Anti-Christian Sentiment in Egypt Heats Up
As bombings continue against Christians in Iraq, Christians in Egypt have gathered to pray and plan for their own safety. When a group of Islamic extremists on Oct. 31 burst into Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad and began spraying the sanctuary with gunfire, the militant organization that took responsibility said Christians in Egypt also would be targeted. Security has increased at churches throughout Egypt and the number of uniformed and plain-clothes officers has doubled at churches.
The recent wave of concern came against a backdrop of already heightened tensions between the Muslim majority and the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt. Tensions began after the wife of a Coptic priest, Camilia Zakher, disappeared in July. According to government sources and published media reports, Zakher left her home after a heated argument with her husband. But Coptic protestors claimed she had been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. She since has been found and returned home.
To add to the tensions, a month after the Zakher incident, Egyptian media reported in error that Egypt’s State Security Intelligence had seized a ship from Israel laden with explosives headed for the son of an official of the Coptic Orthodox church. Rumors began that Copts were stockpiling weapons in the basements of their churches with plans to overthrow the Muslim majority. The Front of Religious Scholars has since called for a complete boycott of Christians in Egypt. The group called Christians “immoral,” labeled them “terrorists” and said Muslims should not patronize their businesses or even say “hello” to them.
In 639, seven years after Muhammad died; Muslim armies rode across from Syria and Palestine and invaded Egypt. At first the Muslims treated the conquered Christians relatively well, but within a generation, they began the Islamization of the country, demanding all official business be conducted in Arabic. Coptic and Jewish residents were forced to pay special taxes and obey rules designed to reaffirm their second-class status. In the centuries since then, the treatment of Christians in Egypt has ebbed and flowed depending on the whim of those in power. In 1971, then-President Anwar Sadat introduced a new constitution designating Islamic law as “a principle source of legislation” in Egypt. In 1980, the National Assembly made Islam the official religion of the state. Estimates of the Coptic population range from 7 to 12 percent of Egypt’s 84 million people. They are accepted by some in Egypt and openly discriminated against by others.
A 35-year-old Protestant woman, who declined to give her name, said that she was not sure whether attacks on Christians would happen in response to the threats, but whatever happens she expects that Christians in Egypt will continue to endure persecution. “According to the Bible, we know this is going to happen,” she said. “The Bible said that we will be persecuted. It is expected.” She added that Christians in Cairo have unified in prayer meetings about the threats. “I know people are praying now,” she said. “We have times for our people to pray, so all of us are praying.”
Father, we join in prayer for Christians living in Egypt. Father comfort them, sooth their wounds and fears, provide for their every needs, and bless them with Your perfect peace. We ask that the threats against our brothers and sisters in Egypt cease and the plans of those who intend them harm will be halted. And, through the brave witness of the Egyptian Christians as they stand strong and united in the midst of adversary; we pray that the perpetrators will see You.
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