August 23, 2013

M.D. Harmon: Christian groups under siege amid unrest in Egypt

Violence against them has increased since Islamists rose to power following the Arab Spring of 2011.

The numbers cited here will almost certainly be out of date by the time this is printed.

But as of this writing, more than 60 Christian churches, plus many convents, monasteries, schools, clergy residences and homes and businesses owned by members of Coptic, Catholic and other Christian groups in Egypt have been burned, torn down, pillaged or otherwise attacked.

The rampaging mobs responsible for the destruction aimed at one of the world's oldest Christian communities seem motivated by sheer hatred for what in recent decades has come to be called "the world's most persecuted faith."

The number of deaths and injuries is uncertain, but could be in the hundreds.

Three nuns expelled from a burning 115-year-old Franciscan school were even "marched through the streets like prisoners of war" until given shelter by a concerned Muslim woman.

The Associated Press said the rescued nuns "saw a mob break into the school through the wall and windows, loot its contents, knock off the cross on the street gate and replace it with a black banner resembling the flag of al-Qaida." The story said police promised aid, but it never arrived.

One writer, Andrew Doran, a former member of the executive secretariat of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO at the State Department, said this week that these attacks, reportedly conducted by the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, represented a "Coptic Kristallnacht."

That is a reference to the "Night of Broken Glass," Nov. 10, 1938, when Nazi mobs attacked Jewish stores, businesses and synagogues in Germany and parts of Austria, scattering shattered windows in the streets.

Another expert, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, said directly that "Egypt's Christians are facing a jihad" from Islamist parties.

That is not an indictment of all Muslims, or even a majority. One of the most affecting photos taken after the attacks began was of a group of Muslims linking hands in the street to protect a church.

But we live in a world in which, according to Open Doors, a non-denominational group that tracks such things, 100 million Christians live in nations where they are vulnerable to persecution, either from official government policy or popular attitudes -- or both.

Still, the widespread attacks in Egypt, where Christians constitute 10 percent of a population of 90 million, are especially tragic and alarming.

The AP laid out the bare facts in an Aug. 17 report: "Christians have long suffered from discrimination and violence in Muslim-majority Egypt ... Attacks increased after the Islamists rose to power in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising."

Christian non-violent political support for the Islamists' opponents apparently was the spur for the attacks, but, the AP reported, Christians "have drawn closer to moderate Muslims in some places, in a rare show of solidarity."

Persecution of religious groups worldwide is a complex topic, experts say. Some Christian groups are opposed by rival Christians (in Russia and Ethiopia, among others), and Islamist radicals often appear as willing to attack moderate Muslims as they are members of rival religions.

And the nation ranked as the most hostile to Christians, where professing the faith is illegal and adherents are routinely imprisoned in labor camps for life or executed, is North Korea, an officially atheist Marxist dictatorship, Open Doors reports.

Nevertheless, many of the nations on the group's "Top 50" list of opposition to Christianity have Muslim majorities. In some countries, such as Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, conversion to Christianity from Islam is illegal, and can even carry the death penalty.

In Saudi Arabia, public worship by members of any other faith but Islam is forbidden, so no recognized churches, synagogues or temples are even allowed to exist.

But in India, with a Hindu majority, Christians and Muslims both often face active hostility.

Lists of churches and other structures looted, burned and destroyed by the attackers would more than fill the space filled by this column, but a partial list includes the Church of the Virgin Mary in Cairo; St. Savior's Anglican Church and the Greek Orthodox church in Suez; a Pentecostal church in Minya; an Evangelical church in Fayoum; and dozens of Coptic churches in regions with large Muslim Brotherhood membership.

Doran notes that Egypt's Christians and moderate Muslims are outraged at apparent Western disdain for their cause: "Having struck a blow for freedom at considerable cost and in the face of significant odds, the millions of Egyptians who took part in the June 30 Revolution are confounded by the Western reaction" that sees the Brotherhood as the victims of a "military coup."

"Even the military rule is better than Muslim Brotherhood rule because the Muslim Brotherhood is against humanity itself," said Mina Thabet, a human rights advocate in Cairo.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

mdharmoncol@yahoo.com

 

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)