While preparing a post on Muslim persecution of Iraqi Christians (Part 2 of the series 'Canaries in the Coalmine'), I came upon this extremely helpful article, which serves as a vivid reminder of the suffering of our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt.
Keep the Persecution of Egypt's Christians in Correct Perspective
By Michael Terheyden
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - On May 26, 2011, Reuters published an article, "Christians Worry Egypt Being Hijacked by Islamists." The article begins by informing us about Coptic fears of rising Islamist fundamentalism since Mubarak stepped down as President of Egypt in February of this year, but then it seems to downplay those fears. Consequently, I am reminded how important it is for us keep the harsh reality which the Copts are experiencing in proper perspective. With this thought in mind, I will review four points mentioned in the Reuters article.
First, the article seems to associate the Copts' fear of rising Islamist fundamentalism with a group called the Salafists. Of course, such fears have other roots too, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, but the Salafists appear to be responsible for much of the increased violence and tensions in Egypt of late.
The Salafis are followers of a movement that models itself on Islam's patristic period. The Salafis believe that this time period, which lasted for the first three generations, reflects the pure and authoritative teaching and practice of Islam. Contemporary Salafism is seen as a literal and puritanical approach to Islam, and a minority of Salafis espouse violent jihad against the civilian population. Members of this violent minority are referred to as Salafists.
Second, the article suggests other explanations for the recent wave of attacks against the Copts. It floats the idea that the protests in January and February somehow weakened law and order. This idea does not make much sense to me as it stands. However, forcing Mubarak out so fast did risk creating a power vacuum, and Egypt could be struggling with this problem. Some reports appear to corroborate this idea. They indicate that the military may be having difficulty keeping order among certain groups of fundamentalists such as the Salafists.
The article also suggests that the increased lawlessness may be due to the mass breakout of convicts from jail during the historic demonstrations in January and February. But the attacks against the Copts are overwhelmingly sectarian. Reports indicate that the attacks are being carried out by local Muslim communities and their leaders, not escaped convicts. For instance, the article mentions an incident last week in Ain Shams, an eastern district of Cairo, where local Muslims and Salafists reportedly blocked Christians from going to church and threw cinder blocks at them.
Third, according to the article, some Egyptians think the alarm over the recent sectarian violence is being overdone, and some blame Coptic leaders for stoking fears and making the Christian community more defensive. It even quotes a Christian thinker, Milad Hanna: "If there are events which could lead to clashes every now and then, this may happen. They (Muslims) are normal people, not angels." Then the article says that "The sectarian clashes have prompted many Christians to vent pent-up grievances at perceived discrimination since the 1970s. "
The Copts are hardly venting pent-up grievances at perceived discrimination, though I have no doubt that their grievances are pent up. After all, they have been suffering discrimination for well over a thousand years, ever since Muslim armies conquered Egypt in the seventh century. Discrimination against the Copts is real, not perceived or imagined. They do not have to go looking for it to try to find it. It is in their face every day.
Furthermore, significant clashes between Copts and Muslims since Mubarak stepped down have not been "every now and then." And there is good reason to believe that these clashes are increasing in intensity and frequency. I have written about some of them in previous articles. In February, at least three monasteries were attacked by the military: the Makarios Monastery of Alexandria, the Saint Bishoy Monastery, and the fourth century monastary of Saint Boula. In March, the Coptic community of Soul was attacked by a mob of 4000 Muslims? Then there was the protest in Cairo that turned violent. And in May there was the conflict at the Saint Mina Church. Not far away, the Virgin Mary Church was set on fire that same evening in Imbaba, Cairo.
Nor are Coptic leaders stoking fears or overreacting. That is what some people do in America. We are not talking about someone threatening to burn the Koran or people protesting the building of an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero, which caused mass hysteria among some people in this country; we are talking about Coptic churches, businesses and homes being destroyed and people being attacked, wounded and killed because they are Christian. These are acts of real hatred, violence and destruction.
The fourth and final point I will review concerns the rights which Copts want. The article mentions a few. For instance, Copts are severely restricted when it comes to employment opportunities for government jobs. They want equal opportunity. The history of the Copts is not included in school textbooks, and they want it included in the curriculum. In addition, Copts are not allowed to build or repair their churches unless they get special permits which are not required for mosques, so they want these restrictions eased.
Although this list is far from complete, it gives us some idea how restricted the Copts are in present-day Egyptian society. The Copts are not asking for fictitious rights, as is happening in America over such contentious issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. They are asking for fundamental rights that all people need in order to live. They are asking not to be driven from their land or killed, which is happening to Christians throughout the Muslim world.
Thus, the Copts have real reasons to fear rising Islamic fundamentalism. This is the harsh reality of life for the Copts, and it is important for us to keep it in proper perspective. Perhaps one reason it is important is so that we will continue to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters around the world and help build up the Body of Christ.