Sunday, July 5, 2009

Egypt: impunity fuels persecution

The terrible consequence of forced ‘reconciliation’ in the absence of truth or justice
By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 011Special to ASSIST News Service
Since early 2007 the Egyptian government has been appeasing Muslim fundamentalists by settling matters of sectarian conflict out of court in line with Islamic Sharia law. That prohibits Christians from bringing evidence against Muslims. The government brokers ‘reconciliation’ sessions where the Christians are forced to drop all the charges they are making (arson, looting, assault, kidnap, robbery, criminal damage, rioting, torture, rape, murder) in exchange for Muslim guarantees of ‘peace’.This ‘reconciliation’ Egyptian-style emboldens belligerent Islamists by rewarding their violence with impunity. It creates a climate of terror for Christians and is fuelling escalating persecution. Over recent years Muslim pogroms have become more violent; they have attracted more participants; and they have spread from the desert villages to the suburbs of Cairo. Along with this, the Muslims are becoming more demanding. Innocent Christians are losing basic rights and even going to jail just so Muslims can be appeased.
The most recent clash occurred in the village of Ezbet Boshra-East, El-Fashn — a three-hour drive south of Cairo. Whilst there is no church building in Ezbet Boshra-East the Coptic Church does own a three-storey building there housing the priest and his family, which functions as a place of meeting. Muslims attacked the property in July 2008 in protest that Christian prayers were being conducted there without ‘permission’. After that, local authorities ruled that only two visitors could enter the church property at a time. On Sunday 21 June 2009, violence erupted again after a group of 25 Christians from Cairo unknowingly violated the local decree. While six of the visitors entered the property, a Muslim crowd gathering outside harassed the other visitors, suspecting that they were meeting local Christians for prayer. A Muslim woman in the mob slapped the face of a female Christian visitor. As news spread, crowds of Muslim youths swarmed in and began throwing stones and hurling abuse. Then Coptic youths arrived and a violent altercation between the communities ensued.
Police charged Coptic priest Reverend Isaac Castor with sectarian sedition and detained 19 Christians while they searched and ransacked their homes. Eventually a compromise was reached between Bishop Estephanos and State Security forces: the detained Copts were released (some with broken bones) in exchange for an agreement that the Copts would stop praying in the property. According to Mary Abdelmassih, a correspondent with the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), local Muslims were ecstatic that the Copts would be prohibited from praying in the premises. She quotes Lawyer Makkar Watany who lives in the village: ‘Muslims went out in the streets, dancing and chanting “Come to Jihad” and the “Cross is the enemy of God”, with the security forces chanting along with them!’ The Christians have all retreated to their homes in fear and are surviving on stockpiled food. Their crops have been razed and telecommunications have been cut.
Not only is violence against Christian individuals, churches and communities escalating dangerously, but the courts are increasingly subordinating the Constitution to Sharia law. Notably, the courts are refusing to allow Muslims the right to convert. The consequences of this are huge. A woman who is officially registered as a Muslim must by law marry a Muslim and the children of a man officially registered as a Muslim are automatically deemed Muslim by the State. The few who have courageously challenged this have been forced into hiding to preserve their lives.
the suffering of the besieged Christians of Ezbet Boshra-East will bring them closer to God as they look to him and trust in him alone; may the Spirit of God give them grace to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Luke 6:27-36) — a grace beautiful to behold, that points others to Christ and is rewarded in heaven.
the Egyptian government will realise their present policy of ‘reconciliation’ in the absence of justice is taking the State headlong towards destabilising and destructive conflict; may God give the government courage to stand up against the Islamists.
the Holy Spirit will awaken Egyptians to the repressive and destructive nature of Islam and its dictators; may they ‘cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors’ (Isaiah 19:20 NIV), and in that day may the ‘Lord make himself known to the Egyptians’ (v 21).

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