How Egypt’s Coptic Christians put down roots around the world, but remained grounded in their culture

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi joins Coptic Pope Tawadros II during a Christmas Eve Mass at the Nativity of Christ Cathedral outside Cairo. (AFP)
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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi joins Coptic Pope Tawadros II during a Christmas Eve Mass at the Nativity of Christ Cathedral outside Cairo. (AFP)
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Relatives pray and mourn over the remains of 20 Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christian men who were beheaded by Daesh extremists in Libyan in 2015 and repatriated to Egypt in May 2015. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 02 June 2022

How Egypt’s Coptic Christians put down roots around the world, but remained grounded in their culture

  • After decades of oppression and adversity, Copts — the ‘original Egyptians’ — are finding hope in Egypt’s ‘new republic’
  • Those raised overseas, like British-born Egyptian artist and iconographer Fadi Mikhail, have remained true to their roots

LONDON: Coptic Christians in Egypt and in scattered migrant communities across the world celebrated on Wednesday the "Entry of the Lord into Egypt,” an annual feast day. That celebration is followed by The Holy Feast of Ascension, commemorating the Christian belief in Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven.

In a sense, the two consecutive feast days bookend the Coptic experience. The one marks their deep-rooted pride in an Egyptian heritage that predates the arrival of Islam, while the other celebrates the spiritual value of self-sacrifice, which would come to define the experience of a church forged in martyrdom soon after Christ’s death on the cross.




Interior details of Saint George Church in Coptic Cairo, Egypt. (Shutterstock)

Back in April, Egypt’s Christians celebrated two other consecutive special days.

Orthodox Easter fell on April 24, a date set by the Julian calendar under which the Church of Alexandria operates, rather than the Gregorian calendar used by the rest of Christianity, with which the Copts parted ways over theological differences in the fifth century.

But the following day, together with Egyptians of all faiths, Copts celebrated the national holiday of Sham Ennessim. The origins of this festival of spring date back millennia to the days of the pharaohs and, like the Copts themselves, survived the Arabization of Egypt in the seventh century to become an integral part of Egyptian society.

Around the world are many Copts, some now second or even third generation, who were born on foreign soil after their parents emigrated in search of a better life, yet who also remain rooted in Egypt and its culture.

The life and work of Fadi Mikhail, a successful artist in the UK, symbolizes the generations who were born overseas to immigrant parents, but maintain strong ties to their Egyptian and Coptic heritage.

Mikhail’s parents, Hany and Salwa, emigrated from Egypt in the late 1970s, his father pursuing his career as a doctor in the UK. “The promise of higher pay and a better life called to him,” said Mikhail.




 British-born Coptic artist Fadi Mikhail trained in Los Angeles under the renowned Egyptian iconographer Isaac Fanous. (Supplied)

Born in Harlow, England, in 1984, Mikhail studied in Los Angeles under the renowned Egyptian iconographer Isaac Fanous before graduating from the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Today, he produces icons for Coptic churches around the world, but his art is a visual bridge between East and West — he has a parallel career as a painter in the Western tradition, working in oils to produce landscapes, or drawing inspiration from books he enjoyed as a child.

His work is showcased by British galleries and has led to commissions for notable patrons, including the Prince of Wales.

Mikhail and his wife return to Egypt only for the occasional annual vacation. But, like most Copts scattered around the world, he says that “through the church I do still feel strongly connected to the Coptic faith and, by extension, Egypt.”

His interest in iconography “certainly began as a religious connection but has more recently become equally a part of my identity as an Egyptian.”




One of Fadi Mikhail’s oil paintings, ‘The Swallows Chasing the Amazons.’ (Supplied)

His parents’ generation, he said, “were particularly strong as a community, having banded together as recent immigrants, wanting to retain as much Egyptian culture as possible. Faith was an intrinsic part of this.”

He concedes that, “now in our second and third generation, the Coptic community in the UK is certainly experiencing some challenges of identity and the struggle to feel or appear as unwavering in our ‘Egyptianness’ as our parents.

“Practising one’s faith in a church in the West, where Western thought is certainly more liberal, while remaining in communion with the Eastern church, which is considerably more conservative, is difficult.

“However, I believe we have been very lucky with the wisdom of our leadership here in the UK, and to date I believe the waters have been wisely and deftly navigated.”




The Glaubenskirche in Berlin, Germany, a former Lutheran church, has been owned since 1998 by the Coptic Church, and it is being developed into a Coptic bishop's residence. (Shutterstock)

Wherever emigrating Copts have put down roots, their communities and their church have flourished. In addition to the estimated 15 million Copts in Egypt — some 10 percent of the population — there are now thought to be more than 2 million living abroad, chiefly in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe, where they make up mainly a wealthy and educated immigrant class of professionals, such as doctors or engineers.

The first Coptic parish in North America, St. Mark’s, was established in Toronto in 1964. It was followed shortly afterwards by the parish of St. Mark’s in New Jersey, which was founded in the late 1960s and saw the building of the first Coptic church in the West.

But one of the oldest Coptic communities abroad was founded in the 1950s in the UK, where the first Coptic liturgy in Europe was conducted in London on Aug. 10, 1954. The community was founded largely by Copts who studied medicine and moved to Britain to pursue their careers free of the glass ceilings that held them back in Egypt.




Queen Elizabeth II meets Pope Tawadros II and Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church during a private audience at Windsor Castle on May 9, 2017 in Windsor, UK. (Getty Images)

In 1978, the Coptic pope, Shenouda III, traveled from Egypt to the UK to consecrate St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Kensington, London, the first Coptic Orthodox Church in Europe.

Since then, the church in the UK has gone from strength, with in excess of 20,000 faithful across 32 parishes. In 2002 Shenouda returned to lay the foundation stone for the Cathedral of St. George, which was inaugurated in the Hertfordshire town of Stevenage, England, in 2006.

The head of the church in the UK is Archbishop Anba Angaelos, whose personal story of migration in many ways echoes that of so many Copts.

Born in Cairo in 1967, as a child he emigrated with his family to Australia. There he obtained a degree in political science, philosophy and sociology and, after postgraduate studies in law, returned to Egypt in 1990, where he became a monk and joined the historic monastery of St. Bishoy in Wadi El-Natrun. 




A view of Egypt's historic monastery of Saint Bishoy in Wadi El-Natrun, Cairo. (Shutterstock)

In 1995, he was sent to the UK as a parish priest. Four years later, he was made a general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church and on Nov. 18, 2017 was enthroned as the first Coptic Orthodox archbishop of London.

Icons in St. George Cathedral were painted by Fadi Mikhail in the modern Coptic style championed by his teacher Isaac Fanous.

The Copts who live abroad, said Angaelos, “don’t look at ourselves as a diaspora community, one that has faced persecution and has dispersed. We are a migrant community, people who have gone to find a better life for themselves and for their children and who still maintain links with Egypt.”




Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II (L) leads the Easter mass at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt on April 11, 2015. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Egypt’s Coptic Christians can justifiably claim to be the original Egyptians, guardians of a language once spoken by the pharaohs and keepers of a faith forged in adversity.

“We are an indigenous people,” said Angaelos. “I can trace my heritage as a Christian back to St. Mark, who established Christianity in Egypt, and even further back to my ancient Egyptian roots.”

According to scripture, Mary and Joseph sought refuge in Egypt with the infant Jesus to escape the massacre of all male children aged 2 or under in Bethlehem ordered by King Herod.

A generation later, it was in the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria that Mark the Evangelist founded the church that would become one of the five great episcopal sees of early Christendom, alongside Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome.




Coptic patriarch and priests celebrate mass on Orthodox Good Friday, in the Holy Sepulchre church of Jerusalem Old City, on April 30, 2021. (Shutterstock)

Copts have not always felt welcome in Egypt. Under Roman rule, Christians throughout the empire suffered persecution for centuries. St. Mark himself was murdered and martyred by a pagan mob in the streets of Alexandria in A.D. 68, and hundreds of Christians died in Egypt during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian.

Such was the impact of what became known as the Diocletianic persecution that the years of the liturgical calendar used by the Coptic Orthodox Church are counted from A.D. 284, the beginning of Diocletian’s reign. For the Copts, years are labelled not A.D. (Anno Domini, “the year of our Lord”), but A.M. — Anno Martyrum, “Year of the Martyrs.”

With the rise of Islam in the seventh century, the Copts faced new challenges to their faith and their ancient language, a direct linguistical descendant from the ancient Egyptian tongue. As many Copts converted to Islam, in part to avoid the increasingly onerous taxes imposed on non-Muslims, use of the language was steadily eroded and now survives only in the monasteries and liturgies of the Coptic Church.




Muslim cleric Sheikh Mohamed Goma (C-L) congratulates Pope Tawadros II during his enthronement ceremony as leader of Egypt's Coptic Christian church in Cairo on Nov. 18, 2012. Christians and Muslims lived side by side in harmony in Egypt through times of great unrest and periods. (AFP)

All these obstacles the Copts navigated stoically for many centuries, through times of great unrest and periods during which Christians and Muslims lived side by side in harmony in Egypt.

In the 20th century, however, a series of social, economic and political upheavals — aggravated by Britain’s divide-and-rule policies in Egypt and leading ultimately to the “Free Officers” coup of 1952 and President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arab reforms — saw the start of a steady trickle of Copts emigrating in the hope of finding a better life in the West.

Even before the revolution, “Copts were being slowly pushed out of Egyptian politics,” said Michael Akladios, founder and director of Egypt Migrations, a Coptic cultural and archival project set up in Canada in 2016 to preserve the stories of Egypt’s migrants.

“Immediately following the revolution, graduate Copts began to emigrate, going to the UK, Canada and the US, because they were hitting ceilings within the schools and professions.”




A view of Saint Simon the Tanner Monastery, an old Coptic church in Cairo, Egypt. (Shutterstock)

Akladios said it was a mistake to characterize all Coptic emigration from Egypt as the product of fear or persecution. His own family emigrated to Canada when he was 8, joining his father’s siblings who had already settled in Toronto, and the move was “economically motivated.”

“Yes, persecution is an element,” he said. “But the Copts are more than their churches; they’re also human beings with needs and families, and they make decisions as pragmatic migrants just like anybody else.”

For Copts in Egypt today, said Archbishop Angaelos, “there are still challenges. But one of the most important things for Copts, in Egypt and abroad, is that over the past decade we have seen a much greater, harmonious existence between Christians and Muslims.”

One man is the flag-bearer for the new spirit of interfaith harmony abroad in Egypt – Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who was elected president in 2014 and has been responsible for a series of gestures of inclusive non-sectarianism.




Daesh terrorists lead blindfolded Egyptian Coptic Christians, wearing orange jumpsuits, to be beheaded on a seashore in the Libyan capital of Tripoli in 2015. (AFP file photo)

When 20 migrant Coptic Egyptian workers and a Ghanaian colleague were beheaded on a beach in Libya by terrorists in February 2015, it was El-Sisi who sent the Egyptian Air Force to exact revenge on Daesh.

When a series of attacks against Copts and Coptic churches was unleashed in 2017, claiming dozens of lives, the wave of terror was crushed by an overwhelming response by the Egyptian army.

In 2018, El-Sisi’s government paved the way for the return of the Libyan martyrs’ bodies to Egypt. In the village of Al-Aour in Upper Egypt, where many of the men had lived, they were laid to rest in the newly built Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland, the construction of which had been funded by the Egyptian government.

And Copts everywhere were delighted when El-Sisi joined Coptic Pope Tawadros for Christmas Mass in the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital on Jan. 6 this year. In a speech, El-Sisi spoke of a “new republic” in Egypt “that accommodates everyone without discrimination.”




Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (R) speaking alongside Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria during a Coptic Orthodox Christmas Eve mass at the Nativity of Christ Cathedral near Cairo on January 6, 2022. (AFP)

As if to underline the point, just over a month later the first Coptic Christian was appointed head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, the highest judicial authority in the country.

For Michael Akladios, and for the Coptic community in Egypt and the wider world, the appointment of Judge Boulos Fahmy Eskandar on Feb. 9, 2022, was “a promising step on the road to greater Coptic inclusion and representation in Egypt’s public sphere.”

Although it was “still too early to judge what ramifications this appointment will have for Coptic communities in Egypt and across its diasporas,” it was nevertheless “symbolic of the state’s continued big gestures for cementing national unity as a prevailing feature of the character of the nation.”

 

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Syria Kurds halt joint operations with US-led coalition after Turkish attacks

Updated 02 December 2022

Syria Kurds halt joint operations with US-led coalition after Turkish attacks

  • Turkiye is preparing a ground invasion against Syrian Kurdish fighters
  • Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder earlier said operations against Daesh had not stopped

QAMISHLI: The Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed group that helped defeat Daesh terrorists in Syria, has stopped all joint counter-terrorism operations as a result of Turkish bombardment on its area of control, a spokesman said Friday.
Turkiye has ramped up its shelling and air strikes on northern Syria in recent weeks and is preparing a ground invasion against Syrian Kurdish fighters that it dubs terrorists but which make up the bulk of the US-supported SDF.
The SDF has long warned that fighting off a new Turkish incursion would divert resources away from protecting a prison holding Daesh fighters or targeting Daesh sleeper cells still waging hit-and-run attacks in Syria.
Aram Henna told Reuters that “all coordination and joint counter-terrorism operations with the coalition” as well as “all the joint special operations we were carrying out regularly” had had been halted.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder earlier told reporters that operations against Daesh had not stopped.
SDF head Mazloum Abdi earlier this week told Reuters he wanted a “stronger” message from Washington after seeing unprecedented Turkish deployments along the border.
“We are still nervous. We need stronger, more solid statements to stop Turkiye,” he said. “Turkiye has announced its intent and is now feeling things out. The beginning of an invasion will depend on how it analyzes the positions of other countries.”


Two Palestinians killed in Jenin city camp raid

Updated 02 December 2022

Two Palestinians killed in Jenin city camp raid

  • Israel strips human rights defender Salah Al-Hamouri of his Jerusalem residency, plans to deport him to France

RAMALLAH: Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians on Thursday and injured two others during a West Bank arrest raid that sparked gun battles, confirmed Palestinian medical sources.

The Jenin city refugee camp raid at dawn also resulted in the arrest of nine people. 

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh warned of the severe consequences of the Israeli killings. He called on the world’s countries to intervene.

A general strike to mourn the two who were killed, Mohammed Al-Saadi and Naim Al-Zubaidi, was declared in the city.

According to the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health, eight Palestinians have been killed and 10 injured in the West Bank during the past 72 hours.

Shtayyeh accused Israeli forces of “benefiting from the absence of accountability and punishment, under an international policy based on double standards.”

Maj. Gen. Akram Rajoub, governor of Jenin, told Arab News that an atmosphere of pain, anger and sadness has overwhelmed the city due to the actions of the Israeli army, which “violates Palestinian lands and commits cold-blooded killing.”

He told Arab News that 54 Palestinians had been killed in Jenin since the beginning of this year.

Most of them were not involved in stone-throwing incidents, and they were not armed. Dozens were wounded, and many others have been detained.

“This is targeted killing and systematic state terrorism against the Palestinians,” the governor told Arab News.

Israeli armed forces issued an alert for expected rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel following the murder of the Jenin Brigade commander in Thursday’s early morning raid.

The Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission said that Israeli security authorities and settlers carried out 833 attacks against Palestinians during November.

It said the aggressive acts ranged from direct assaults on citizens to vandalism, land razing, the confiscation of property and more.

The attacks were concentrated in the Ramallah governorate with 170 attacks, followed by the Hebron governorate with 140, then the Nablus governorate with 111, said the commission.

In another development, Israeli authorities have decided to deport Palestinian prisoner Salah Al-Hamouri from East Jerusalem to France after the expiration of his detention on Sunday, Dec. 4.

Israelis arrested Al-Hamouri on March 22, and since then, he has been under administrative detention with no trial or known charge.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Israeli authorities to free Al-Hamouri and cancel their decision to deport him.

Activists said that Palestinian human rights defender Al-Hamouri “is at imminent risk of deportation” after Israel’s Supreme Court rejected on Nov. 30 an appeal against the Interior Ministry’s decision to revoke his Jerusalem residency status on the grounds of “breach of allegiance.”

This decision leaves Al-Hamouri with no legal status in Jerusalem. He will thus likely be deported on Sunday to France, as he also has French citizenship, human rights activists said.

“Salah Al-Hamouri’s case illustrates so many of the restrictive measures Israel is employing against Palestinians, including human rights defenders,” Jessica Montel, executive director of human rights organization HaMoked, told Arab News.

Among these are the “invasive surveillance technology, the criminalization of human rights organizations, the use of administrative detention, and the revocation of Jerusalem residency,” she said. “This is outrageous.

“As a member of the indigenous population of Jerusalem, Al-Hamouri owes no allegiance to the state of Israel. The fact that his residency was revoked largely based on secret evidence only exacerbates the injustice.”

Hassan Al-Hamouri, 66, father of Salah Al-Hamouri, told Arab News that the Israeli police summoned him on Nov. 29 and asked him not to raise Palestinian flags when receiving Salah on Sunday and not to organize official receptions.

He also said that the number of those receiving him should not exceed 20 at his house. 

Following this, Salah’s lawyer, Leah Tsemel, tried to talk to the police officer to find out what happened, but he refused to inform the lawyer anything.

The family later learned that Salah would be deported to France if he was released from Hadarim prison on Sunday.

Israeli authorities had previously deported Salah’s wife, who was pregnant in 2016, to France.

Palestinian human rights activists are concerned about Israel’s resumption of the deportation policy against Palestinians after it had been halted for many years.

Qadura Faris, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Arab News in a phone interview that deportation is the “harshest deterrent punishment practiced against Palestinian prisoners and citizens.

“Al-Hamouri is not accused of practicing violent acts against Israel, but rather he is a human rights activist and an administrative detainee without a specific charge. If such a person is expelled, what about the rest of the Palestinian prisoners?” 

Activists say 4,700 Palestinian prisoners are in Israeli prisons, while the number of Palestinians detained in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip has reached 6,300 since the beginning of the year.


Iran probes killing of man celebrating World Cup loss

Updated 02 December 2022

Iran probes killing of man celebrating World Cup loss

  • "An investigation has been opened and a local prosecutor has been assigned to the case," Gilan province's prosecutor Mehdi Fallahmiri said
  • Human rights groups based abroad said Samak, 27, had been shot dead by Iranian security forces after honking his car horn during celebrations

TEHRAN: Iran said on Thursday it had opened an investigation into the death of a man who was shot while celebrating Iran’s World Cup defeat to arch enemy the United States.
The loss eliminated Iran’s national football team from the tournament in Qatar on Tuesday night, drawing a mixed response from pro- and anti-government supporters.
Following the match, “a person named Mehran Samak died suspiciously after being hit by shotgun pellets in the city of Bandar Anzali,” Gilan province’s prosecutor Mehdi Fallahmiri said, quoted by the judiciary’s Mizan Online website.
“An investigation has been opened and a local prosecutor has been assigned to the case,” he added.
Human rights groups based abroad said Samak, 27, had been shot dead by Iranian security forces after honking his car horn during celebrations that followed Iran’s loss to the United States.
The result sparked both scenes of joy and despair among Iranians in a country divided by protests that flared over the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
The 22-year-old, an Iranian of Kurdish origin, died three days after falling into a coma following her arrest for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major General Hossein Salami, said on Thursday Iran’s enemies had influenced youths who were happy with the football result.
“Today, they (the enemies) are all trying to sow the seeds of despair in the hearts of young people and some of them even showed their satisfaction afterwards and that they are happy with the elimination of the national football team,” he said.
“We must take measures to serve the people, because poverty and misery are also among the enemies of the country,” Salami said, according to the official news agency IRNA.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest sparked by Amini’s death.
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights said on Tuesday that at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”


Turkiye calls for US understanding ahead of possible Syria operation

Updated 01 December 2022

Turkiye calls for US understanding ahead of possible Syria operation

  • Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar: ‘The US asked us to re-evaluate; we emphasized that they should understand us’
  • US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday told his Turkish counterpart of his ‘strong opposition’ to a new Turkish military operation in Syria

ANKARA: Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar called on the United States on Thursday to show understanding over a possible new Turkish military operation in Syria, after Washington voiced its “strong opposition” to such a move.
Turkiye has been threatening a new incursion into northern Syria for months, and stepped up preparations last month after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul it blamed on a Kurdish militants.
“The US asked us to re-evaluate. We conveyed to them our sensitivities and thoughts, and asked them to keep their promises. We emphasized that they should understand us,” Akar told reporters.
Turkiye also asked allied countries that have a military presence in Syria not to allow local militias to use their flags and uniforms, Akar added. “We are reminding them that they should keep terrorists away from themselves and eventually they should cut their ties with terrorist organizations,” he said.
Turkiye sees the Kurdish YPG militia, the leading presence in the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as the Syrian wing of the PKK militant group and labels both of them as terrorist organizations.
The PKK is also considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.
The PKK and SDF have denied involvement in the Nov. 13 bombing of a busy pedestrian avenue in Istanbul.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday told his Turkish counterpart of his “strong opposition” to a new Turkish military operation in Syria and voiced concern over the escalating situation in the county.

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Iran’s World Cup team gets tepid welcome home, amid protests

Updated 01 December 2022

Iran’s World Cup team gets tepid welcome home, amid protests

  • The players returned from Qatar late Wednesday, a day after their 1-0 loss
  • Anti-government protesters, considering the team a symbol of Iran's clerical rulers, had celebrated the loss in some Iranian cities with fireworks and cheers

BAGHDAD: Iran’s national soccer team received a subdued welcome home after their World Cup defeat against the United States, a match played against the backdrop of ongoing anti-government protests in Iran.
One Iranian man was shot dead celebrating the American victory.
The players returned from Qatar late Wednesday, a day after their 1-0 loss. Anti-government protesters, considering the team a symbol of Iran’s clerical rulers, had celebrated the loss in some Iranian cities with fireworks and cheers.
One man was shot dead by Iranian security forces in northwest Iran for honking his car horn in support of the US victory, the Oslo-based rights monitor Iran Human Rights reported on Thursday.
Iran’s treatment of the players will likely be scrutinized because they refrained from singing the Islamic Republic’s national anthem during their opening World Cup match. Many considered the move a show of solidarity with the protests. The team did sang the anthem in subsequent matches.
A few dozen fans greeted the national team’s return at Tehran’s international airport late Wednesday, with people cheering and waving the Iranian flag.
Yet the players have faced biting criticism from anti-government protesters who have blamed the team for not being more vocal about the security force’s violent put down of the demonstrations. Human rights groups say over 400 protesters have been killed in the crackdown, with thousands more arrested.
An image of players bowing in the presence of President Ebrahim Raisi before setting off to the tournament was widely criticized by activists on social media. A hard-line cleric, Raisi has likened protesters to “flies” and dismissed the movement as a foreign plot, without offering any proof.
Mehran Samak, 27, was shot dead after honking his car in support of the US win after Tuesday’s match in the city of Bandar Anzali in northwest Iran. Oslo-based Iran Human Rights reported he was “shot in the head by state forces when he went out to celebrate the Islamic Republic’s loss.”
Samak is also a childhood friend of Iranian midfielder Saeed Ezatollahi, who mourned his death on his social media. But again he received criticism from activists for not explicitly stating Samak was killed by government forces.
Many Iranian celebrities have however been targeted by the government with arrest or other measures for speaking out on behalf of the protesters.
Iranian officials acknowledged but downplayed compatriots celebrating the US win. Gen. Hossein Salami, chief of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, said those who had celebrated were doing so on “behalf of the enemies,” adding “it is not important to us.” His comments appeared in the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
A former culture minister and editor-in-chief of the Ettelaat newspaper, Abbas Salehi, who has close ties with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted: “Iran’s defeat in the game against America was bitter, but even more bitter was the happiness of some people.”
Iran was eliminated from the tournament in Qatar following the loss to the US on Tuesday that saw the players scrambling to score a goal in the last remaining minutes of the game. Striker Sardar Azmoun told reporters he was not satisfied with his performance in the last match.
It was the sixth time Iran has participated in the World Cup.
Anti-government protests first erupted in September, following the death of 22-year old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police in the capital, Tehran. The protests quickly grew into the most serious challenge to Iran’s theocracy since its establishment in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.