New channel targets Coptic youth

George sits down, flips on the television and searches for something to watch. He says he is looking for something more than the usual melodramas that dominate the Arab world’s satellite channels. He settles on a pseudo-religious discussion on O television – a channel run by one of Egypt’s richest men, Coptic Christian Naguib Sawiris.
“It’s okay,” he begins, “but I want something more in depth. You know, something that looks into the faith and history of our religion for us young people. It is more than needed and wanted.”
George doesn’t have to wait any longer, as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria announced earlier this month that it would be entering the technological age and followed through with these plans last Wednesday with Aghapy – the Coptic word for Egypt – or “Coptic Youth Television,” going live.
According to the Alexandria-based Church, the plan for the new satellite television channel is to target Coptic youth in Egypt and abroad, which will compliment the already existing CTV, the Church’s Arabic channel launched in 2007, with programs in a number of languages, including English.
When George hears of plans for the new channel, his head lifts and a smile creeps onto his face. The young pharmacist, only one-year removed from his degree, said he believes in the church and the future of Egypt and the religious minority.
“It is about time they start doing something and doing something for the young people. Many other people like me have to work late at night and we could use something that speaks to us. The Muslims have it and that is great, but we deserve it as well,” he continues.
The “Christian Youth Channel” will be officially launched in at least 7 languages over the next few months and aims to help Coptic youth living in Egypt and abroad by “defining their religion and homeland and to protect it from some of the organizations carrying false images of Egypt,” a Church official said via telephone.
Already, dozens of Muslim channels preaching to a younger generation have sprouted up in Egypt. The most famous of new youth-targeted preachers is Amr Khaled, whose influence has spread widely.
Others have followed in Khaled’s steps, creating a massive movement of non-traditional “sheikhs” speaking to young people in Egypt and across the region, all on television. When Khaled tells young girls they should wear the higab – the Islamic scarf that covers the hair – they listen.
“It is extremely popular and many young people take what he says seriously, so others have come onto our satellites to try and gain that kind of popularity,” says Egyptian journalist Ahmed Mansour, who has written extensively on religious programs for a number of local newspapers, including Al-Ahram and Al-Dustour.
He says that with the dozen of “telepreachers on TV, we have seen that anyone can start to give a message to young people. And they listen, which could be dangerous.”
 The church confirmed that the channel would broadcast next month through programs produced by priests living abroad in order to target all Coptic Orthodox believers living outside Egypt. It’s goal, church officials say, is to present a moderate view of all religion through Coptic belief.
Although the channel’s main aim is targeting Copts abroad – to combat what the Church has repeatedly condemned as “radical” statements from outside Egypt – the channel should be available for Egyptians to view on regular satellite providers.
Not all Copts are convinced that it creates fewer tensions in the country or abroad. A number of Copts spoken with for this article argue that this could be seen by Muslims as an attempt to put forward a dangerous and divisive channel.
“I don’t think it is going to be about making Copts hate Muslims, but with all the statements and actions that the Coptic community abroad wants to do in Egypt, it is not surprisingly that these fears exist,” said 55-year-old Elias from his home in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington D.C.
He believes that the Church must be careful not to create unnecessary tensions. “We have our problems, Muslims have theirs, but we are all Egyptians. The channel must address issues of faith and not politics.”
For George, the prospect of the Church television channel is more than inspiring. He believes it will finally give his friends and family a chance to learn more about their faith. For his non-Christian friends, “It is about time that they watch this kind of thing. You know how many times they forced me to watch Amr Khaled,” he says laughing. “The channel they have right now is boring and speaks to an older generation.
“I hope they do something about the language. We all should start to relearn the Coptic language,” he adds, referring to the nearly extinct language of the Copts during the Middle Ages before the Arab conquest.
Only a handful of Egyptian Copts remain who speak the colloquial version of the language on a daily basis.
In the end, a television channel by the Church has turned heads and created a community full of hope, but the Church knows it must be careful not to inflame tensions between the large Muslim majority. Time will reveal if the project will be successful.

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