Egyptian Christians: Strangers in their Native Land!

Egyptian Christians: Strangers in their Native Land!

By Aladdin Elaasar

The issue of the Christians of Egypt, Copts, has gained international media coverage in the last decades. Reports of persecution and discrimination against them in their native country of Egypt have made headlines around the world. Amidst that, the Mubarak government has maintained an official line of denial that the problem even exists! Anti- Coptic, anti-Semitic and anti-American sentiments, have been on the rise and often promoted by the Egyptian state media branding the Copts as un-loyal to their home country of Egypt. It promoted a public discourse about Muslim-Coptic relations in Egypt and their role in Egypt and the role of the Expatriate Copts in the West, generating awareness about the Coptic issue, as a whole.

The issue received more coverage especially after the Coptic conference held few days ago in Chicago. The Copts, Egypt’s indigenous, pre-Arab, pre-Islamic Christians, are a native ethno-religious group of Egypt. Egyptian Christians trace their ancestry to the indigenous Pharaonic-era population of Egypt, converted to Christianity by St. Mark, one of Christ’s earliest disciples. Today Copts number approximately seven to twelve million people and constitute between 10% and 15% of the Egyptian population, making them the largest indigenous Christian community in both Africa and the Middle East.

As targets of both the Egyptian government and the increasing threat of Islamic extremists, Copts have long struggled for human and civil rights and religious freedom in their homeland. Despite the censure of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and international human rights organizations, the Egyptian government continues to deny Copts basic rights such as judicial and police protection from persecution, freedom of religious expression and worship, and equal opportunity employment.

Members of the Coptic community convened in Chicago to discuss the problems facing Copts in Egypt. “This security-service mentality, which tends to abandon the heart of the matter and pursue marginal issues, suspicions and conspiratorial thinking, is one of the factors that contributed to the collapse of objectivity and rationality in our thinking. this kind of thinking is so far removed from objective and civilized modes of analysis”, says Reformist Egyptian thinker and Muslim activist Tarek Heggy commenting on the Mubarak’s regime way of dealing with the issue.

The basic issue is: ‘Do the Copts in Egypt suffer from serious problems in their own country?’ The only possible answer is: ‘Yes’. Yes, Copts fear for themselves, their families, their property and their safety much more than Muslims do, though the latter, too, are not completely safe.” “Yes, Copts suffer from a public atmosphere of fanaticism, which is not characterized by friendliness towards them. Yes, Copts encounter exceptional obstacles in various stages of their lives - in acquiring education, obtaining a job and getting promotions - merely because they are Copts”, Heggy explains.

Mubarak’s state media in its frenzied coverage of the event called the conference and those participating in it as conspirators and traitors! Mubarak’s media considered the event that aimed at starting a rational dialogue about the status Copts as a conspiracy to pressure and defame Egypt and its government. As usual, the Mubarak’s regime deals with incidents related to the Copts not as a phenomenon that needs serious deliberation and governmental measures to correct the wrongdoings inflicted on the Copts, but rather it downplays and sweeps it under the rug.

Exposing the oppressive nature of Mubarak’s regime and its double standards in dealing with Copts, Heggy adds: “Oppressive, arbitrary laws: Clearly, the laws for establishing Christian houses of worship in Egypt are oppressive and unconstitutional. Because of this injustice, the Christians have paid dearly, in blood and property, for attempts to establish houses of worship. Mubarak’s Government behavior fosters extremism.

Mubarak’s regime should be held accountable to its abuse of the basic human rights of the Egyptian people. The U.S. State department’s reports are testament to such systematic abuse. The U.S. foreign aid and political support to the Mubarak’s regime should be contingent on human rights, freedom and democracy.

(ALADDIN ELAASAR is an award winning Arab-American journalist and author of several books including “Silent Victims: The plight of Arabs and Muslims in Post 9/11 America.” Copyright Arab Writers Group Syndicate, )