Where is the support for Egypt’s Copts?
Written by Jack Chivo Monday,
14 November 2011
VANCOUVER – News reports about continuing attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt are disturbing, yet aside from under-reported rallies by Copts in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, there appear to have been no supporting protests from ‘human rights’ organizations or churches anywhere, and the media appear uninterested.
Indeed, over the past several weeks, there has been more media coverage of the ‘Occupy’ movement in North America and the trial of Michael Jackson’s physician, than of the fate of about 10 million Christians in Egypt. The Copts, whose presence in Egypt predates that of its Arab Muslim population, have been treated as second-class citizens and subjected to repeated murderous attacks, humiliation and degradation at the hands of the Muslim majority.
On Oct. 9, Copts demonstrated in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, to protest the destruction of an ancient church by a Muslim mob. The protestors were met with deadly force: 35 Christians were killed and hundreds more injured. According to the New York Times, "the military and riot police…appeared to be working in tandem with the Muslims (civilians), who were lashing out at the Christian Copts.” The British Telegraph reported that military armoured vehicles charged the demonstrators at full speed and crushed many to death.
What a contrast to the restraint shown by Egyptian security forces during the anti-Mubarak demonstrations held in Tahrir Square, most notably when CBS reporter Lara Logan was gang-raped while hundreds of people watched.
The Oct. 9 protest was triggered by a violent attack on St. George's Church in the village of Al Marinab in Edfu province. The church was more than 100 years old and in a state of ruin after decades of neglect. Under Sharia (Islamic) law, Christians must receive approval from the government to build, or repair, churches. It took many years before they were granted permission to do the necessary work on St. George’s Church. As the work was being done, hundreds of Muslims attacked. According to reports, they removed the cross and set the church on fire while the district security chief and his men cheered. This was the fourth Christian church in Egypt destroyed by arson since March.
Immediately afterward, several Christian homes in the neighbourhood were also looted and demolished.
Copts are the original people of Egypt. They were there during the time of the Pharaohs, the Roman occupation, Cleopatra’s reign and the conquest by the Byzantine Empire. From the beginning of the Common Era to the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Copts represented about 90 per cent of the population, and Jews, Greeks and Romans were minorities. According to ancient religious texts, the Copts (as they were subsequently called) were converted to Christianity by St. Mark sometime around 42 CE.
When Arabs invaded and conquered Egypt in 641, they imposed a special tax, called jizya, on non-Muslims, who were declared dhimmis – second-class citizens – under Sharia law. According to Wikipedia, the literal translation of the word dhimmi is “one whose responsibilities (and rights) have been taken (away).” Copts suffered for 1,200 years under degrading laws and harsh conditions, which pushed them into abject poverty.
After Viceroy Muhammad Ali Pasha abolished the jizya in the early 19th century, Copts were permitted to join the army, and they gradually moved towards middle-class status, as they were given more freedom to worship, study, practice commerce, own land and become professionals.
By the early 1950s, many were successful and wealthy, but this ended after the 1952 military coup led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. The country returned to a harsh application of laws governing the dhimmi status of non-Muslims and millions of Copts emigrated as a result.
One example of the anti-Christian attitude prevalent in modern-day Egypt was the 2009 slaughter of every pig in the country – estimated to number between 300,000 to 500,000 – under the pretense of preventing swine flu. The scientifically unsound and unnecessary action destroyed the livelihood of farmers, butchers, restaurant owners, meat distributors, and other small merchants. Christian protests against the elimination of this dietary staple were met with police and mob violence.
The world’s human-rights ‘fighters’ stood silent then, as they do now.
Jack Chivo is a retired journalist who lives in West Vancouver.
Last Updated ( Monday, 14 November 2011 )