The most persecuted religious minority

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I do not write normally on topics which affect religion. But the continued silence in the West about the continuing attacks on Christians in the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan has drawn my attention. We do not write or talk about it. Not about the Yazidis, the Orthodox Christians, Catholics or Copts who have suffered and suffer open discrimination or worst, from the Muslim majority.

In Egypt, the Copts have been relegated as second-level citizens: They do not occupy the top positions in politics, in the judiciary, and even less in the military. They suffer discrimination in public life, and obstacles to the construction or reformation of churches. The intriguing thing is that nobody like them represents the pure essence of the country, since the name ‘Copt‘ comes from the Greek term ‘Egyptian‘, but Islam has condemned them to vassalage just for their fidelity to the Christian faith. The Copts are the ancient Egyptians’ descendants, who were later Christianized, and were therefore a community much earlier than the Egyptian Islamic. Coptic Christians are between 10 and 15 percent of the nearly 90 million Egyptians, though there are also Coptic communities in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan. In total, the Copts are about 65 million. The Copts are nine million people in Egypt and belong to all strata of civil society, from the humblest to the most brilliant of the national business. Copts are some of the Egypt’s oldest families, such as former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali.

The Copt’ prosecution has been aggravated during recent years with the frequent burning of churches and attacks, perpetrated by violent Islamist groups, events which often go unpunished. During the secular regimes of Nasser, Mubarak or the current Al Sisi, the things have not changed. The is a new stigma on them based on the popular rumor that they contributed to the 2013 coup that put an end to the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that is now considered Salafist.

The Egyptian Christians suffered last week again. At least 25 people died after a car bomb attack near the entrance of the Coptic cathedral of St. Mark’s in Cairo. The Egyptian President Al Sisi has announced the identity of the alleged terrorist: a 22-year-old men who would have carried a belt of explosives. The rapidity with which the Egyptian government has pointed out to a suicide bomber carrying an explosives’ belt has surprised and it has raised doubts about its veracity, since the Egyptian intelligence services have not an impeccable record. The Coptic Egyptians are a common target of sectarian violence. During 2016, the Eshhad group, which analyzes episodes of religious violence in Egypt, accounted for 54 sectarian violence’ incidents: “the Copts have always been targets of sectarian violence in Egypt. This attack is just one more, consequence of some preachers’ sectarian discourse against other religions,” said Mina Thabet, a Minorities’ researcher within the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF).

In 2013, the Christians were among the groups who supported to the military leader Abdelfatah Al Sisi, as they were frightened by the sectarian violence’ rising incidents during the ruling years of Islamist Mohamed Morsi. The wanted to be protected against the wave of attacks, fires and churches looting throughout the country, including St. Mark’s Cathedral. However, the Al Sisi regime has proved ineffective in protecting the Copts: perpetrators of crimes against the Christians are often not judged and those destroyed churches remain unrestored. “The Copts feel that the government is not keeping their promise to protect them,” says Timothy Kaldas, a researcher at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. After the very last attack, Al Sisi lamented the death of ‘Copts and Muslims’. He also exalted the ‘heroic struggle’ of the security forces and the army. “Terrorism is directed against the homeland of Christians and Muslims, but Egypt will be strengthened under these circumstances, as usual,” Al Sisi stated.

Once again, the Christian Egyptians feel threatened and once again, the Christian leaders hold divided opinions on how they should respond. At the highest levels of the Coptic Orthodox Church there is an effort not to make much noise and work together with the administration, with the aim of presenting an image of unity and calm. The Christian community in Egypt has long had a symbiotic relationship with the state. The government provided security in an increasingly hostile environment, and the Christian leaders helped building an image of religious tolerance and freedom. This agreement was eroded during the presidency of Hosni Mubarak and collapsed after he was overthrown, and President Mohammed Morsi was elected. The attacks on churches led by young Islamists increased. In total, Coptic authorities have recorded 37 attacks in the past three years, not including the 300 attacks occurred just after Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were removed from power in 2013.

Across the Middle East, Christian minorities have been targeted in conflicts that ensued from what were supposed to be transitions to democracy. Some Western leaders, including Pope Franciscus and Prince Charles of Wales expressed concern about the threat to Christians in the region that gave birth to the faith. And yet, in the United States, it has drawn relatively little attention outside of a few Christian groups and lawmakers. Republican Congressman Christopher Smith has chaired several hearings on the matter recently: “We are witnessing grievous violence and other forms of intimidation directed against religious and political minorities, particularly the Copts and other Christians about which our government and the media have said far too little,” he told a House of Representatives subcommittee.

But the activists concede that it’s hard to press the issue because in the West, Christians are not widely seen as a vulnerable minority. Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya Television says the issue has little traction on both sides of the American political divide. “The plight of the Christians may be lost on the left, because the victims are too Christian, and lost on the rightist groups, the conservative groups here, because they are foreign.

Marshall, of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom says it was “the worst pogrom on Christians in Egypt for about 700 years.” Although almost no one speaks about them, the global war against the Christians in the world is becoming a worldwide genocide. According to the organization Open Doors, 75% of the world’s population, would be living in countries with serious restrictions on the exercise of religious’ freedom, and 100 million Christians, equal 5% of the total, are suffering persecution in over sixty countries. For the ‘political-correctness’ people, seems like this subject isn’t catching any interest at all.

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