Coptic Christians in Egypt

St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria

St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. — Martin Luther King Jr

When he [Joseph] arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod the Great, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt I called My Son. — Matthew 2:12-23

A butterfly flaps its wings …

Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed 26-year-old IT graduate tries to set up his fruit and vegetable stall in the small town of Sidi Bouzid, the only way he can earn a living, but is prevented from doing so … four weeks later the despotic president of Tunisia Zine el Abidine Ben Ali like a rat running up a drain pipe fled Tunisia after 23 years in power.

In the New Year a suicide bomber killed 23 people at a Coptic Church in Alexandria … two weeks later Abdu Abdel-Monaim Kama, 50-year-old restaurant owner and father of four from the city of Ismailia, east of the capital, set himself on fire outside the parliament building whilst shouting anti-government slogans ….

Coptic Christians are under siege.

The Coptic Church established in Egypt in 50AD is one of the oldest churches in the Middle East. The first churches and monasteries established themselves along the route Mary and Joseph took when they fled to Egypt as refugees. Coptic Christians still use Coptic in their liturgy. Saint Jerome records that the Christian School of Alexandria was founded by Saint Mark himself.

Today Christians make up 10% of Egypt’s 80 million population and they feel under threat.

Islam, now the dominant religion in Egypt, swept into a Egypt a few years after the death of the Prophet. One of the reasons why Islam was able to sweep out of Arabia and become the dominant religion in the Middle East was because different factions of Christianity were at war with each other and had been at bloody war for the first 500 years of Christendom in the Middle East. [see Jesus Wars]

Egypt, like Tunisia, is a country mired in poverty, corruption, presided over by a repressive and corrupt regime. With the failure of the state, the church and the mosque has become more than a place of worship, has started to replace the state, and as a result there has been increased sectarianism. The leaders of the Coptic Church are doing the Coptic Christians no favours by aligning themselves with the repressive regime.

If the Coptic Church fails to ally itself with the majority of the population against the repressive regime, then when the inevitable happens and the regime falls, the Coptic Church will find itself facing the wrath of that population.

Using a passage from the Koran, if a Muslim converts to Christianity, that convert is hunted down and killed. The Christian converts are often forced to move away from their home. By contrast, if a Christian converts to Islam, it leads to public celebration. Inflexible attitude to divorce within the Coptic Church is leading women to convert to Islam in order to obtain a divorce.

Some of the leading clerics have condemned the killings, saying punishment should not be death.

In Islam, if a Muslim man marries a Christian woman, she may keep her faith, but it is not applicable the other way around.

The flames of intolerance are being fanned by Muslim extremists who wish to see Christianity wiped out in the Middle East.

Ironic when as Benazir Bhutto shows in Reconciliation, democracy and Islam are not contrary or in opposition to each other. The Koran calls for tolerance, pluralism, listening to and heeding all opinion. The Koran calls for tolerance of other religions.

But we should not forget that everyone in Egypt, Copt, Shia and Sunni, is being repressed by the state.

The problem of persecution of Christians is not unique or restricted to Egypt. In Iraq, Christians are being targeted, Christmas was a muted, low key affair following the bombing of a Christian Church a few weeks before Christmas. Many Christians have fled Iraq. In occupied Palestine, the Zionist State of Israel prevented Christians, including priests, celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, encircled by the Apartheid Wall, is an open air prison. Under Roman occupation 2,000 years ago, Bethlehem today is under Israeli occupation.

What is depressing is the silence of the churches in the West, especially in England.

There are though little rays of hope emerging from the darkness.

Beyond Belief, a religious affairs programme on BBC Radio 4 had a discussion on the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt and the programme should be available as an mp3 podcast download. [1630 Monday 17 January 2011]

In Egypt, Muslims offered themselves as human shields to guard Coptic Churches.

In Baghdad, just before Christmas, a Shia cleric spoke at St George’s Church against the violence against Christians.

Last week, Canon Andrew White facilitated a meeting in Denmark of Iraqi religious leaders which resulted in fatwa being issued condemning the sectarian violence and killings.

Christians and Muslims have coexisted in the Middle East for 1,400 years. There is no reason why that coexistence cannot continue.

Also see

Growing fears of Egypt’s Copts in climate of violence

Egypt recalls Vatican ambassador over Pope’s remarks

Egypt’s Muslims support Coptic Christians on religious holiday

The Arab world must face its demons

Man sets himself on fire in Cairo protest

Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia

Tunisia: The fall of President Ben Ali

Copenhagen summit aims for Iraq fatwa on sectarian violence

Muted Christmas in Iraq

Muslims converting to Christianity

Christmas in the Middle East

Tragic plight of Christians in Iraq

The plight of Iraqi Christians

End of Christianity in the Middle East?

Bethlehem Hidden from View

Israel blocks Christians going to Bethlehem at Christmas

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6 Responses to “Coptic Christians in Egypt”

  1. laineestreet Says:

    Thanks, Keith.

  2. THELMA Says:

    Turks and Greeks used to co-exist in Cyprus, until POLITICS and INTERESTS interfered and we all know the results!
    The ‘use’ of religion and fanaticism in ruling the World.
    Thank you, Keith Parkins for writing and posting.

    ‘A butterfly flaps its wings!’

    • keithpp Says:

      As you say, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots happily coexisted prior to the illegal Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus. As I well know when I interviewed a decade or so ago Greek-Cypriot refugees who had fled the North. But it was stupid Greek-Cypriots, with the help of Fascist Greeks in Turkey who mounted a coup that gave the Turks the excuse to invade. An invasion that took place with the tacit agreement of the British and Americans who wished to see a divided island and a weakened Cyprus so they could retain their bases and monitoring stations. At the time the fear was Cyprus is not counted with Yugoslavia under Tito and the non-aligned or worse fall into the Soviet sphere of influence.

    • keithpp Says:

      I am pleased you understood ‘a butterfly flapped its wings’ even if you did have to resort to Wikipedia.

      A further example: The single shot that led to World War One.

  3. Nathan Hollenbeck Says:

    Very thoughtful analysis: a lot of food for thought.

    I work with a Coptic organization that operates throughout Egypt, primarily through church-based volunteers who visit the homes of the fatherless and widow in their areas, and connect them to various resources to break the cycle of poverty.

    I do so as a non-Egyptian because I want to strengthen the Body of Christ in Egypt, so that the local church is best able to ‚Äúpersevere in faith and witness to non-violence that comes from the Gospel” (as Pope Benedict said, and the urgency of which you astutely highlight) and continue to be salt and light in Egyptian society.

    I thought you might be interested in this video on the effect of some of the work they’ve been doing in preserving the unique Egyptian social symbiosis across religious boundaries, especially in light of your observation on the political contributors to sectarian tension:

    Coptic Orphans is available to speak in churches about the situation in Egypt. I personally have chosen to sponsor a child in Egypt as a way to encourage and support the Egyptian Body of Christ through an individual family.

    • keithpp Says:

      Thank you for your kind words and adding useful information. Please feel free to share with others. It is important that what is happening is brought out from the shadows.

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