Persecution of Copts

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Copts (Coptic: ⲟⲩⲣⲉⲙ'ⲛⲭⲏⲙⲓ 'ⲛ'Ⲭⲣⲏⲥⲧⲓ'ⲁⲛⲟⲥ ou.Remenkīmi en.Ekhristianos, literally: Egyptian Christian) are native Egyptian Christians, usually Orthodox, who currently make up around 10%[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13] of the population of Egypt — the largest religious minority of that country. While Copts have cited instances of persecution throughout their history[citation needed], Human Rights Watch has noted "growing religious intolerance" and sectarian violence against Coptic Christians in recent years, and a failure by the Egyptian government to effectively investigate properly and prosecute those responsible.[14][15]

Ancient era[edit]

Roman rulers[edit]

St. Mark the Evangelist is said to have founded the Holy Apostolic See of Alexandria and to have become its first Patriarch.[16] Within 50 years of St. Mark's arrival in Alexandria, a fragment of New Testament writings appeared in Oxyrhynchus (Bahnasa), which suggests that Christianity already began to spread south of Alexandria at an early date. By the mid-third century, a sizable number of Egyptians were persecuted by the Romans on account of having adopted the new Christian faith, beginning with the Edict of Decius. Christianity was tolerated in the Roman Empire until AD 284, when the Emperor Diocletian persecuted and put to death a great number of Christian Egyptians.[17] This event became a watershed in the history of Egyptian Christianity, marking the beginning of a distinct Egyptian or Coptic Church. It became known as the 'Era of Martyrs' and is commemorated in the Coptic calendar in which dating of the years began with the start of Diocletian's reign. When Egyptians were persecuted by Diocletian, many retreated to the desert to seek relief. The practice precipitated the rise of monasticism, for which the Egyptians, namely St. Antony, St. Bakhum, St. Shenouda and St. Amun, are credited as pioneers. By the end of the 4th century, it is estimated that the mass of the Egyptians had either embraced Christianity or were nominally Christian.[18]

In 451 A.D., following the Council of Chalcedon, the Church of Alexandria was divided into two branches. Those who accepted the terms of the Council became known as Chalcedonians or Melkites. Those who did not abide by the Council's terms were labeled non-Chalcedonians or Monophysites (and later Jacobites after Jacob Baradaeus). The non-Chalcedonians, however, rejected the term Monophysites as erroneous and insisted on being called Miaphysites. The majority of the Egyptians belonged to the Miaphysite branch, which led to their persecution by the Byzantines in Egypt, this continued until the Arab conquest of Egypt.

Islamic era[edit]

The Arab-Muslim conquest of Egypt[edit]

The Muslim conquest of Egypt took place in AD 639. Despite the political upheaval, Egypt remained a mainly Christian land, although the influx of Arab immigrants and gradual conversions to Islam over the centuries changed Egypt from a mainly Christian to a mainly Muslim country by the end of the 12th century.[19]

This process was sped along by persecutions during and following the reign of the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (reigned AD 996–1021) and the Crusades, and also by the acceptance of Arabic as a liturgical language by the Pope of Alexandria Gabriel ibn-Turaik.[19]

Modern era[edit]

In Egypt the government does not officially recognize conversions from Islam to Christianity; also certain interfaith marriages are not allowed either, this prevents marriages between converts to Christianity and those born in Christian communities, and also results in the children of Christian converts being classified as Muslims and given a Muslim education.

The government also requires permits for repairing churches or building new ones, which are often withheld.[20] Article 235 of the 2013 draft constiution requires the next legislative body to create a law that would remove the restrictions on the building of churches.[21] Foreign missionaries are allowed in the country only if they restrict their activities to social improvements and refrain from proselytizing.

Sectarian attacks since 1970[edit]

The last quarter of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty first have seen a deterioration in relations between Muslims and the Coptic minority in Egypt. This is seen in day-to-day interactions such as the insulting of Coptic priests by Muslim children, but also in much more serious events such as attacks on Coptic churches, monasteries, villages, homes and shops, particularly in Upper Egypt during the 1980 and 90s. From 1992 to 1998 Islamist extremists in Egypt are thought to have killed 127 Copts.[22]

By the end of the 1990s, in Minya province "an ancient center of the Coptic faith", five churches, two charity organizations, and 38 mostly Christian-owned businesses had been burned. Witnesses described the destruction as having been carried out "by gangs of young Muslims wielding iron bars and Molotov cocktails and shouting `God is Great!`"[23] The police have been accused of siding with the attackers in some of these cases.[24] And in Southern Egypt, there were problems in which involves terrorists going into monasteries, harassing, capturing, and torturing monks (such as the 2008 attacks on the monks of the Monastery of Saint Fana).

Some observers have connected the robberies, extortion and "collection" of "taxes" from Copts to the belief by Islamists that the traditional Jizya poll tax on non-Muslims should be reinstituted. Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mustafa Mashhur expressed this belief in a 1997 interview. He also stated that while `we do not mind having Christians members in the People's Assembly [national legislature] ... the top officials, especially in the army, should be Muslims since we are a Muslim country," and Christians can not be trusted to fight for Egypt against Christian foreigners.[25] Statements by Muslim Brotherhood and Sadat further exacerbated the situation of non-Muslims (namely the Copts).[26]

In 1981, President Anwar Sadat, internally exiled the Coptic Pope Shenouda III accusing him of fomenting interconfessional strife. Sadat then chose five Coptic bishops and asked them to choose a new pope. They refused, and in 1985 President Hosni Mubarak restored Pope Shenouda III.

In May 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported increasing "waves of mob assaults" by Muslims against Copts, forcing many Christians to flee their homes.[15] Despite frantic calls for help, the police typically arrived after the violence was over.[15] The police also coerced the Copts to accept "reconciliation" with their attackers to avoid prosecuting them, with no Muslims convicted for any of the attacks.[15] Time magazine reported on the fears of the Coptic population after the 2011 Egyptian revolution.[27] The New York Times reported on an increase in sectarian violence against Copts after Mubarak's downfall, with an estimated 24 dead, 200 injured and three churches in flames.[28]

Specific incidents[edit]

  • June 1981 — 81 Copts are killed by a mob of Muslims. Interior Minister Abu Pasha blamed the deaths on a lack of adequate security measures for which his predecessor Ennabawy Ismael was responsible (according to Abu Pasha).[29]
  • November 17, 1981 — Coptic priest Reverend Maximose Guirguis is kidnapped and threatened with death if he does not denounce his Christianity and publicly convert to Islam. He refuses and his throat is cut leaving him bleeding to death.[29]
  • September 20, 1991 — A Muslim mob attacks Copts in Embaba, an outer suburb of Cairo.[29]
  • March 9, 1992 — Manshiet Nasser, Dyroot, Upper Egypt. Copt son of a farmer Badr Abdullah Massoud is gunned down after refusing to pay a tax of about $166 to the local leader of Islamic Group. Massoud's body is then hacked with knives.[30]
  • May 4, 1992 — Villages of Manshia and Weesa in Dyroot, Upper Egypt. After being Manshiet Naser's Christians for weeks, an Islamic extremist methodically shoots 13 of them to death. Victims included ten farmers and a child tending their fields, a doctor leaving his home for work, and an elementary school teacher giving a class.[30]
  • May 12, 1992 — A bloodshed in Manfaloot, Upper Egypt, on the Coptic Easter day with 6 Copts murdered and 50 injured, followed by some 200 arrests.[29]
  • 15 & October 16, 1992 — Muslim mob attacks with burning and looting of shops and 42 houses owned by Christian Copts, with 3 Copts injured and the destruction of an estimated 5 Million pounds of property, live stock, merchandise and work places Kafr Demian in Sharqueyya in the Nile Delta.[29]
  • December 2, 1992 — Muslim mob attacks Copts in the city of Assiut, Upper Egypt.[29]
  • December 1992 — Muslim mob attacks Copts in the Village of Meer, Al Quosseya, Upper Egypt, murdering four Copts and slitting the throat of a Coptic jeweller for refusing to pay protection money.[29]
  • March 13, 1997 — Muslim mob attacks a Tourist Train with Spanish Tourists, killing 13 Christians and injuring 6, in the Village of Nakhla near Nagge Hammadi.

The terrorists increased the frequency of their attacks and widened it to include those whom they viewed as collaborators with the security force, launching an attack on the eve of the Adha Eid using automatic weapons killing Copts as well as Muslims.[29]

  • 1997 — Abu Qurqas. Three masked gunmen entered St. George Church in Abu Qurqas and shot dead eight Copts at a weekly youth group meeting. As the attackers fled, they gunned down a Christian farmer watering his fields. [31]
  • January 2000
Main article: Kosheh Martyrs

Al Kosheh is a predominantly Christian town in southern Egypt. After a Muslim customer and a Christian shoe-store owner fall into an argument, three days of rioting and street fighting erupt leaving 20 Christians, (including four children) and one Muslim dead." In the aftermath 38 Muslim defendants are charged with murder in connection with the deaths of the 20 Copts. But all are acquitted of murder charges, and only four are convicted of any (lesser) charges, with the longest sentence given being 10 years." After protest by the Coptic Pope Shenouda the government granted a new trial.[32]

  • November 19, 2000 — Muslim mob attempts to force a Copt to pronounce the Islamic faith declarations (Shehadas), then beat him to death when he refuses their demand.[29]
  • February and April 2001 — International Christian Concern reports that in February 2001, Muslims burned a new Egyptian church and the homes of 35 Christians, and that in April 2001 a 14-year-old Egyptian Christian girl was kidnapped because her parents were believed to be harboring a person who had converted from Islam to Christianity.[33]
  • October 21, 2005
Main article: 2005 Alexandria riot

A mob of Muslims attacks coptic Christians in Alexandria. One hundred people were injured and three died.

  • April 19, 2009 — A group of Muslims (Mahmoud Hussein Mohamed (26 years old), Mohamed Abdel Kader (32 years old), Ramadan Fawzy Mohamed (24 years old), Ahmed Mohamed Saeed (16 years old), and Abu Bakr Mohamed Saeed ) open fire at Christians on Easter's Eve killing two (Hedra Adib (22 years old), and Amir Estafanos (26 years old)) and injuring another (Mina Samir (25 years old)).

This event was in Hegaza village, Koos city. On February 22, 2010, they were sentenced to 25 years of jail.[34][35]

  • January 6, 2010
Main article: Nag Hammadi massacre

Machine gun attack by Muslim mob on Coptic Christians celebrating the Egyptian birth of Christ. Seven are killed (including a Muslim officer who was trying to defend them) and scores injured, and lots of lives ruined.

  • April/May 2010 — In Marsa Matrouh, a mob of 3,000 Muslims attacked the city's Coptic Christian population, with 400 Copts having to barricade themselves in their church while the mob destroyed 18 homes, 23 shops and 16 cars.[15]
  • January 1, 2011 (On New Year's Eve)

A car bomb exploded in front of an Alexandria Coptic Orthodox Church killing at least 21 and injuring at least 79. The incident happened a few minutes after midnight as Christians were leaving a New Year's Eve Church service. It has been later thought that the previous corrupt minister of interior was behind the attacks in an attempt to cause strife between the Egyptian people.[36][37][38]

  • January 11, 2011 —A mentally deranged member of the police force opened fire in a train in Samalout station in Minya province resulting in the death of a 71-year old man and injury of 5 others.[39]
  • March 5, 2011 — A church was set on fire in Sole, Egypt by a group of Muslim men angry that a Muslim woman was romantically involved with a Christian man. Many Christian residents of Sole fled the village, with the remainder "living in fear". Large groups of Copts then proceeded to hold major protests stopping traffic for hours in vital areas of Cairo.[27][40]
  • April 2011 — After the death of two Muslims on April 18, sectarian violence broke out in the southern Egyptian town of Abu Qurqas El Balad, in Minya Governorate, 260 km south of Cairo.One Christian Copt was killed, an old woman was thrown out of her second floor balcony and ten Copts were hospitalized. Coptic homes, shops, businesses, fields and livestock were plundered and torched. Minyaa is well known for its ancient customs of tribal loyalty – if a member of a clan kills someone from another clan or family, the victim's family feel obliged to avenge their relative's death.
  • The government has been trying to prevent such tribal behaviour. Rumors spread throughout Abu Qurqas of many strangers and of trucks loaded with weapons coming into the village to carry out the threats during the Easter week. The terrorized Christian villagers sent pleas everywhere, asking for protection, even to Coptic groups in Europe and the U.S.[41]
  • May 7, 2011 — A dispute started over claims that several women who converted to Islam had been abducted by the church and was being held against her will in St. Mary Church of Imbaba, Giza, ended in violent clashes that left 15 dead, among whom were Muslims and Christians, and roughly 55 injured. Eyewitnesses confirmed the church was burnt by thugs [not Salafis] who are not from the neighborhood, as confirmed by the committee of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR). Copts converting to Islam are usually advised by the police to take out restraining orders against their families as the Coptic community does not tolerate converts to Islam. These incidents have fueled strife and problems between Copts and Muslims as in the famous case of Camelia.[42]
  • May 2011 — Copts in Maspero, Cairo are attacked during protests one dies.
Main article: Maspero Massacre
  • May 18, 2011 — The Coptic Church obtained a permission in January to turn a garment factory bought by the church in 2006, into a church in the neighbourhood of Ain Shams of Cairo. However, angry Muslim mobs attacked the church and scores of Copts and Muslims were arrested for the disturbance. On Sunday May 29, an Egyptian Military Court sentenced two Coptic Christians to five years in jail each for violence and for trying to turn a factory into an unlicensed church.[43]
  • October 9, 2011
  • The worst sectarian violence occurred in 2011, when the army killed at least 24 Christians in what became known as the "Maspero massacre".[44]

Thousands of Coptic Christians took to the streets in Cairo to protest the burning of a church in Marinab and were headed towards Maspiro, where they were met with armoured personnel carrier, APCs, and hundreds of riot police and special forces. Army vehicles charged at the protesters and reports of at least 6 protesters being crushed under APCs, including one with a crushed skull, has emerged. In addition, witnesses have confirmed that military personnel were seen firing live ammunition into the protesters, while the Health Ministry confirmed that at least 20 protesters have undergone surgery for bullet wounds.[45] In total, an estimated 24 persons were killed most of whom are Copts, while numbers as high as 36 and 50 were reported, including unconfirmed reports of the death of three army soldiers. The number of wounded protesters was estimated to be 322, of whom about 250 were transported to hospitals.[46]

Inciting more unrest, messages were broadcast on Egyptian national television urging "honest Egyptians" to take to the streets to "protect the military" from Christian protesters. As a result, hundreds of people, presumably Muslim extremists, were seen wielding clubs and machetes alongside riot police chanting "the people want to bring down the Christians", and later "Islamic, Islamic".[45]

The events came against the backdrop of tensions simmering due to the violent military breakup of a sit-in staged at Maspiro by Coptic demonstrators a few days earlier to protest the burning of the church of Marinab in the Governorate of Aswan by the Salafis of the region.

  • August 2012 — In July 2012, Dahshour's entire Christian community, which some estimate to be as many as 100 families and includes Coptic Christians, fled to nearby towns due to sectarian violence. The violence began in a dispute over a badly ironed shirt, which in turn escalated into a fight in which a Christian burned a Muslim to death, which in turn sparked a rampage by angry Muslims, while the police failed to act. At least 16 homes and properties of Christians were pillaged, some were torche, and a church was damaged during the violence.[47]
  • 18 September 2012 — A Coptic Christian schoolteacher was sentenced to jail for six years because he posted cartoons on Facebook which were allegedly defamatory to Islam and Mohammed, and also insulted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya members and Salafist groups attempted to attack Kamel as he was led out of court, and rocks were thrown at the police car used to take him away from the court. However, the schoolteacher denied posting the cartoons and said that his account was hacked.[48]
  • April 2013
Main article: Cathedral Clashes

For ages Copts suffered being marginalized, under discriminatory acts on many of their rights through many decades, but it got worse after January 25, 2010, when the Islamists reached power. Copts are getting exposed to daily assaults by fundamentalists and extremists without any legal justification.

Their churches are burnt, their properties are damaged, their economic activities are sabotaged, and they are forced to leave their land and houses in addition to forceful migration.[49]

The bloodshed appeared to mark a turning point in the revolution. Police and armed civilians have laid siege to the seat of the Coptic church in Cairo, St. Mark's Cathedral, killing one person and injuring at least 21, as a funeral for four Christians killed in sectarian clashes on Saturday descended into chaos.

Thousands of mourners were attacked as they tried to leave Egypt's largest cathedral, forcing them back inside the cathedral precinct and sparking a siege that lasted all afternoon and stretched into the night. Police fired teargas over the cathedral walls and stood by as unknown men armed with birdshot, knives and petrol bombs scaled nearby buildings to attack those inside the church grounds.[44]

As The Guardian reports, at least four Christians and one Muslim were killed in sectarian clashes that broke out north of Cairo after children allegedly drew a swastika on Islamic property. On Sunday Christians gathered in Cairo to remember the dead in a service that ended by further escalating sectarian tensions.[44] Local news reports that the seventh coptic victim who has was set on fire during the clashes died in hospital a few days later [50]

Now political liberals as well as Copts say the brutal crackdown has finally extinguished the public’s faith in the ruling military council as the guardian of a peaceful transition to democracy.[44]

“The credit that the military received from the people in Tahrir Square just ran out yesterday,” the party leader Ayman Nour said at a news conference of prominent parties and political leaders denouncing the military. “There is no partnership between us and the council now that the blood of our brothers stands between us.”[44]

“Cairo yesterday was a part of Syria,” said Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, a liberal activist who helped set off the revolution, invoking the violent crackdown against that country’s uprising. “This is a threat not just to the Copts, but to all of the people. We saw what would happen if we rose up against the army.”[44]

Witnesses, victims and doctors said Monday that demonstrators were killed when military-led security forces drove armored vehicles over as many as six people and fired live ammunition into the crowds. Doctors at a Coptic hospital showed journalists 17 bodies, including one with a crushed skull and others with mangled limbs.

Doctors and Interior Ministry officials said bullet wounds accounted for most of the deaths, including that of Mina Daniel, a young political activist a doctor said had been shot in the shoulder and leg. More than 300 others were wounded in four hours of street fights, the Health Ministry said.[44]

Abduction and forced conversion of Coptic women[edit]

Coptic women and girls are sometimes abducted, forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men.[51][52] In 2009 the Washington, D.C. based group Christian Solidarity International published a study of the abductions and forced marriages and the anguish felt by the young women because returning to Christianity is against the law.[53]

In April 2010, a bipartisan group of 17 members of the U.S. Congress expressed concern to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office about Coptic women who faced "physical and sexual violence, captivity ... exploitation in forced domestic servitude or commercial sexual exploitation, and financial benefit to the individuals who secure the forced conversion of the victim."[51]

After the Arab Spring, women were subjugated and subjected to an increasing number of sex assaults, rapes and harassment. Disappearances and kidnappings of Coptic girls has reportedly increased after the revolution which was regarded by many as a strategic humiliation by some radical Islamic groups against Copts. [54] [55] [56][57][58][59][60] While most cases include kidnapping, abuse, and forced marriages, some radicals also use the lure of love and romance [60] "They go and make the girls fall in love with them," she said. "He gets one; she's married off, goes out recruits another. He gets her, goes out, recruits another. The same name is recited in five separate police reports."

Egyptian Salafi preacher Huwaini urges Muslims to abduct, enslave, and sell non-Muslims as a Sharia-approved way of making a good living 'If only we can conduct a jihadist invasion at least once a year or if possible twice or three times, then many people on earth would become Muslims. And if anyone prevents our dawa or stands in our way, then we must kill them or take as hostage and confiscate their wealth, women and children. Such battles will fill the pockets of the Mujahid who can return home with 3 or 4 slaves, 3 or 4 women and 3 or 4 children'.[61]

Post-revolution anti-women radical trend afflicting Coptics[edit]

Radical trends against women in Egypt specifically sets Coptic women a direct target based on dress code.[62][63] Since the veil is considered as the standard Islamic dress code for 'chaste' women, Coptic women are subject to misogynist preaching by the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafis. Regarded as one of the most extreme claims targeting Coptic women was the Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah, known as “Abu Islam”, owner of Al Umma Satellite channel, who is considered as a Salafi scholar. '90% of the female protesters' in Tahrir are 'Crusaders'(Christian invaders) and that the remaining 10% are 'widows who like to be raped'.[64][65]

As The Guardian reports, women's rights are shrinking. Women, Muslim and Christian, who do not cover their hair or who wear mid-sleeved clothing are met with insults, spitting and in some cases physical abuse. In the urban squatter settlement of Mouasset el Zakat, in Al Marg, Greater Cairo, women told me that they hated walking in the streets now. Due to the lax security situation, they have restricted their mobility to all but the most essential of errands[66] A Coptic Christian woman said "we and our Muslim friends who do not cover our hair get yelled at by men passing by telling us 'just you wait, those who will cover you up and make you stay at home are coming, and then there will no more of this lewdness'".[66]

The synchronization of such fatwas of Abu Islam's and similar scholars[67] that categorize certain groups of women (basically Coptic women) as 'asking for it' just because they are not in the radical boat, or that they are opposers to the regime have been seen as unacceptable and degrading to the Egyptian women in general, independent women(widows and divorced)in particular and more specifically to the Coptic women who were categorized as Crusaders, sharameet(prostitutes), lewd and willing to be raped.[65] Salma Almasrya, an Egyptian Activist said that what the scholar has claimed comes in harmony with the official declaration from state men which blamed the female activists for the rape crimes they were subject to,[65][68][69][70][71] then comes the un-deterred harassment on the part of the Ministry of Media for two media female interviewers in two different situations calling one (hot) on air while asking the other to (come and I will show you where!) when she asked about the freedom of expression, a phrase that was considered very offensive by the media [72] causing many activists to believe there was a state-orchestrated terrorism against female activists by humiliation and intimidation rather than force which has been condemned by many media people around the country. Undeterred street harassment for women in general and Coptic women in particular (being unveiled) have reached a dead end forcing many women to stay home and leave work.

The parliamentary quota for women was removed without debate and a promised female vice-president failed to materialise, amid what political commentator Moushira Khattab called "a radical anti-feminist sentiment". Morsi threatened but stopped short of decriminalizing Egypt's practice of female genital mutilation, carried out on almost three-quarters of Egyptian girls, making it clear he would not tackle an issue he called "a family matter". Such anti-feminist sentiments mobilize the community against 'liberal' Muslim women, female activists, and Coptic women.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


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