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October 20, 2011

Column #1,573

Christian Copts in Egypt Need Help

By Mike McManus

            The “Clash of Civilizations” was visible October 9 in Cairo when Coptic Christians marched peacefully to a TV station in the Maspero neighborhood, and were met by 1,000 Army troops. They not only fired on the demonstrators, but armored personnel carriers actually jumped sidewalks and ran over Copts, killing 6 of them. Another 21 were killed by gunfire in the massacre and 300 were wounded.

            The Copt demonstration was sparked by the burning of a Coptic church near Aswan in southern Egypt.  Muslims were furious that the church was being repaired, though Christians had permission to do so, and Copts even agreed to remove a cross and bells.    

Muslims ideology cannot stomach allowing some neighbors to be Christian.

            I visited a Copt church in Cairo in 1995 and was shocked by the 400-year-old structure’s disrepair. Copts explained that no church repairs could be made unless President Mubarek personally agreed to it. This was not a very subtle oppression of Coptic Christians, who are a tenth of Egypt’s 81 million people.   Under U.S. pressure, In 2005, Mubarek allowed Governors to give such permission.

            It was a tiny concession.  Result: the burning of 11 Coptic Christian churches. Copts are treated as second-class citizens.

“The Mubarek years were not easy sailing. After him, the situation got much worse,” says Halim Meawad, a Copt who emigrated to America 42 years ago, and became a U.S. Foreign Service Officer.

“While some churches had been burned before, the rate increased dramatically, and 27 Copts were killed in Maspero. There’s a total breakdown of law and order.  In the year 2000, on New Year’s Day, 21 Copts were slaughtered at the hands of fanatics. This is the first time that the massive killing was done by the government itself.”

Meawad helped organize a demonstration Wednesday by hundreds of U.S. Coptic Christians in front of the White House, who then marched up Pennsylvania Avenue to meet with their Congressmen. 

Bearded Coptic priests stood in front of the crowd facing the White House with 8 black “caskets” to remember those murdered with guns and armored personnel carriers that were purchased by American taxpayers. 

Egypt has been the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid (next to Israel), more than $70 billion, since the Camp David Accords.

“Our goal is to gain the support of the American public.  We want to bring our problem to the attention of our Administration and also to our elected officials,” Meawad told me. “We are hoping for heavy interference.  The October 9 massacre was a new development. American funded equipment was used against peaceful demonstrators.”

The Copts held up provocative signs: “CHRISTIAN BLOOD IS NOT CHEAP. “

“End Christian Persecution in Egypt.“

“Your Tax Dollars Kill Christians in Egypt. How many deaths does it take to declare GENOCIDE?”

“It has been 1,400 years of Islamic oppression.  We still stand defiant.”

Leaders of the group, standing 10 feet from the fence surrounding the White House, shouted slogans, which were repeated by hundreds of Copts:

“U.S. funded Egyptian military kills Coptic Christians!”

“Brink your tank and run over me.”

 “We are Egyptians. We are Coptic.  We love Muslims. We will never forget Egypt.”

An hour after the demonstration began, the Hudson Institute hosted a panel discussion a few blocks away, “What does the Massacre at Maspero Mean for Egyptian Christians,”   hosted by Nina Shea, Director of Hudson’s Center for Religious Freedom.

“When the Arab spring hit Cairo, the expectations were that a new era would start in Egypt, bringing democracy,” said Samuel Tadros, a John Hopkins scholar. “We are beginning to realize that Egypt will be a democracy but that does not mean religious freedom will improve…The only option remaining is immigration.”

Of 8 million people?

Eric Trager with the Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, asserted, “The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood would be a very bad thing for Egyptian Christians, the Copts.”

Afterward, Shea said, “The troops probably did not have orders to kill but to disperse the crowd.  But they were undisciplined, plowing into demonstrators with armored vehicles. One famous young leader of that march was shot in the chest. A soldier stuck his head out, shouting, “I shot a Copt in the chest.”  The crowd responded, “You are a real man.”

The White House response was anemic, saying the violence between the military and demonstrators should stop, rather than expressing outrage at the slaughter.

The U.S. should demand that soldiers be prosecuted for murder.  We should reduce but not eliminate $2 billion of military aid to Egypt, so that we have leverage to press for more religious freedom as a new government is formed.

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