A Brutal Attack
We began the New Year, just a few short weeks ago, with a brutal terrorist attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt. 21 people were killed and 79 injured when a car bomb exploded outside the church.
Systemic Discrimination for Centuries
While much of the world was seen condemning the perpetrators and expressing support for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a deeper look at this situation shows that the Egyptian Coptic community has been systematically discriminated against for centuries. President Mubarak was quoted by the L.A. Times, “This act of terrorism shook the country’s conscience, shocked our feelings and hurt the hearts of Muslim and Coptic Egyptians,” he said in an emergency address to the nation. “The blood of their martyrs in the land of Alexandria mixed to tell us all that all Egypt is the target and that blind terrorism does not differentiate between a Copt and a Muslim.”
The Copts are the largest minority in Egypt with around 5% of the population however they still need special approval before being able to carry out even basic renovations on their churches. In the past this approval was granted by the president himself. Today it is granted by the regional governor. Some people point to this change as an example of shifting policy towards the Copts but this is nothing more than a bureaucratic change. They still need special permission before any work is done on their churches and such approval is never required for work done on mosques.
Recent attacks against Coptic Christians
In order to better assess the situation in which the Copts are living let’s take a look at some recent events that prove a strong history of discrimination against this group of people. 20 Copts were killed in a confrontation in late 2000, early 2001 when a personal dispute between two individuals escalated into a confrontation between Muslims and Christians. (“Egyptian court orders clashes retrial”. BBC News. July 30, 2001)
In 2006, an 80-year-old man was killed and 6 others were wounded when a Muslim man wielding machetes attacked three churches in Alexandria. “What is worrying me is not the attack itself, but the insistence of the Egyptian security to cloud the truth,” said Youssef Saidhum, editor of Watani, a weekly Coptic newspaper. “It does not only upset Copts, but it sends a message to the attackers, regardless of their ideology, that the government is either afraid of them or supports them, so they get stronger and bolder.” (NY Times. April 14, 2006)
In May 2010 the Wall Street Journal reported waves of attacks by Muslim mobs on Coptic Christians. The police would not help other than forcing the Coptic Christians into superficial reconciliation after the violence was over. (Zaki, Moheb. May 18, 2010. “Egypt’s Persecuted Christians”)
In Marsa Matrouh, a main Egyptian tourist city and getaway resort for many Europeans, a mob of 3,000 Muslims attacked the city’s Coptic population. 400 Copts were forced to barricade themselves in a church while the mob destroyed 18 homes, 23 shops and 16 cars. This is reminiscent of the pogroms of Eastern Europe against the Jews in the early 20th century.
Human Trafficking against Coptic Girls
In addition to all of the attacks there is widespread human trafficking against Coptic girls who are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and sexually exploited by Muslim men. United States Congressmen have complained about this fact to the Egyptian government but no appropriate measures have been taken. (Abrams, Joseph. April 21, 2010. “House Members Press White House to Confront Egypt on Forced Marriages.” foxnews.com)
Decline in Coptic population not associated with migration
In 1897 the Egyptian population was made up of 13.2% Copts. Today that number has decreased to 5.7%. There is no external reason which can explain the decline of this population.
If President Mubarak is serious about fighting terrorism he must fight for equal rights and equal standing of the Copts in his country. As long as discrimination exists against the Copts there will be recurring violence against them led by fundamentalists. It is the responsibility of the leaders who have let this atmosphere of hate foster to turn this situation around.