Egypt, March 16, 2012: “More than 300 Muslim lawyers inside and outside a courthouse in the southern Egyptian province of Assuit today prevented defense lawyer Ahmad Sayed Gabali, who is representing the Christian Makarem Diab, from going into court. Mr. Diab was found guilty of ‘Insulting the Muslim Prophet’ and was scheduled today a hearing on his appeal,” Assyrian International News Agency reports.
Attorney Dr. Naguib Gabriell, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization, said there was “terror in the Assiut Court today.” He added that he was on his way to court when he was advised that Muslim lawyers have issued death threats to any Christian lawyers who attend the court session. “Makram Diab was assaulted by Muslim lawyers during his transfer from the courtroom and security failed to protect him.”
Peter Sarwat, a Coptic lawyer, said that Muslim lawyers representing the plaintiffs prevented the defense team from entering court. “They said no Muslim will defend a Christian. It was agreed that Christian lawyers would take over and two Coptic lawyers volunteered, but the Muslims decided later that even Christians would not defend him.” Sarwat said the Muslim lawyers wanted to assault the chief judge but he managed to leave the court via a rear door.
Adel Ramadam and Ahmad Mohamad Hossam, two Muslim lawyers and activists from the renowned NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) went to court to defend Diab’s right to a fair trial but were assaulted by the other Muslim lawyers. “They were assaulting us in a beastly and strange way just because we went there to defend a citizen who happened to be a Christian,” said Adel Ramadam. He also said that to get out of court was a complex operation and a huge task for the security personnel. “We left court in a security vehicle which took us to Security headquarters, otherwise, we don’t know what the outcome would have been for us.”
Makram Diab, a school secretary was sentenced by the Abanoub misdemeanor court two weeks ago to six years imprisonment on charges of insulting Islam’s prophet. His defense lawyer, Ahmad Sayed Gabali, was also prevented during that session from entering the court by Muslim lawyers (AINA 3-5-2012).
“I went to court today because I believe this citizen was stripped of all his rights,” said Adel Ramadam in an aired interview today. “He had a quarrel with a Salafi school colleague and then 11 days later, it was suddenly decided by Muslims that they will report the case. He was detained by the prosecution for 4 days and two days later in a 10-minute session and without any defense lawyer present, he was sentenced to 6 years, which is way above the maximum of a misdemeanor case.”
Eyewitnesses reported that the Muslim lawyers were armed with clubs. A police captain, b two EIPR lawyer, and two reporters from Ros-el-Youssef and El-Bashayer Egyptian newspapers were injured in the milieu.
Human rights groups reported that they were also forced out of the courtroom by the Muslims.
Adel Ramadam said the court session never started because the judge knew that the defense were prevented from entering the court, and knew of the assaults. “He just postponed the appeal session to April 5.”
Pastor of torched Egyptian church jailed over building’s height *Christian families from two Lao villages threatened with eviction
Egypt, March 13, 2012: The pastor of an Egyptian church that was torched by Muslims – prompting a Christian protest that was brutally crushed by the military – has been jailed over the building’s excess height.
Makarios Bolous was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 300 Egyptian pounds for violations regarding the height of St George’s Church in the village of Elmarinab, Aswan province.
The century-old building was torched by a Muslim mob on 30 September 2011. It was under renovation at the time, and permission for the work had been granted by the governor of Aswan.
Local Muslims took objection, and after making demands that the building be stripped of any sign of its being a church, they turned violent. Attackers demolished the dome, walls and columns before torching the building.
Thousands of Christians took to the streets of Cairo in protest, and on 9 October they came under brutal attack by the security forces, Islamists and thugs. In what was described as the worst violence in Egypt since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, military vehicles charged at Christians who were demonstrating near the state TV building in Maspero Square; the protestors were also shot at, beaten and dragged through the streets. At least 25 people were killed and hundreds were injured.
Following an international outcry over the incident, Field Marshall Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, gave orders to the governor of Aswan that St George’s be rebuilt at the expense of the government. Nothing has yet been done.
One church leader said:
We are not allowed to pray there or come near it by order of the authorities.
Construction workers had started removing the excess height before the building was torched. At Mr Bolous’ court hearing, the church lawyer presented documents showing that the architect and building contractor – not the pastor – had responsibility for this work, but this was not taken into consideration. St George’s will appeal against the ruling.
Mr Bolous has also been prevented from going into the village by the local Muslims.
The attack on St George’s was one of an increasing number of violent anti-Christian incidents in Egypt since the revolution. Now that Islamist parties hold the majority of the seats in the new parliament, Christians are fearful that their vulnerable position in Egyptian society will only worsen.
- barnabas team
Christian families from two Lao villages threatened with eviction
One of the groups – ten families, around 65 people, from Hueygong village, Pakoo district, Luangprabang province – has been given a deadline of 18 March to either recant or leave their homes. Eight of the families became Christians just three months ago.
Local authorities issued the expulsion order on 18 February. Prior to this, Pakoo district officials had demanded information about the number of churches and believers in the area and said that people had to seek permission from the authorities to be Christians. The Pakoo district government has refused to recognise the presence of Christians in its territory, despite the fact that there are eight churches there now.
The head of religious affairs of Luangprabang province has however intervened on behalf of the Hueygong Christians. He has told district officials that the expulsion order is illegal and should be reversed. If it is not, he will take the matter to higher authorities.
The other group of Christians who are facing eviction in Luangprabang province live in Hueysell village, Ngoi district. Two Christian leaders were summoned to the village government headquarters in mid-January and given the verbal order that the Christian residents must renounce their faith or face being ejected. The 14 Christian families, over 80 individuals, have stood firm, and so far the village authorities have not carried out their expulsion threat.
Christians elsewhere in Laos have faced similar harassment. In December 2011, all 47 Christians in Natoo village, Palansai district, Savannakhet province, were told that they must give up their faith in Christ and cease all Sunday worship meetings or leave.
Threats of this nature have been carried out. Christian families were driven out of Katin village, Ta-Oyl district, Saravan Province, at gunpoint in January 2010. They were told that they could return only if they abandoned their Christian beliefs.
Although the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the country is a signatory grants freedom of religion, in practice the authorities continue to harass, evict and arrest Christians. The Communist regime is deeply suspicious of Christianity, which they regard as a Western import.
- barnabas team
Makram Diab, a school secretary, was given double the maximum sentence for Defamation of Religion, prompting accusations that the judge acted to appease Muslim groups at the court in Assiut. An angry 2,500-strong mob gathered outside, demanding the death penalty for the defendant. Some were reportedly carrying knives; they were blocked by police from breaking into the court.
There have been complaints about the court proceedings. Diab’s Muslim lawyer, Ahmad Sayed Gabali, said that he had never experienced anything like it in his 18 years of practice. He said:
Over 80 Islamist lawyers representing civil rights claimants filled the court, locked the door of the court from the inside, not allowing the judge out, and prevented me as the defence lawyer from going inside the court and defending my client.
Diab was accused on 23 February of insulting Muhammad, almost two weeks after a heated discussion with a Salafi teacher at the school where they worked. The complaint was made by another teacher, who was not present during the dispute, and signed by another 11 teachers. Muslim staff at the school went on strike until Diab was arrested and prosecuted.
According to the official court version, Diab allegedly said that Muhammad had sexually harassed his disciples, but the defendant’s sister said that he had simply asked the Muslim teacher whether it was true that Muhammad had married 40 wives.
Defamation of Religion is considered a misdemeanour under Egyptian law, punishable by a prison sentence of one month to three years.
An appeal has been lodged on Diab’s behalf and will be heard on 15 March. He is being held in the high security section of the Assuit prison.
Case thrown out
In another high profile religious defamation case, two lawsuits brought by Islamists against the Christian businessman and liberal political leader Naguib Sawaris have been thrown out of court.
Mr Sawaris was charged with “blasphemy and insulting Islam” for an image he tweeted last June depicting Mickey and Minnie Mouse in an Islamic guise, with a long beard and face veil respectively.
Both lawsuits filed against him were rejected – one on 3 March, the other on 28 February – on the grounds that the plaintiffs were not eligible to bring the case.
The tweet sparked a Muslim backlash against telecommunications executive Mr Sawaris with conservative groups calling for boycotts of his companies. Mobinil, in which he is a major shareholder, reportedly lost around 300,000 customers in what has been dubbed locally as the “Mickey row”.
Mr Sawiris, co-founder and leader of the secular liberal Free Egyptians party, has spoken out against the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the country.
The filing of recent blasphemy cases by Salafi lawyers has sparked alarm among liberals who are concerned about the threat to freedom of speech in the new Egyptian order.
- barnabas team
Egypt, February 29, 2012: International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that an Islamist was elected speaker of Egypt’s upper house of parliament on Tuesday, consolidating the Muslim Brotherhood’s control of the country’s legislature and raising fears among Christians and secularists that new laws heavily influenced by Sharia may soon be enacted.
Ahmed Fahmy, of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), was appointed speaker of the Shura Council during the chamber’s inaugural session on February 28. The appointment follows the selection of FJP Secretary General Mohamed Saad al-Katatni as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, or the People’s Assembly, on January 23, solidifying the Muslim Brotherhood’s control over both legislative bodies.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful Islamic organization, holds 47 percent of the 508-seat People’s Assembly and 59 percent of the Shura Council’s 180 elected seats. The Salafist al-Nour Party, which follows the strict Wahhabi doctrine of Islam, also made strong showings in elections for both chambers, holding 23 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly and 25 percent of the elected seats in the Shura Council. An additional 90 lawmakers are expected to be appointed to the Shura Council by either the ruling generals or the next president.
Many Coptic Christians and liberals accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of participating in fraudulent elections and using social programs and religion to secure votes. “The Brotherhood had booths in front of polling stations telling people, many who are illiterate, how to vote and who to vote for,” said activist Mary Ibrahim Daniel, whose brother Mina Daniel was killed by the military during protests on October 9. “They are also very well funded and have lots of money to help the poor. If someone is hungry and you give them a loaf of bread, they could care less about politics. What they care about is feeding their children. I don’t think the elections [adequately] represented the voice of the Egyptian people.”
“The political debate focused largely on religion and not on the issues of social justice that we wanted to get across to the electorate,” Khaled El-Sayed, of the Socialist Popular Alliance, told Ahram Online. “And neither the liberals nor the Islamists will be concerned with social justice when sitting in parliament or when drawing up a new constitution.”
The two houses are due to hold a joint session later this week to select a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution that will be put to a referendum before the presidential election scheduled for June. Many Christians and secularists fear that an Islamist majority parliament will use its power to base the constitution on Sharia law, which will greatly restrict the rights of non-Muslims.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “There is grave concern that Egypt’s Islamist-led chambers of parliament will center the new constitution on Islamic law that will prove detrimental to the country’s minorities and liberals. Since Egypt’s uprising a year ago, Salafis – who hold about one-fourth of the seats in each house of parliament – called the appointment of a Christian governor in Upper Egypt ‘anti-Islamic’, protested the killing of Osama bin Laden, and attacked churches, Sufi shrines and mosques, liquor stores, and other institutions or businesses they deem contrary to Islam. Will the Muslim Brotherhood, who has the largest voice in parliament, continue to appear moderate or join Salafis by voting in favor of Sharia? Egypt’s Christians hope and pray for freedom and equality, but fear the worst is yet to come.”
Pope uses Twitter to send Lenten messages
Pope Benedict XVI is using his Twitter account to spread the Good Word during this Lent season.
For the next 40 days, the pope will be sharing messages in various languages, including English, Spanish and German, through the Twitter account @Pope2YouVatican.
The account is managed by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
It is using the Twitter handle in the pope’s name to spread themes from the 2012 Lenten message, speeches and documents.
The account has been in use since before Ash Wednesday this year, featuring messages and photos that date back into last year.
The Pope has been experimenting with technology and social media since he sent his first tweet in June 2011.
In December, the pontiff lit the world’s biggest Christmas tree with an Android-powered Sony tablet computer
Egypt parties, activists decry forced Christian evictions *Egyptian police prevent Christian protesters from reaching parliament
Egypt, February 13, 2012: A number of Egypt’s political parties and movements issued a statement decrying the forced eviction of Coptic families in the al-Nahda village of the al-Ameriyah area of Alexandria. It comes as the incident has raised widespread controversy within the Egyptian Parliament, as a group of Coptic Youth movements marched on the Parliament Sunday to protest the ongoing forced eviction of Coptic families.
Their protest led to a hearing held by Parliament’s Human Rights Committee and number of inquiries submitted by several MPs to the Speaker of the Parliament.
Member of the Parliament Emad Gad confirmed on Sunday the continued efforts to address the “scheme” to displace Christian Egyptian families in al-Ameriyah, and stressed on his official Facebook page that he “discussed the issue with a number of human rights activists and will address the crisis at different levels so as to put an end to this crime.”
Gad, one of the founders of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, confirmed that the liberal and left-wing political forces are considering all possibilities, “including mass resignations from parliament if it fails to lay the foundations of citizenship and equality in a civil state that prevents discrimination amongst all of its citizens.”
The crisis erupted when a Coptic man was alleged to have had an affair with a married Muslim woman, which led to clashes between the two families, and resulted in the torching of Christian houses.
A “customary hearing” to achieve reconciliation among the disputing parties was then held, and a decree was issued by an ultra-conservative Salafist sheikh in the village to deport Coptic families from the village and sell their property.
Political forces have condemned the eviction and issued a statement, describing the ruling of the informal hearings as “collective punishment without any legal basis and would stir sectarian strife.”
Among the signatories of the statement were the Popular Socialist Coalition Party, The Egyptian Social Democratic Party and Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination Movement, whose joint statement, entitled, “No to customary hearings, yes to justice,” denounced the current incidents in al-Ameriyah.
The statement said that security forces “failed to perform its duties and protect the Christian houses and then sponsored a customary reconciliation session that led to a decree to evict a number of Coptic families.”
It called on the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, who now hold the majority in Parliament, “to demonstrate their commitment to the principles of law and human rights and the seriousness in engaging in the state, which is only ruled by law that everyone is seeking to build, and stop getting involved in traditional customary sessions, which is a violation of law and its role in society.”
The statement continued to demand a fair trial before a civil court and to include all those involved in the crime of “sedition, theft, looting and burning the property of Christian citizens.”
The statement added, “We hold the state authorities, particularly the military junta, full responsibility, which has not sent any troops or leaders to contain the situation, the Ministry of Interior, which stood still at the outbreak of the events, and contributed directly to dispel the rule of law when it opened its headquarters for informal reconciliation meetings.”
It demanded the application of the law strictly and impartially, and to “maintain the rule of law and the arrest of culprits who stole and looted and burned the houses of their neighbors, and bring them to justice and to stop resorting to these informal meetings, in cases of sectarian violence, and to protect the lives and money and property of the Christians of the village.”
Egyptian police prevent Christian protesters from reaching parliament
Egypt, February 13, 2012: Egyptian Security forces yesterday prevented a rally of hundreds of Copts and activists from various political groups from reaching the Egyptian Parliament. The rally was staged to condemn the eviction of 8 Coptic families from their homes in El-Ameriya in Alexandria, on January 27.
The protestors were angry at the Parliament Speaker, who ignored last week an urgent request submitted by elected Coptic member of Parliament Dr. Emad Gad, to discuss this issue. The protesters said they wanted to meet with members of parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi parties to inform them of their condemnation of the events in El-Ameriya.
Two Copts, Hani Ramsis and John Talaat, were chosen as delegates to the Parliament Speaker to deliver the message “No to reconciliation sittings or to the displacement of the Copts in El-Ameriya.”John Talaat, former elections candidate for Parliament, said that what is going on is a “farce caused by lack of security and we are here to deliver the message, and we demand a formal questioning of the Minister of Interior regarding this deportation [of the Coptic families from the village].”
Dr. Emad Gad, Coptic member of Parliament, presented on February 7 an urgent request, supported by 22 signatures of liberal members of parliament, to the Parliament Speaker, Dr. Saad el Katatny, who is from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Liberty and Justice Party, to discuss the Eviction of 8 Coptic families and the seizure of their property. The request was ignored. “Katatny just folded the paper I presented and put it on his desk”, said Dr. Gad. “Within a tribe, in the desert, or in a tent, you apply these unofficial reconciliation sittings, but in Egypt we have civil law.” Dr. Gad, who is deputy director of the Al-Ahram Institute of Strategic Studies, said he would escalate the matter further if the Parliament does not respond to this issue. He was due to submit another request to the Speaker today.
Today’s a meeting was held in a room in the Parliament, attended by several members of parliament, mainly liberals and Copts. It also included the three MPs from the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parties who were involved in the reconciliation sitting. Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination presented a petition, signed by 13 NGOs, to the Speaker, criticizing the military and security authorities for not protecting the Copts and for giving their blessings to “the shameful reconciliation sittings.”
Sheikh Sherif al-Hawary, who was present at the meeting, pointed out that he intervened after the people of the village contacted him due to the lack of police presence and their inability to enforce the law, and that his primary aim was to prevent the shedding of blood.
Liberals and Copts insisted there has to be an end to collective punishment, forced eviction of Copts and reconciliation sittings, and that the rule of law has to prevail. Some of the attendees joined in the debate and unanimously agreed that the family of Abeskhayroun Soliman should not be evicted. They also discussed a solution to apply the law and provide means for protecting this family in view of the prevailing lack of security.
The meeting established a fact-finding commission affiliated to the parliamentary human rights committee, to be made up of all Alexandria members of parliament and two Coptic members.
Dr. Emad Gad, in an interview tonight on CTV Coptic Channel, was optimistic that the parliamentary commission would develop recommendations to stop eviction and put an end to reconciliation sittings and the application of the law. “These recommendation will be presented to parliament and if it passes through parliament I believe this will be a significant achievement, because parliament can oblige the government to apply them.”Other Coptic observers did not seem to share Dr. Gad’s optimism, but rather anticipated that there will be a chain of parliamentary committees and no results in the end.
- assyrian intl news agency
8 Christian families evicted from Egyptian village following attacks on Christian homes and businesses
Egypt, February 13, 2012: International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that eight Coptic Christian families were evicted from their homes in northern Egypt following two attacks by radical Islamists on Christian homes and businesses in late-January. The attacks were in response to an alleged affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman.
On January 27th, hundreds of Muslims, led by Salafists who adhere to the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, looted and torched Christian homes and shops in Kobry el-Sharbat near Alexandria following rumors that a Christian man, Mourad Samy Guirguis, had an affair with a Muslim woman. On January 30th, a group of Muslims attacked the village for the second time, setting fire to three Christian homes. Guirguis denied the accusations, but reportedly turned himself into the police for his own security.
Village elders, including representatives from the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and local police, agreed to evict eight Coptic families and put their property up for sale. Ironically, they came to this decision after holding three ‘reconciliation’ meetings, Asia News reported. At the first meeting, Muslims argued that “Muslim honor has been damaged,” and refused to offer compensation to Coptic Christians who were innocent victims of the violence. Father Boktor Nashed from St. George’s Church in el-Nahdah, who was present at the meeting, called the decision a “complete injustice.” Sherif el-Hawary, a Salafist sheik, was given the authority to execute the meeting’s demands.
“Who gave them the right to form a committee headed by a Salafi to sell Christian property? This is thuggery and the blatant targeting of Copts,” said Magdi Khalil, head of the Middle East Freedom Forum. “If we accept this, we will open the door to an avalanche of forced evictions.”
Reconciliation meetings are a traditional form of ‘conflict resolution’ that bypasses Egypt’s judicial system and often fails to bring perpetrators of attacks against Christians to justice. In its 2011 Religious Freedom Report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated, “Reconciliation efforts should not be used to undermine enforcing the law and punishing perpetrators for wrongdoing. The State Department also has concluded that reconciliation sessions not only ‘prevented the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against Coptic Christians and precluded their recourse to the judicial system for restitution’ but also ‘contributed to a climate of impunity that encouraged further assaults’.”
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Reconciliation meetings are nothing more than a method to excuse those responsible for violence, shift blame on the victims, and to completely ignore justice. The recent attack in Kobry el-Sharbat again proves that nothing has changed in the ‘new’ Egypt after President Mubarak’s ouster, as perpetrators of attacks against minorities continue to be pardoned and allowed to pursue their bloody campaign to rid the country of Christians. Most disturbing is that the reconciliation meetings were not led by the military council, but by representatives of the very groups that won a majority in Egypt’s new parliament and claim to support democracy and a civilian judicial system. We urge Egyptian officials to retract the illegal decision that was made to evict the eight Christian families and to arrest and convict those responsible for burning down Christian homes and businesses.”
United Kingdom, February 11, 2012: George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has warned there are ‘deep forces at work in Western society’ that are degrading the values of Christianity after a High Court ruling banned public prayers from council meetings.
This new George Carey has rather abandoned the careful diplomatic language he used as an archbishop to keep different church factions in the same pews, in favour of something more earthy and apocalyptic, reflecting his own evangelical background. George Carey was not regarded as an outspoken Archbishop of Canterbury by the standards of both his predecessor and his successor.
While Robert Runcie and Rowan Williams generated and still generate headlines and ruffle politicians’ feathers, George Carey was largely overshadowed during his 11 years as head of the Anglican communion by internal church battles, notably over the ordination of women. Some even came to regard him as a wee bit dull and mealy-mouthed. If so, then he has more than made up for it since he stepped down in 2002.
In the past few months alone, he has publicly criticised both the cathedral authorities at St Paul’s over the Occupy protest camp, and the Lords Spiritual for leading the opposition to the Government’s benefit cuts in the Upper Chamber of Parliament, where Lord Carey of Clifton now sits as a life peer. “I have been mildly upset to be told to shut up by my fellow Anglican bishops.” But his usually sober face spreads into a grin as he says it. “I have felt freer to speak my mind as my own man, but I am always conscious of not wanting to get in Rowan’s way”.
This new George Carey has rather abandoned the careful diplomatic language he used as an archbishop to keep different church factions in the same pews, in favour of something more earthy and apocalyptic, reflecting his own evangelical background. “There are deep forces at work in Western society, hollowing out the values of Christianity and driving them to the margins”.
Among these forces, he has the judiciary firmly in his sights following a spate of recent rulings, which, he claims, have allowed equality to “trump” the freedom of the individual in matters of belief. “Judges,” he contends, “say that the law has no obligation to the Christian faith, but I say ‘rubbish’ to that. Historically there has been a great interlocking of Christianity with our laws in this country.”
- peter stanford
The Forgotten Egyptian Christians
Egypt, February 09, 2012: There is an untold story to the 2011 Egyptian revolution. This Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, and the Harvard University Institute of Politics marked the occasion last week with the event “Egypt: From Tahrir Square to Today.” The panel, which included Harvard Kennedy School Professor Tarek Masoud and journalist Mona Eltahawy, praised the new self-determination of the Egyptian people and expressed a cautious optimism despite the inherent “messiness” of Egypt’s transition to democratic rule.
But there is another story to be told here, one that was disgracefully ignored by the panel and often downplayed in the Western media. And that is the story of how the Egyptian revolution has resulted in unmitigated disaster for Egypt’s Coptic Christians. Deriving their name from the Arabic “qubt,” meaning “Egyptian,” Copts have maintained a continuous presence in Egypt since approximately 43 CE, almost six centuries before the founding of Islam. Over the past few decades, Egypt’s Copts have experienced severe persecution from extremist Muslim groups—a horrific church bombing in Alexandria on New Year’s Day 2011 was the most devastating attack before the revolution. For better or worse, however, under Mubarak, the Egyptian government suppressed many of these extremist groups, including members of the ultraconservative Salafists. As a result, Copts maintained an uneasy relationship with the military and currently account for approximately ten percent of Egypt’s population.
But that number is dwindling. Since Mubarak’s ouster last year, escalating persecution against Copts has led to what one refugee calls a mass Christian “exodus” from Egypt. Forty Copts died in 22 separate incidents in the first half of 2011, compared to just 15 in all of 2010. For the first time ever, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that Egypt be designated a “Country of Particular Concern,” placing it on par with the likes of North Korea, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia with respect to religious freedom. Human rights groups estimate that approximately 100,000 Christians have fled Egypt since the revolution, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service reports that the number of Copts seeking asylum in America more than doubled in 2011.
What, exactly, has happened since last February? Although Christians demonstrated alongside Muslims to overthrow Mubarak last year, the military regime in his absence has refused to make any arrests in response to attacks on Copts. So although Salafists continued to persecute Christians throughout 2011, the post-Mubarak government has given them a far freer reign to do so.
Thus, one month after Mubarak’s ouster, Al Arabiya ran an article headlined “Ultraconservative Muslims more assertive in Egypt,” detailing how Salafists clashed with villagers south of Cairo after demanding that a liquor store be closed down. In May, approximately 11 people were killed and two churches burned after a Salafist-led mob terrorized Christians in Imbaba. In October, the Egyptian army fired at Copts in Maspero who were peacefully protesting a church attack, killing 26 mostly Christian protestors.
Furthermore, the recent democratic elections allowed parties that were previously banned under Mubarak to run freely. This reform was hailed in the West, but the unfortunate result left the Salafists, the very people who had been helping facilitate oppression of Egypt’s Copts for decades, in control of approximately a quarter of Egypt’s parliament.
American reaction to these events has unfortunately been far too muted. A New York Times column by Nicolas Kristof in December, for example, featured a video in its online version titled “Who’s Afraid of Egypt’s Islamists?” “Democratic transitions are always messy,” Kristof asserts, but “the fundamental historical truth unfolding this year is not the rise of one party,” but “the emergence of people-power…to overthrow a dictator.” “It’s reasonable to worry,” Kristof insists, “but let’s not overdo it.”
Three weeks after Kristof published that column, the spokesman for the Salafist Al Nour party declared that it was forbidden for Muslims to send Christmas greetings to Christians. Three days later, a Coptic student was detained for publishing an “offensive” image of Muhammad on his Facebook—Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that angry Muslim residents from four nearby villages proceeded to firebomb the student’s house. And five days before the IOP event, a mob of over 3000 Muslims attacked Copts in Alexandria, looting Coptic homes and shops before setting them ablaze.
Needless to say, none of these incidents was mentioned at the Harvard panel.
Given the tremendous optimism expressed by the United States at the start of the Arab Spring, it is hard to acknowledge the reality that Egyptian self-determination has come at the expense of its Christians. But the answer to this problem is not to ignore it. Everything that is said now, while Egypt’s government is still in flux, can help shape the country in a way that will protect the rights of its minorities. And for the sake of religious freedom for Egypt’s Coptic Christians, America cannot afford to be silent.
- the crimson, avishai d. don
Egypt, February 6, 2012: From one end of the muslim world to the other, Christians are being murdered for their faith. We hear so often about Muslims as victims of abuse in the West and combatants in the Arab Spring’s fight against tyranny. But, in fact, a wholly different kind of war is underway—an unrecognized battle costing thousands of lives. Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion. It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm.
The portrayal of Muslims as victims or heroes is at best partially accurate. In recent years the violent oppression of Christian minorities has become the norm in Muslim-majority nations stretching from West Africa and the Middle East to South Asia and Oceania. In some countries it is governments and their agents that have burned churches and imprisoned parishioners. In others, rebel groups and vigilantes have taken matters into their own hands, murdering Christians and driving them from regions where their roots go back centuries.
The media’s reticence on the subject no doubt has several sources. One may be fear of provoking additional violence. Another is most likely the influence of lobbying groups such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation—a kind of United Nations of Islam centered in Saudi Arabia—and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Over the past decade, these and similar groups have been remarkably successful in persuading leading public figures and journalists in the West to think of each and every example of perceived anti-Muslim discrimination as an expression of a systematic and sinister derangement called “Islamophobia”—a term that is meant to elicit the same moral disapproval as xenophobia or homophobia.
But a fair-minded assessment of recent events and trends leads to the conclusion that the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other. The conspiracy of silence surrounding this violent expression of religious intolerance has to stop. Nothing less than the fate of Christianity—and ultimately of all religious minorities—in the Islamic world is at stake.
From blasphemy laws to brutal murders to bombings to mutilations and the burning of holy sites, Christians in so many nations live in fear. In Nigeria many have suffered all of these forms of persecution. The nation has the largest Christian minority (40 percent) in proportion to its population (160 million) of any majority-Muslim country. For years, Muslims and Christians in Nigeria have lived on the edge of civil war. Islamist radicals provoke much if not most of the tension. The newest such organization is an outfit that calls itself Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sacrilege.” Its aim is to establish Sharia in Nigeria. To this end it has stated that it will kill all Christians in the country.
In the month of January 2012 alone, Boko Haram was responsible for 54 deaths. In 2011 its members killed at least 510 people and burned down or destroyed more than 350 churches in 10 northern states. They use guns, gasoline bombs, and even machetes, shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) while launching attacks on unsuspecting citizens. They have attacked churches, a Christmas Day gathering (killing 42 Catholics), beer parlors, a town hall, beauty salons, and banks. They have so far focused on killing Christian clerics, politicians, students, policemen, and soldiers, as well as Muslim clerics who condemn their mayhem. While they started out by using crude methods like hit-and-run assassinations from the back of motorbikes in 2009, the latest AP reports indicate that the group’s recent attacks show a new level of potency and sophistication.
The Christophobia that has plagued Sudan for years takes a very different form. The authoritarian government of the Sunni Muslim north of the country has for decades tormented Christian and animist minorities in the south. What has often been described as a civil war is in practice the Sudanese government’s sustained persecution of religious minorities. This persecution culminated in the infamous genocide in Darfur that began in 2003. Even though Sudan’s Muslim president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which charged him with three counts of genocide, and despite the euphoria that greeted the semi-independence he grant-ed to South Sudan in July of last year, the violence has not ended. In South Kordofan, Christians are still subject-ed to aerial bombardment, targeted killings, the kidnap-ping of children, and other atrocities. Reports from the United Nations indicate that between 53,000 and 75,000 innocent civilians have been displaced from their resi-dences and that houses and buildings have been looted and destroyed.
Both kinds of persecution—undertaken by extragovernmental groups as well as by agents of the state—have come together in Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. On Oct. 9 of last year in the Maspero area of Cairo, Coptic Christians (who make up roughly 11 percent of Egypt’s population of 81 million) marched in protest against a wave of attacks by Islamists—including church burnings, rapes, mutilations, and murders—that followed the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship. During the protest, Egyptian security forces drove their trucks into the crowd and fired on protesters, crushing and killing at least 24 and wounding more than 300 people. By the end of the year more than 200,000 Copts had fled their homes in anticipation of more attacks. With Islamists poised to gain much greater power in the wake of recent elections, their fears appear to be justified.
Egypt is not the only Arab country that seems bent on wiping out its Christian minority. Since 2003 more than 900 Iraqi Christians (most of them Assyrians) have been killed by terrorist violence in Baghdad alone, and 70 churches have been burned, according to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA). Thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled as a result of violence directed specifically at them, reducing the number of Christians in the country to fewer than half a million from just over a million before 2003. AINA understandably describes this as an “incipient genocide or ethnic cleansing of Assyrians in Iraq.”
The 2.8 million Christians who live in Pakistan make up only about 1.6 percent of the population of more than 170 million. As members of such a tiny minority, they live in perpetual fear not only of Islamist terrorists but also of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. There is, for example, the notorious case of a Christian woman who was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. When international pressure persuaded Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer to explore ways of freeing her, he was killed by his bodyguard. The bodyguard was then celebrated by prominent Muslim clerics as a hero—and though he was sentenced to death late last year, the judge who imposed the sentence now lives in hiding, fearing for his life.
Such cases are not unusual in Pakistan. The nation’s blasphemy laws are routinely used by criminals and intolerant Pakistani Muslims to bully religious minorities. Simply to declare belief in the Christian Trinity is considered blasphemous, since it contradicts mainstream Muslim theological doctrines. When a Christian group is suspected of transgressing the blasphemy laws, the consequences can be brutal. Just ask the members of the Christian aid group World Vision. Its offices were attacked in the spring of 2010 by 10 gunmen armed with grenades, leaving six people dead and four wounded. A militant Muslim group claimed responsibility for the attack on the grounds that World Vision was working to subvert Islam. (In fact, it was helping the survivors of a major earthquake.)
Not even Indonesia—often touted as the world’s most tolerant, democratic, and modern majority-Muslim nation—has been immune to the fevers of Christophobia. According to data compiled by the Christian Post, the number of violent incidents committed against religious minorities (and at 7 percent of the population, Christians are the country’s largest minority) increased by nearly 40 percent, from 198 to 276, between 2010 and 2011.
The litany of suffering could be extended. In Iran dozens of Christians have been arrested and jailed for daring to worship outside of the officially sanctioned church system. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, deserves to be placed in a category of its own. Despite the fact that more than a million Christians live in the country as foreign workers, churches and even private acts of Christian prayer are banned; to enforce these totalitarian restrictions, the religious police regularly raid the homes of Christians and bring them up on charges of blasphemy in courts where their testimony carries less legal weight than a Muslim’s. Even in Ethiopia, where Christians make up a majority of the population, church burnings by members of the Muslim minority have become a problem.
It should be clear from this catalog of atrocities that anti-Christian violence is a major and underreported problem. No, the violence isn’t centrally planned or coordinated by some international Islamist agency. In that sense the global war on Christians isn’t a traditional war at all. It is, rather, a spontaneous expression of anti-Christian animus by Muslims that transcends cultures, regions, and ethnicities.
As Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, pointed out in an interview with Newsweek, Christian minorities in many majority-Muslim nations have “lost the protection of their societies.” This is especially so in countries with growing radical Islamist (Salafist) movements. In those nations, vigilantes often feel they can act with impunity—and government inaction often proves them right. The old idea of the Ottoman Turks—that non-Muslims in Muslim societies deserve protection (albeit as second-class citizens)—has all but vanished from wide swaths of the Islamic world, and increasingly the result is bloodshed and oppression.
So let us please get our priorities straight. Yes, Western governments should protect Muslim minorities from intolerance. And of course we should ensure that they can worship, live, and work freely and without fear. It is the protection of the freedom of conscience and speech that distinguishes free societies from unfree ones. But we also need to keep perspective about the scale and severity of intolerance. Cartoons, films, and writings are one thing; knives, guns, and grenades are something else entirely.
As for what the West can do to help religious minorities in Muslim-majority societies, my answer is that it needs to begin using the billions of dollars in aid it gives to the offending countries as leverage. Then there is trade and investment. Besides diplomatic pressure, these aid and trade relationships can and should be made conditional on the protection of the freedom of conscience and worship for all citizens.
Instead of falling for overblown tales of Western Islamophobia, let’s take a real stand against the Christophobia infecting the Muslim world. Tolerance is for everyone—except the intolerant.
Egypt, January 27, 2012: Mahmoud Salem, a moderate Muslim and a member of the Free Egyptians Party, filed a suit against Yasser al-Bourhami, a Salafist cleric, accusing him of inciting hatred against Copts. He is also against any outrageous and violent use of Islam. So far, the authorities have ignored other suits filed by members of moderate Islamic parties.
For Mahmoud Salem, Islamist threats against Christians and other religious minorities are an outrage and must be stopped. A Muslim blogger and defeated candidate for the Free Egyptian Party (FEP), he spoke to a newspaper, Egypt Independent. Last week, he filed a suit against Yasser al-Bourhami, a Salafist cleric, for his hateful statements about Egypt’s Christian community.
“I filed this suit as someone who is a Muslim and who dislikes such claims being made about his religion as if they represent me,” he said. “I’m not the first person to file a lawsuit against them, but nobody follows up and investigates it,” he added.
The suit was filed with the General Prosecutors’ Office. Now, Salem will have to wait a week to get a response, and if nothing happens, he will have to follow up on the case with his lawyer.
During the elections, al-Bourhami and other Salafists called on Muslims to boycott Christian stores. Also during Coptic Christmas celebrations, Islamist clerics called Muslim politicians and religious leaders who expressed Season’s Greetings to Christians as heretics.
“Disdain for religion, specifically Christianity, is something the Islamists completely abuse as a tool to terrorize the people they disagree with,” Salem told Egypt Independent.
Salafists are the worst offenders in the anti-Christian hate campaign. Thanks to their good showing in the polls, they have 20 per cent of the seats in parliament.
Fear among Christians and moderate Muslims has increased since Islamists won. Together, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists took 73 per cent of the vote, for a total of 358 seats out of 498.
In order to avoid losing support, the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Freedom and Justice Party has tried to reassure religious minorities about their future, stressing that they would enjoy the same rights as Muslims.
However, emboldened by their good showing at the polls, the Salafists have continued to call Christians ‘infidels’, promising to throw them out of the country.
Sources told AsiaNews anti-Coptic slogans and statements are daily occurrences on TV, radio and the Internet.
In an interview on 17 January with Al-Ahwat, a British-based Arabic satellite TV network, Mgr Yohanna Golta, bishop of Andropolis and vice patriarch of Catholic Copts, said that Christian fears are real. In the future, radical muslims will exploit their electoral breakthrough.
“Salafists keep on saying that Christians must leave the country or pay the jizya, the poll tax imposed on non-Muslims or dhimmi.” If this passes, “Copts will become strangers in their own land.”
However, Christian salvation cannot and must not come from Western nations, but from moderate Egyptian Muslims, who were with many Christians the real architects of the Jasmine Revolution. They are example of an Islam that respects people, minorities and human rights.
Cairo, January 27, 2012: Father and son were shot dead in front of their house because they refused to submit to extortion. Bishop Kyrollos: “I believe that the police, and Muslims, are fully responsible for the situation of terror in which Bahgourah Copts live.”
Two Copts, father and son, were killed yesterday in Bahgourah, a suburb of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, shot dead by a Muslim bandit, and his accomplices because they refused to pay the money demanded by the racket. Four days ago the head of the gang, Ahmed Saber, asked Moawad Asaad, a Coptic contractor for a large sum of money to enable him to continue working.
Yesterday afternoon Ahmed Saber went to Asaad’s home to demand the money, the Copt refused to get into Saber’s car to speak, for fear of being kidnapped. At that point, four men came out of the car armed with machine guns and opened fire on Moawad and his son Asaad Mowad an engineer. Both were killed instantly. Their deaths have sparked the protest of thousands of Christian Copts outside the government building at Nag Hammadi, demanding protection for the Coptic community, the victim of racketeering and violence by Muslims. A sit-in is taking place in front of police headquarters, attended by four thousand people who have vowed to continue the protest until Ahmed Saber and his accomplices are arrested.
The Bishop of Nag Hammadi, Kyrollos, said since last year Ahmed Saber, well known to the police, has extorted money from members of the Coptic community, and kidnapped the children of Christians to get the ransom money. “Police have received numerous complaints about these crimes. I do not understand why they have not arrested them. I think that the police, and Muslims, are fully responsible for the situation of terror in which the Copts of Bahgourah live. ” The bishop called the authorities in Cairo, and the Interior Ministry demanding that protection be provided to the Copts living in the Nag Hammadi, “who are constantly subject to kidnappings and terror.”