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Egypt’s Copts weather new wave of attacks

NASHVILLE (BP) — Islamist assaults against Egypt’s largest minority, Coptic Christians, have claimed the lives of two priests in the Coptic Orthodox Church, a pharmacist who was beheaded and a baker.

World Watch Monitor, a news service focusing on Christians facing persecution, chronicled the murders and numerous other assaults on Copts in the past two months along with attacks on churches, homes and businesses in a July 20 article. Much of the violence occurred during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.

Also chronicling the attacks against Copts and their Coptic Orthodox Church, which dates back to the first century, are Morning Star News, another news service on the persecuted church, and Coptic Solidarity, a U.S.-based advocacy organization.

Egypt is “diseased with discrimination,” Coptic Bishop Makarius said in Arabic in an interview with the Copts United website, World Watch Monitor reported.

Among Mararius’ concerns for Egypt’s Copts, who number about 10 million among the nation’s populace of 86 million:

— “conciliation sessions,” or “reconciliation committees,” between victims and their accused/alleged perpetrators where Christians often face pressure to accept judgments that favor Muslims.

— numerous attacks “on the village level” where government intervention is ineffectual.

— the Egyptian constitution’s article on “defamation of religion.” The statute could be acceptable, the bishop said, “were it applied even-handedly. But it seems to only apply to Christians,” Makarius said. “The [Egyptian] constitution contradicts itself. Some articles stress freedom of expression, while expressing a contrary opinion against [Islamic] religion is quickly judged as defamation.”

Egypt is among 16 countries recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as “countries of particular concern” as the world’s most severe violators of religious liberty. The State Department, however, currently does not list Egypt among its top-tier designees.

Attacks enumerated

Among the attacks against Copts in recent months according to World Watch Monitor, Morning Star News and Coptic Solidarity:

— the beheading and multiple stabbings of a pharmacist who had been taken to an apartment by two men who were recorded on security cameras in the vicinity, but no suspects have been arrested.

— the public assault and humiliation of a Copt grandmother. As recounted by Morning Star News: “… an elderly Coptic woman was stripped, beaten and paraded naked through her village streets because of a rumor, later shown to be false, that her son was having a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman.”

— the murder of a Coptic priest that was claimed by the “Islamic State,” which termed the cleric “an infidel fighter,” World Watch Monitor reported.

— a knife attack on two women, whose neck wounds left them in critical condition. The assailant reportedly told police he was “following the Islamic State’s instructions,” according to World Watch Monitor.

— the murder of a baker who was stabbed several times in front of his wife by an assailant who reportedly repeated that he was “doing this in obedience to what Allah has decreed.”

— The arson of a village church 400 miles south of Cairo; the burning of numerous homes; and mobs that have gathered to intimate Coptic churches, families and individuals.

Mike Edens, professor of theology and Islamic studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Christian worker in Egypt, told Baptist Press, “These instances demonstrate the real, growing pressure from Muslims influenced by intolerant interpretations of Islam and the Qur’an.

“While Muslims in the West worry about the ‘radicalization’ of individuals in the Islamic heartland, minorities experience much more dire outcomes as mobs and violent groups inflict their will on them,” Edens said.

The attacks are but the latest wave of tumult for Egypt’s Copts, who faced even more severe persecution in 2013 after the military ousted Mohamed Morsi, the Islamic predecessor to the current president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

Calls for action

El-Sisi has made a number of conciliatory gestures toward the nation’s Copts. But Bishop Makarius, via Twitter on July 17, noted he was “reminding” the president that Copts “are Egyptian citizens.”

Among the actions Coptic Solidarity is seeking by the Egyptian government:

— “Bring to account and apply the full force of justice against perpetrators of violence, including all local police and government officials whose indifference and complacency have allowed these mob actions and attacks against Copts.”

— “Abolish the so called ‘reconciliation meetings’ which should not replace bringing perpetrators to justice in the judicial system.”

— “Pass and implement legislation to guarantee the freedom of building of new churches and repair of existing ones,” especially those that have been destroyed by Islamists.

— “Pass legislation to combat discrimination, and create an impartial body to monitor its implementation.”

— “Shut down avenues of religious hate, including from within state-backed religious, media and educational bodies.”

— “Annul the abusive ‘anti-blasphemy’ code in Article 98(f) of the Penal Code.”

— “Annul religious identification from official identity cards.”