#IAmCoptic: Exposing Persecution in Egypt

Image from worldnewscurator.com

Image from worldnewscurator.com

Imagine, if you will, going to church on Sunday morning all dressed up and buttoned down. Bible in hand, you joyfully sing songs of praise and worship to God and you hear an inspiring sermon that makes you feel just uncomfortable enough to let you know you’ve been to church. Coming home, you eat your Sunday dinner and then stretch out to take a lazy afternoon nap. Now imagine that, while you are dozing, you begin to hear strange sounds – the sounds of crying and sobbing from your neighbors. As you wake, you hear in the background, names being systematically called out over loudspeakers from the steeples of various churches. In your confusion, you slowly realize the voices on the loudspeakers are monotonously reading from a list – a list that includes your pastor’s name, your friends’ names, your family’s name…your name. As you hesitantly walk out of your home, trembling in fear, you are met by armed military who tell you that because you are a Christian, you must immediately leave town or be shot.

It is happening.

In the media’s wall-to-wall coverage of the upheaval in Egypt, one important facet of the ongoing crisis has gotten short shrift: the deadly plight of that nation’s Coptic Christians.  A week ago, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and deposed President Mohammed Morsi launched what some are calling a “pogrom” and “jihad” against Egypt’s Christian population.  Immediately following the violent dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo on August 14, crowds of men attacked at least 115 Christian churches, schools, and institutions, as well as Coptic-owned business and homes in the governorates of Minya, Asyut, Fayum, Giza, Suez, Sohag, Bani Suef, and North Sinai. The question remains why security forces were largely absent or failed to intervene even when they had been informed of ongoing attacks.

Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist party that propelled Morsi to power, encouraged or at least tolerated incitement against Christians at their sit-ins, but they have started belatedly to condemn the attacks. And the military-backed government, which has done little to protect Christians, is trying to capitalize on the church burnings to paint the Brotherhood as terrorists.  So, as you can see, the Copts are caught between a rock and a hard place, with little hope of relief in sight.

“It’s not just about burning churches, it’s about burning churches to initiate a response that then spirals into even greater violence — and that is a very, very dangerous game to play,” said Bishop Angaelos, the Cairo-born head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.

In the past few days, amateur videos have appeared online showing various attacks and lynchings by members of the Muslim Brotherhood following the clearing of pro-Morsi camps in Cairo and in major Egyptian cities. In one report, a small Egyptian television station put together a series of incidents that began last Wednesday. In the video, one can see extremist militants at the Nadah Square camp shooting at police with automatic rifles. Some scenes were made by members of the Brotherhood and include the execution of some army officers and the lynching of a driver, taken from his car and butchered to death. In one scene, a Christian religious building is set on fire on Wednesday afternoon. One of the most dramatic incidents occurred at a school run by Franciscan nuns in Bani Suef (Upper Egypt), when hundreds of extremists stormed the facility where they raped two teachers. Three nuns were also paraded before an Islamist crowd as prisoners of war.  Sister Manal, head of the school, said that she and two others sisters, Abeer and Demiana, were only saved by the intervention of a young Muslim woman, who had taught at the school. With her husband, she convinced the members of the Muslim Brotherhood to let the three nuns go.  Sister Manal also complained about the behaviour of the police, who did not show up despite numerous calls for help…a behavior which is becoming commonplace during the persecution.

The New York Times reported on an escalation of the violence Tuesday, relating the call for revenge that raced through Nazla, a village southwest of the capital, and echoed from the loudspeakers of mosques as the military invaded two protest camps in Cairo, killing hundreds of Morsi’s supporters. Hundreds of Islamists poured into the street, torching, looting and smashing the village’s two churches and a nearby monastery, lashing out so ferociously that marble altars were left in broken heaps on the floor.

With police and the military often unable or unwilling to protect them according to both the Journal and The Washington Post, Christians have been staying indoors and out of sight. Shops are closed and food has run short in some areas. Churches and monasteries have cancelled services – in one case, for the first time in 1,600 years. Some of the oldest Christian congregations in the world are under siege.

“For weeks, everyone could see these attacks coming, with Muslim Brotherhood members accusing Coptic Christians of a role in Mohammad Morsi’s ouster, but the authorities did little or nothing to prevent them,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Now dozens of churches are smoldering ruins, and Christians throughout the country are hiding in their homes, afraid for their very lives.”

Egypt’s Christian minority has been the target of a number of attacks in recent years. The bombing of a major church in Alexandria in January 2011 killed 21 people and sparked worldwide condemnation.  The situation has only become worse since Egypt’s popular revolution overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, said Bishop Angaelos.  “In the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve had more deaths of people just because they are Christians than in the last 20 years,” he said, adding that this had not triggered violent retaliation.

There are between 8 and 10 million Christians in Egypt – perhaps more – not  to mention the Syrian and other Middle Eastern Christians who are also living in  a constant nightmare. Those with the means are quietly leaving their homes in  record numbers. Others either cannot or will not flee.  Will anyone defend them? Will anyone support them? Who will help them when  and if they have to abandon their homes and homeland? Who will take them in?

Activists are urging those who want to spread the word about the death campaigns plaguing Egypt to use a Twibbon to support Egyptian Christians.  They have urged to spread awareness and support the Coptics with #IamCoptic. However, Egypt’s Christian leaders have urged an even more powerful means to aid the suffering people there: prayer.  More specifically, leaders have urged the people to please pray for the following: (1) all the families of those who have been wounded or killed in the fighting already; (2) the protection of Christians and of ICC’s staff where more clashes are expected; and (3) the Egyptian Army to keep its promise to reconstruct and restore all the damaged churches at their own cost.

May the Lord have mercy on the Egyptian people.  Following the call of the Holy Father Pope Francis, let us all ask Mary, Queen of Peace, to intercede for our brothers and sisters in Egypt.


  1. Elizabeth, please give proper writing credit to the author of this piece, Lydia Goodman at PolitiChicks.tv. The entire first paragraph is hers, word for word. http://politichicks.tv/column/for-such-a-time-as-this-when-hate-abounds-christian-persecution-2013/ Thank you. Ann-Marie, Editor PolitiChicks.tv

    • I am so sorry about this! I included her name and Politichicks when I wrote this, but for some reason it did not get transferred when it was posted. As you can see, her name is filed in the tags under the story, but I don’t know why it wasn’t included within the actual piece. I didn’t notice that when it was finally posted, and I’m very sorry about that.

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