Persecution of Copts

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The Persecution of Copts is a historical issue in Egypt against Coptic Orthodox Christianity and its followers, and is also a prominent example of the poor status of Christians in the Middle East, specifically the Arab world, Iran, and Turkey, despite the religion being native to the region, and having an older presence than the current religion of the majority. Copts (Coptic: ⲟⲩⲣⲉⲙ'ⲛⲭⲏⲙⲓ 'ⲛ'Ⲭⲣⲏⲥⲧⲓ'ⲁⲛⲟⲥ ou.Remenkīmi en.Ekhristianos, literally: "Egyptian Christian") are the Christ followers in Egypt, usually Oriental Orthodox, who currently make up between 10 and 15%[a] of the population of Egypt — the largest religious minority of that country. While it's not as big of an issue nowadays, Copts have cited instances of persecution throughout their history, 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] Since 2011 hundreds of Egyptian Copts have been killed in sectarian clashes, and many homes, Churches and businesses have been destroyed. In just one province (Minya), 77 cases of sectarian attacks on Copts between 2011 and 2016 have been documented by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.[16] The abduction and disappearance of Coptic Christian women and girls also remains a serious ongoing problem.[17][18][19]

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.[20] 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. Beginning in AD 284 the Emperor Diocletian persecuted and put to death a great number of Christian Egyptians.[21] This event became a bloodshed 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, though relief of the spirit and of its worldly desires to attain peace and unity with Christ the Creator, not escaping the persecutions. 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.[22]

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 Byzantine imperial authorities in Egypt. First persecutions occurred during reigns of emperors Marcian (450-457) and Leo I (457-474).[23] This continued until the Arab conquest of Egypt. Tragic conflicts between Eastern-Orthodox Greeks and Oriental-Orthodox Copts during that era, from the middle of 5th to the middle of 7th century, resulted in permanent divisions and consequent emergence of anti-Eastern Orthodox sentiment among Copts and anti-Oriental Orthodox sentiment among Greeks.

Islamic era[edit]

The Muslim conquest of Egypt[edit]

The Muslim conquest of Egypt took place in AD 639, during the Byzantine empire. Despite the political upheaval, Egypt remained a mainly Christian, but Copts lost their majority status after the 14th century.

This process was sped along by persecutions during and following the reign of the Umayyad Caliphate, and then Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (reigned 996–1021). Later on Copts accepted Arabic as a liturgical language by the order of Pope of Alexandria Gabriel ibn-Turaik.[24]

Modern era[edit]

Observers note a large gap between rights for Copts and other minorities that exist under the law and what exists in practice.[25] Critics cite that while in 2016 the parliament worked to pass a bill making it easier for Christians to get government permission to build churches, in practice security officials have stopped actual construction.[26]

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.[27] Article 235 of the 2013 draft constitution requires the next legislative body to create a law that would remove the restrictions on the building of churches.[28] Foreign missionaries are allowed in the country only if they restrict their activities to social improvements and refrain from proselytizing.

Copts complain that disputes between Christians and Muslims are often put before "reconciliation councils", and that these councils invariably favour Muslims. Some Copts complain that the police do not respond when crimes are committed against them. Copts also have little representation in government, leading them to fear there is little hope of progress.[26]

In 1981, President Anwar Sadat, internally exiled the Coptic Pope Shenouda III accusing him of fomenting inter-confessional 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.

The government and other Egyptian sources blame tribal behavior in rural Egypt for much of the violence.[29][30][31][32]

During Mubarak's regime (following that of Anwar Sadat), Copts were still struggling to avoid persecution but there were two appointed Coptic Ministers and one governor, in addition to one Copt (Naguib Sawiris) known as one of the most successful businessmen in the world (and residing in Egypt at the time). As of 2018 Copts face heightened persecution and marginalization as their churches are systematically attacked. Naguib Sawiris does not reside in Egypt anymore.[33]

Period after 2014, as the Salafi doctrine gets to dominate Egypt in replacement of the unpopular MB approach to religion and state,[34] a stricter interpretation of Islam that glorifies discrimination against non-Muslims, in relation to governance,[35] takes over. As of 2018 there are no Copts on Egypt's governmental cabinet versus two during Husni Mubarak's regime, nor serving as governors, nor appointed in prominent educational/scientific positions, such as of a dean for a state university.

Specific incidents[edit]

  • 20 June 1981 – 10 dead in Muslim Christian clashes in Zawaya Hamra. 5 Christians killed and 4 Muslims killed and one unidentified body.[36]
  • 17 November 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.[37]
  • 9 March 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.[38]
  • 4 May 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.[38]
  • 13 March 1997 — Muslim mob attacks a Tourist Train with Spanish Tourists, killing 13 Christians and injuring 6, in the Village of Nakhla near Nagge Hammadi.

During this time 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.[37]

  • 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.[39]
  • January 2000–20 Christians killed in rioting in the village of Al Kosheh
Al Kosheh is a predominantly Christian Village 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. However the killings were not committed in the village of Al Kosheh only in surrounding villages of Al Kosheh where Muslims are the majority. In the aftermath 38 Muslim defendants are charged with murder and possession of guns 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.[40]
  • February and April 2001 — International Christian Concern reports that in February 2001, armed Muslims burned a church and 35 Christian homes in Egypt. April 2001 a 14-year-old Egyptian Christian girl was kidnapped because her parents were believed to be harboring a convert from Islam to Christianity.[41]
  • 19 April 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.[42][43]
  • 7 January 2010—six Christians killed in attack on Christmas celebration in Nag Hammadi.
Machine gun attack by three Muslims from a Arab tribe called Al-Hawara on Coptic Christians celebrating Christmas. Seven are killed (including a Muslim officer who was on service).[44]
  • A 2010 New Year's Eve attack by Islamic fundamentalists on the Coptic Orthodox Church in the city of Alexandria left 21 dead and many more injured.[45][46][47] One week later, thousands of Muslims stood as human shields outside churches as Coptic Christians attended Christmas Masses on 6 and 7 January 2011.[48]
  • 1 January 2011 (On New Year's Eve) -- 21 Christians killed in bombing in Alexandria.
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.[49][50][51]
  • 11 January 2011 — A mentally deranged member of the police force opened fire randomly in a train in Samalout station in Minya province resulting in the death of a 71-year-old Coptic Christian man and injuring of 5 others Copts and Muslims.[52]
  • On 30 January 2011, just days after the demonstrations to reform the Egyptian government, Muslims in southern Egypt broke into two homes belonging to Coptic Christians. The Muslim assailants murdered 11 people and wounded four others.[53]
  • 5 March 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. Large groups of Copts then proceeded to hold major protests stopping traffic for hours in vital areas of Cairo.[54][55]
  • 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. Coptic homes, shops, businesses, fields and livestock were plundered and torched.
  • 7 May 2011 — the burning of 3 Coptic Orthodox churches, and the destruction of many Christian-owned houses and businesses. In addition, 15 people were killed in the attacks, and about 232 injured.[56][57][58][59][60][61]
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 Muslims who are not from the neighborhood, 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.[62]
  • May 2011 — Copts in Maspero, Cairo are attacked during protests 23 coptic Christian were killed by the Egyptian army.
  • 18 May 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.[63]
  • On 4 October 2011, military and police squads used force late at night to disperse hundreds of angry Coptic demonstrators and their supporters who were attempting to stage a sit-in outside the Maspero TV headquarters in downtown Cairo to protest attacks on a Christian church in Upper Egypt.[64][65]
  • 9 October 2011—The worst sectarian violence occurred in 2011, when the army killed at least 24 Christians in what became known as the "Maspero massacre".[66]
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.[67] In total, an estimated 24 Copts were killed, while numbers as high as 36 and 50 were reported, including unconfirmed reports of the death of several soldiers.[68]
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 Muslims of the region.
  • 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.[69]
  • 7, 8 April 2013—At least three killed after police and armed groups besiege Coptic cathedral in Cairo following the funeral of four Copts killed earlier in sectarian clashes.[70]
Following the funeral at the seat of the Coptic church in Cairo, St. Mark's Cathedral for four Christians killed in sectarian clashes 6 April 2013, young Copts leaving the funeral service chanted slogans against President Mohamed Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement. Police attacked mourners with tear gas 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 and armed civilians have laid siege to killing three people and injuring at least 21 Copts and Muslims.[71]
Police fired teargas over the cathedral walls and stood by as unknown men armed with birdshot, knives and petrol bombs scaled nearby buildings to try to attack those inside the church grounds. They were confronted by young group of Copts attempting to defend the mourners inside the Church by exchanging petrol bombs and rocks with Islamic extremists on opposite side of the Church entrance.
According to The Guardian, 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 resulting in two Christians and one Muslim being killed. Local news reports that the sixth Coptic victim who has died was set on fire during the clashes died in hospital a few days later, while according to other media sources the second Muslim victim died from a fractured skull.[71] 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.
Christians complained revolution, and the first time the Cathedral had been attacked.[71]
  • July 2013 - Muslim Brotherhood supporters burn dozens of churches.
Following the July 3 coup d'état against President Mohamed Morsi -- a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood -- Muslim Brotherhood supporters burn dozens of churches throughout Egypt.[26] (Pope Tawadros has supported coup leader and now president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, whom he once called a "saviour".)[26]
  • In March 2014, Mary Sameh George, a 25 year old Coptic Christian woman, was killed by a group of Muslims who are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.,[72][73][74] An eyewitness told the Egyptian TV show 90 Minutes that "once they saw that she was a Christian because of a cross hanging on her rear view mirror, they jumped on top of the car. They pulled her out of the car and started pounding on her and pulling her hair. They beat and stripped her, stabbed her in the back and slit her throat."[75]
  • In December 2014, A Coptic doctor named Magdy Sobhi and his wife were killed by Ansar al-Sharia in Libya. They kidnapped his eldest daughter Catherine, who was later found dead in a desert.[76][77] The motivation for the killing was found to be religious and not criminal because local police found money in the doctor's apartment untouched.[78][79]
  • February 2016—three Christian teenagers in Minya are sentenced to five years in prison for insulting Islam. They had appeared in a video, allegedly mocking Muslim prayers, but claimed they had been mocking IS following a number of beheadings by that group.[81]
  • 19 May 2016, a prominent Coptic worker for Amnesty International, Mina Thabet, was arrested for 'inciting terrorist attacks on police stations', despite reports of paltry evidence.[82][83] He had been working on evidence of extensive minority persecution under Al-Sisi's regime.[82] One source also reported that during Al-Sisi's rule, 250 other human rights activist have been arrested by the National Security Agency on similar charges, including a leading human rights lawyer, members of a street theatre group, two dissident journalists, and 238 people protesting peacefully.[82] Numerous others have reportedly been harassed or had their assets either frozen or confiscated.[82]
  • 26 May—a 70-year-old Christian woman in Minya, is beaten and dragged through the streets naked by a mob who falsely suspected her son of having a sexual relationship with a Muslim woman.[84][25]
  • In 11 December 2016, the Botroseya Church bombing killed 29 people and injured 47 others.[85][86]
  • February 2017 - terrorist groups fighting in the Sinai insurgency call for attacks on Christians.[87][88] At least seven Christians are killed in separate attacks in city of El Arish in Sinai. Many Coptic families respond by fleeing from the Sinai Peninsula to Ismailia Governorate.[89]
  • 9 April 2017 - Bombings of two Coptic churches kill over 45 people and injures over 130. St George's Coptic Orthodox Church in the Tanta region and St Mark's Church in Alexandria were bombed during Palm Sunday processions.[90]
  • 7 May 2017 - A Christian man was shot dead by Islamic State militants in the El Arish Sinai Peninsula.[91]
  • 26 May – 2017 Minya attack, In May 2017, gunmen executed at least 28 Christian pilgrims traveling in a bus during a visit to the monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in Minya Governorate.[92]
  • 12 October - A Coptic priest was killed in a knife attack in Cairo; his murderer subsequently declared his antipathy toward Christians.[93][94][95][96]
  • 29 December - A gunman who was later identified as an Islamic extremist shot multiple people at Saint Menas church in Helwan killing 11 people including a police officer.[97]
  • 1 January - Two Coptic Christian brothers killed by masked gunmen for being inside an alcohol store in Al Omraneyah, Giza.[98][99][100][101] According to eyewitnesses, the masked man shouted during the shooting "these are Christians" [102]
  • 15 January - A Coptic man was killed in Sinai Peninsula El Arish, two armed Muslim men stopped Bassem and asked him about his religion, when he answered them "I'm Christian", They shot at his head.[103][104]
  • 2 November - At least seven killed and seven wounded when Bedouins loyal to ISIL opened fire on a bus-load of Coptic pilgrims travelling between Cairo and Minya on its way to a monastery.[105][106]
  • 12 December - A Coptic man and his son were killed in Minya Governorate[107] by a police officer responsible for guarding the church after fabricating a quarrel with them.[108][109][110]

Abduction and forced conversion of Coptic women[edit]

Agape Girgis, 13 year old Egyptian girl, abducted from Nahda, el-Ameriya, near Alexandria, on December 23, 2012, published by the Assyrian International News Agency

Coptic women and girls are abducted, forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men.[111][112] 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. Further allegations of organised abduction of Copts, trafficking and police collusion continue in 2017.[113]

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."[111]

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

The synchronization of such fatwas of Abu Islam's and similar scholars[114] 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 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.[115] 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,[115][116][117][118][119] 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[120] 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.

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".

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