Moral Equivalency Watch in Coverage of Deadly Church Bombing in Egypt

A bombing "prompted concerns that national cohesion was being threatened by the spread of religious extremism among Muslims and Christians," according to a front-page story by Michael Slackman, blaming both sides for attacks and buying details of the ongoing persecution and suppression of Coptic Christians in predominantly Muslim Egypt.

Michael Slackman, the Cairo bureau chief of the Times, made Friday's front page with an analysis of the aftermath of a deadly suicide bombing, possibly by Al Qaeda, outside a church in Alexandria, Egypt that killed 21 Christians.

But both the headline and Slackman's story betrayed a moral equivalence, with the majority Muslims and the country's often persecuted minority of Coptic Christians posed as equally to blame: "Bomb Blast Awakens Egyptians To Threat From Religious Strife." An accompanying front-page photo showed rock-throwing Christians.

Egyptian government discriminate against Coptic Christians, limiting their college attendance with quotas and putting many jobs are out of reach. Coptic Christians are often threatened and persecuted by Muslims, but this important background information was skipped by Slackman.

A deadly suicide bomb attack outside a Christian church in Alexandria on Saturday has forced the government and religious leaders here to acknowledge that Egypt is increasingly plagued by a sectarian divide that could undermine the stability that has been a hallmark of President Hosni Mubarak's nearly three decades in power.

As Egypt's Christians headed to church under heavy security Thursday night to observe Coptic Christmas Eve, the nation was struggling to come to terms with a blast that killed at least 21 people, highlighted a long list of public grievances with the government and prompted concerns that national cohesion was being threatened by the spread of religious extremism among Muslims and Christians.

Slackman again refused to give Islamic terrorism its proper title, fuzzing the issue.

But for all the criticism it unleashed, the blast appears to have forged a consensus that Egypt, despite its historic tradition of moderate Islamic thinking and multicultural tolerance, has in recent years become overwhelmed by fundamentalist religious identification, a position that until now the government strongly denied.

Slackman provided the Christian perspective deep on the jump page, on paragraph 18 of the 23-paragraph story.

The bombing opened the floodgates of frustration among Christians who had long chafed under what they saw as discriminatory laws.

Many complained that the government had allowed unrestricted construction of mosques while restricting even the restoration of churches. They complained that no one had yet been tried in a Christmas Eve shooting last year in Nag Hammadi, a town in Upper Egypt where a Muslim gunman fired on Christian worshipers, killing 7 people and wounding 10. And they complained about the last parliamentary elections, in which the opposition emerged with fewer than 20 seats out of a total of 518 in Parliament, fueling widespread accusations of fraud and vote rigging, which the government has denied.


And in nearly every case, the state addressed the issue as a security matter, deploying the police, detaining suspects, dispersing crowds. That was also true in 2010, even as evidence mounted of growing tension between Egypt's Muslim majority and a Christian minority that includes about 10 percent of the approximately 80 million Egyptians.