Where Now For Egypt’s Christians?

Mubarak has fallen. The mob rejoices, Robert Fisk rhapsodises in today’s Independent, Obama smirks and the internet boasts “It was Twitter what done it.”

In the midst of the fireworks and acclamation there is one group who look to the future with trepidation.  Egypt’s Christians fear what will happen next. When last week Pope Shenouda, leader of the Coptic Christians, said he wanted the anti-Mubarak protesters to stand down it wasn’t because he loved dictators.

There are about 8,000,000 Christians in Egypt, the vast majority of them Coptic Christians. They look around and see the steady ethnic cleansing of Christians as the collateral damage of western oil dependency and Islamic imperialism.

Palestine has seen an exodus of Christians from the land of Jesus birth. In 1990 it was estimated that 60% of Bethlehem’s population were Christians, that figure is closer to 15% today.

Iraq has seen the persecution and murder of Christians as a common occurrence. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees between September and December last year more than 1,000 Christian families fled central Iraq for the Kurdish north. Christian sources in Iraq consider this an underestimation.

One convent in Hamdaniyah in the north of Iraq has been attacked 20 times since the start of Iraq’s inter-Muslim civil war, and according to reports it is now down to four nuns out of an original 55.

Before the invasion approximately 1,500,000 Christians lived in Iraq, today more than half have been forced out.

Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute notes of the recent attack on a church in Cairo resulting in the deaths of more than 20 Christians that “the context is a government that has failed to make the rights of religious minorities a priority.” And this took place under a relatively secular dictator, dependent on Western aid.

What will happen when the Muslim Brotherhood comes to the fore? In terms of public opinion, the Brotherhood may be pushing at an open door as it attempts to push pro-Islamist policies. According to a Pew survey in Egypt last year, 84% of Egyptian Muslims support executing apostates.

Earlier this week James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence in the USA, described the Muslim Brotherhood as “largely secular.” Even I would hesitate to describe American Episcopalians that way never mind a militant Islamic group explicitly devoted to violent jihad.

Perhaps Kamal al-Halbavi, a senior member of the Brotherhood, was just teasing when he told the BBC the other day that he hoped Egypt soon would have a government “like the Iranian government, and a good president like Mr. Ahmadinejad.” We all know these militant Islamists and their zany sense of humour.

Gaza is ruled by a Brotherhood offshoot, as is Egypt’s southern neighbour, Sudan. The Brotherhood  seized power there 1983 (when it was only the third largest of the Muslim parties), killed its opponents, and engaged in two genocidal wars. Last month the largely Christian south, after decades of violent persecution, overwhelmingly voted to break away from the Islamist north. Egypt’s Christians will not get the same chance.

Egypt is very unlikely to be another Sudan, but when two of Egypt’s neighbours are already run by Muslim Brotherhood offshoots it suggests that an Egypt with a strong Brotherhood is going to be a grim place, especially for Christians.

Back on 12th Feb, 1979, Time magazine reported “. . . a sense of controlled optimism in Iran. . . . Iranians will surely insist that the revolution live up to its democratic aims. . . . Those who know [Khomeini] expect that eventually he will settle in the Shi’ite holy city of Qum and resume a life of teaching and prayer. It seems improbable that he would try to become a kind of Archbishop Makarios of Iran, directly holding the reins of power. Khomeini believes that Iran should become a parliamentary democracy, with several political parties.”

We all know how it worked out that time.


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