piece together a thoughtful comment.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • prime1

      Talk about distorting the truth. The Coptic Christians have been persecuted in Egypt ever since Islam arrived there. They are not treatd equally and have been fighting for their lives for generations. I think you have to remember that Christianity was in Egypt before Islam.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • nobull4u

      Then why would they try to blame the movie on the Jews?

      September 14, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  5. Ben

    They don't know he is a copt for sure, but this report puts all Copts in Egypt at risk yet they blame the film for the current attacks.

    September 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      This report doesn’t put them in danger… the Muslims do.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Sean

      Yes, unfortunately this is a very counter productive report it will do more harm than good. It shows how the US media can be very ignorant, stupid and irresponsible!!!!

      September 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      how do you figure this article is harmful?

      September 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • fu lozer

      CNN dared not show the Mohammed Cartoons. But they dont mind risking the lives of millions of copts and of this film maker. Western media is the most arrogant self rigtheous, pathethic and biased media out there.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  6. ug

    This is all obamas fault.

    September 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  7. EWilkins

    Why don't all you religious people keep your religion at home and at the place of worship. The rest of the world is rapidly tiring of the violence that you people encourage through your "faith". You can't rule the US with religion, and you can't intimdate us with religion.

    There are few religions that aren't as arrogant and pushy as christians and muslims.

    September 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  8. Age of Reason

    Look at the damage just one right wing whacko can do. Do not hand control of the Government over to these wingnuts America.

    September 14, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Dave

      It appears the wackos are the hoodlum muslims. I guess you think personal responsibility should not exist.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • simon

      What a stupid analogy to make...The person who apparently made this movie is not "a right wing republican" he's a nut wing. Besides, are you suggesting that we suppress anyone's right to free speech because if you are than you need to move to one of these bass ackward countries where a less than middle school quality production of a total farce can insight people to act as a pack of rabid dogs blaming America for why they live in dirt....We are LUCKY and BLESSED to live in a land where we can smile and walk away from an opinion that we disagree with....that South Park can but Jesus in a boxing ring against Satan and depict Moses as a glowing spinning dreidl....and these nutcases want to burn and pillage because one lunatic makes a childish and stupid play on videotape? Wake up dufus.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Muslims ARE right wing wackos.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • fu lozer

      You are willing to sacrifice your freedom for temperory peace.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  9. Jim

    " all Muslims should leave Western countries". . So Shaquille 'Oneil, Casey Kasem, Muhammed Ali, and millions of other American-born Muslims must leave the United States? This is their country, as much as it is yours.

    September 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • Foghorn Leghorn

      The person who apparently made this movie is not "a right wing republican" he's a nut wing.

      Whats the difference ?

      September 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  10. AvdBerg

    The latest outrage by Muslims has nothing to do with the anti-Islam film but rather the unrest and attacks on US Embassies is a culmination of the rising tensions and deep-rooted hatred amongst civilizations in a divided world (Matthew 12:25,26). For a better understanding of the history of Islam and the Middle East we invite you to read the articles ‘World History and Developments in the Middle East’, ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    September 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm |

      This poster is a TROLL on this blog, they have been proven LIARS over and over again – and they are only here to sell their book to support their cult. Click the report abuse link to get rid of this TROLL!

      September 14, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  11. Rynomite

    I have decided there needs to be a new Crusade. Some snake chaming leader from down south needs to rile up our good ole boy fundies and privately pay for large numbers of them to equip and head over to the Middle East to reclaim the *snicker* "Holy Lands". I would then eat popcorn as I watch the evening news since I would have the excellent entertainment of our wackadoo fundies killing their wackadoo fundies.

    September 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Yeah....

      Your humor aside, that's exactly what the problem is. Most Christians are reasonable people who understand there are those among us who would love to see a holy war. Most Muslims are the same. I have traveled in the Mideast and North Africa by myself and never felt threatened or bullied. I did, however, see the hatred rise in young men's eyes when they found out I was American. After they got to know me, then we had conversations about why there was so much anger, and in the end we became friends. The simple fact of the matter is that the conflict between Isam and Christianity has been going on for over 1500 years, driven by hyper-religious nut jobs who ignore the teachings of the founders of their religion, allow themselves to be filled with hate, and rise up to fight the supposed enemy. Christianity is about 500 years older than Isam, and Judaism is much, much older than Christianity, and yet, with just a little reading one finds that though each religion has its own holy men, many of those who are revered as prophets or knowledgeable men are the same person. For instance, Abraham appears in all three religions. Why we can't get along, I just don't know. ....

      September 14, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  12. boyamidumb

    Say hello to high oil prices and goodbye to the U.S. economy!

    What? You think this happened by accident???? Come on, get real. This is all about destroying governments and giving the oligarchs complete control at last. Funding comes from the rich and from the bankers – they have NO loyalty to anyone but mammon, and their personal pleasures. The rest of us are simply the tools and those of us who don't make it, collateral damage. Time to aim the anger and the energy at the real enemies. The Putin's and the Bush's and their kindered souls.

    September 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  13. boyamidumb

    What Muslim leaders are saying – is NOW we can jack oil prices up even further. Wouldn't be surprised at all to discover that some of them were the people who funded this crack-pot movie, and then they stir the flames higher to burn out the "Arab Spring" that threatens them all. Come on get real – this is a win-win for those fools.

    And now the Arab/Muslim population is falling right into their hands and will support and die for whatever they tell them to die for. Not new news, very old news. Not sure what it would take to get the Arab/Muslim people to wake up to the way they are being manipulated and distracted from their real enemies, the dictators who rule them. Then of course, I can ask the same question about American "voters."

    Anyway, somebody should tell those folks that they are once again being played the fool.

    September 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  14. jackola

    كعربي مسيحي, أنا أدين هذا الفيلم الذي يعتبر قطعة من القمامة. لإخواني والأخوات المسلمين ، أرجو أن تتقبلوا اعتذاري لهذا العمل من قبل اناس لا تمثل أي شخص للدين المسيحي. عاش المسلمون والمسيحيون واليهود العرب في وئام  لألف سنة حتى الشيطان قسمنا فقط حوالي مائة أو نحو ذلك من سنوات. تمت حماية المسيحيين واليهود بفضل اخواننا المسلمين خلال العهد الذهبي للإسلام. ونحن المسيحيين العرب نتذكر ذلك دائما

    September 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • OneGodOneBrotherhood

      I agree with you, but I don't understand why you feel you need to apologize for what some wackjob, who dosen't represent your faith, put out there for the sole purpose to ignite violence. Do you feel the protesters are responsible in any way? I really wish people of other faiths (especially the three great faiths of God/Allah/yahweh) would embrace each other's spirituality and learn to be tolerant of each other's differences. God Bless! Jackola

      September 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • ug

      Can't write in English...leave this country.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Foghorn Leghorn


      Can't write in English...leave this country.

      Cant read Arabic ?
      Go to school.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  15. Reality

    What highlight ? He was a fraud Christian, did fraud with Bank, spent 21 months in Jail than he came out to earn money with this propaganda film, He should be investigated for the money he used in the film making because that might have also come from some fraud.

    September 14, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Reality

      And Muslims don't make film about Jesus when they are killed by American army.

      September 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      They are too busy making films about how evil Israel is.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Reality

      Not from the original Reality.

      September 14, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  16. CNNuthin

    Nakoula Basseley Nakoula

    September 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  17. mat

    Looks like CNN wants the copts attacked as well.

    September 14, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Peter

      Yes, let's not report these things. Just details to a minimum. Keep everyone in the dark.

      What the hell is wrong with you?

      September 14, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      did you read the article linked in the first line:

      This belief blog story focuses on the Coptic angle. It is only part of the story. This fraudulent movie producer has apparently tried to implicate Israel as well.

      Hopefully this isn't what unites an Arab world previously focused on their own political problems to a unified anti-American position.

      September 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      did you read the article linked in the first line:
      http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/13/world/anti-islam-filmmaker/index. html

      This belief blog story focuses on the Coptic angle. It is only part of the story. This fraudulent movie producer has apparently tried to implicate Israel as well.

      Hopefully this isn't what unites an Arab world previously focused on their own political problems to a unified anti-American position.

      September 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Oops – sorry for the duplicate post. It did not appear to go through.

      September 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • fu lozer

      Peter u lo zer, did CNN dare print show the cartoon of MO in 2006? Yet they are now putting the lives of the millions of copts in danger as well as the producer.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  18. riabm60

    Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi extremist.

    September 14, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  19. Tish

    It's just a movie stupid muslims, not my fault mohammed is a gay man.. so what?

    September 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  20. AceGirlsHusband

    One word of advice for Copts in Egypt: leave. I see a major slaughter coming from the radical Islamists and Moursi is not going to stop it. If you stay there, you are taking your lives in your own hands.

    September 14, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Shine222

      This rioting over free speech just proves the West and Islamic world are not compatible. Yes, all Muslims should leave Western countries and all non Muslims should leave Islamic countries. Muslims should not go on the internet which is a Western invention as it will offend them.

      September 14, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Peter

      All Muslims should leave America? You mean second and third generation American citizens who happen to be Muslim?


      September 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Mehdi

      Every god dam one. Then burn the mosques to the ground (or turn them into BBQ pork restaurants.)

      September 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Religion is a choice (even if you’re too stupid to realize it). No one happens to be a member of a religion. In fact most teach you have to accept that religion of your own free will. YES every ‘true’ Muslim should leave. The non-practicing are welcome to stay. Same for the Christians…this is NOT a Christian nation but a secular one.

      September 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.