Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Egypt’s Christians Under Heavy Assault

Muslim mobs murder, rape, and pillage, apparently with impunity. Thousands flee.

By Jamie Reno

Christians in Egypt are enduring one of the most brutal persecution campaigns in decades as Western nations look the other way, leading democracy activists say.

“The United States and other countries in the West have turned a blind eye to Egyptian’s oppression of the Christian Coptic community,” says Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association, a nonprofit organization that focuses attention on the abuse that Egypt’s Christians face.

Copts trace their origins to St. Mark, who traveled to Alexandria, Egypt, after the biblical ascension of Christ. As that genealogy suggests, their presence predates the 7th-century Muslim conquest of the region — so suggestions that Muslims are acting out lingering hostility over the Crusades shouldn’t apply.

The persecution is nothing new in Egypt, but activists report that the violence is rising sharply. Muslim mob assaults are forcing thousands of Christian citizens to flee their homes. More than a dozen attacks on Copt communities and several killings were reported within the past year alone.

About 8 million Christians live in Egypt, according to the CIA World Factbook, but the Christian population used to be much larger. That may contribute to their being targeted for not only murder but also muggings and rapes. Frequently, their businesses are ransacked. These abuses apparently occur with impunity: Neither police nor government officials do much to discourage the pillaging, human rights activists say.

In fact, no Muslim has been convicted of any of these crimes against Christians, says Mounir Bishay, president of Christian Copts of California, a human rights organization dedicated to helping Egypt’s oppressed Coptic Christians.

Some members of Congress, including Reps. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Frank Wolf, R-Va., have tried to persuade the State Department to confront the Egyptian government about the maltreatment.

“I think it is about as bad as it can be” for Copts and other religious minorities in Egypt, Wolf recently wrote in a letter to Luis CdeBaca, President Obama’s ambassador in charge of combating the global trafficking of humans.

Activists are especially alarmed about the treatment of Coptic women, who reportedly are coerced into forced marriages that lead to rape and domestic servitude. But very little has been done, they say.

Bishay suggests that defending Copts simply doesn’t fit into the larger Obama agenda of building friendships in the Middle East.

“The problem is that President Obama is very sensitive not to offend the Islamic world,” Bishay says. “He wants to appease them for political reasons. Much of the Western world is ignoring this tragedy. But the violence is increasing. I’m convinced that, if more Americans knew what was really happening, they would get involved and help these innocent Christian people.”

Meunier mentions another factor: “The U.S. isn’t doing anything about this because Egypt holds too many cards in the Middle East.”

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