In the news coverage of Egypt’s so-called Arab spring and its ensuing election, the country’s Christian minority rarely made the news. However, Reuters did pick up one story in early October. “Most Christians living near Egypt's border with Israel,” it reported, “are fleeing their homes after Islamist militants made death threats and gunmen attacked a Coptic-owned shop.”
Photos showed desecrated churches and Christian property in the town of Rafah in Sinai. The Arabic graffiti scrawled over the buildings read, “Don't come back” and “Islam is the truth.”
Writing about this incident for the Middle East Forum (10/5/2012), Raymond Ibrahim of the Investigative Project on Terrorism noted, “All media reports describe the same sequence of events: 1) Christians were threatened with leaflets warning them to evacuate or die; 2) an armed attack with automatic rifles was made on a Christian-owned shop; 3) Christians abandoned everything and fled their homes.”
This is the all-too-common pattern, according to Ibrahim. “Anyone following events in Egypt knows that these three points—threatening leaflets, attacks on Christian property, followed by the displacement of Christians—are becoming commonplace in all of Egypt.”
For every story that makes the news service, however, there are dozens that don’t.
Besides attacks on Christian shops and churches, Christians are being kidnapped and held for ransom. They are often arrested and tried for “blasphemy,” with the aim to humiliate, repress, and intimidate them.
Voice of the Martyrs reports on its website, “During the past three years, there has been a significant increase in violent attacks against Christians, both Coptic and Evangelical. The attacks often go unpunished, and authorities seem to make no attempts to prevent similar violence.”
Ibrahim also reported that all too often, if Christians go to the police to report an attack, the response is similar to what happened recently in Asyut. When two school girls—a Christian and a Muslim—quarreled, several “heavily-armed” Muslims stormed the home of the Christian girl, causing her family and three other Coptic families to flee the village. When the father returned, he found that all his saved money had been robbed and his possessions plundered. When he asked police for help, the officer replied, “I can't do anything for you, reconcile with them and end the problem.”
Ibrahim says, “Indeed, this has been the same attitude of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood led government.” In case after case, when acts of violence have been committed against Christians, “the government looked the other way, or, when called on it, denied reality.”
After Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood captured 51 percent of the vote in last June’s election, Christianity Today’s Jayson Casper interviewed Christians in Cairo. What did they think of their new president who had promised to implement Shariah law?
An Orthodox taxi driver told the CT reporter, “It is better to have the country in the hands of the military rather than in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. Believe me, I love Egypt, but I am thinking about emigrating.”
Fawzi Khalil, the pastor of Kasr El Dobara, the largest Protestant church in the Middle East, said his church was divided. “Many already have a visa or will apply for one soon. But many others will stay because they have a vision from God that this is their land.”
The pastor, whose church is located close to Cairo’s Tahrir Square where many of the Arab spring protests were held, said, “We expect a revival, and sometimes you have to go through the darkness before you can see the light. We encourage people not to have a phobia of the Brotherhood. They are human and cannot rule a large country like ours without consensus. We must show them we are good citizens and will continue to be—fighting for our rights, but trusting in God.”
Bishop Thomas, a member of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, said simply, “We must not be afraid, for fear is not of faith.”
But the options for the Christians who decide to stay are limited. Although they make up almost 13 percent of the population, the Christians are spread across the country so there is no area that could become a kind of “safe zone” from increased pressure by Islamists. Christians have no political power. Their efforts to organize a non-Islamist political coalition after the overthrow of Mubarak were shut down and the leaders were charged with treason.
As Samuel Tadros wrote in his article, “A Christian Exodus from Egypt,” (Wall Street Journal, 10/11/12), “The sad truth is that not all will be able to flee. Those with money, English skills and the like will get out. Their poorer brethren will be left behind.”
If it had the will to do so, the United States could exert pressure to protect the religious freedoms of Christians in Egypt. As Tadros, points out, “Egypt receives $1.5 billion in U.S. aid each year, and Washington has various means to make Egypt’s new leaders listen.” Christians in Egypt should not have to suffer second-class status or garnishment of their church finances says Tadros.
And as fellow Christians, we certainly can pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Egypt. But we should also speak up on their behalf. We can let our elected representatives know that we want our foreign policy to reward those who do good and punish evil doers—not vice versa.
Anything less is contrary to our nation’s heritage and its Christian ideals.
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