Prophet film puts spotlight on US Copts

By Gillian Flaccus

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Coptic leaders said they were unaware of Nakoula until the trailer surfaced. Media for Christ, which raised more than $1 million last year, is known but not embraced by Coptic leaders.

Magdy Azer, president of the California Coptic Assembly, called the charity a "fanatic" group and said its program called "The Way TV" is full of anti-Islamist preaching and pleas for donations.

"What was their intent? I don't know," he said of the filmmakers. "For me, they most likely just wanted to grab attention from everybody about the persecution in Egypt."

Instead, the video has put the spotlight on a small U.S. immigrant community that for decades has focused on charity to help their fellow Christians in Egypt instead.

A survey released earlier this year by George Washington University found that 92 percent of U.S. Copts donated money to Egypt in the last three years at an average amount of $5,000 per person, said Nermien Riad, founder and executive director of the Virginia-based charity Coptic Orphans.

"The Copts are always wanting to be the salt of the earth and a light to the world. The great majority focuses on good and on doing good," said Riad, whose organization co-sponsored the study. "These are Christian values."

Church leaders were also quick to distance themselves from the movie, saying it doesn't match the sentiments of most Copts.

"We have never reacted or behaved like this for the very simple reason that this is against Christianity," said the Rev. Joseph Boules, a priest at St. Mary and St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church in Anaheim. "We are not going to abandon our principles and return hate for hate. That's not what orthodoxy is about."

The Christian minority in Egypt has long lived with violence.

Last year, a New Year's day bombing at Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt killed 21 worshippers, setting off three days of protests and clashes with security forces and Muslim passers-by. In 2010, six Christians and a Muslim guard were killed in a drive-by shooting in southern Egypt on Coptic Christmas Eve.

Many U.S. Copts now worry that the video will worsen the situation for their fellow Copts in Egypt. Christians there saw an increase in violence after Florida pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn the Quran and after the publication of cartoons ridiculing Muhammad, said Boules, the Coptic priest.

"For some reason when something inflammatory or offensive comes out, some people rush to shoot first and aim later," he said.


Associated Press reporter Greg Risling contributed to this report.

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