SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Tens of thousands of Christians have left post-revolution Egypt due to concerns over rising Muslim conservatism and a general instability they say is emboldening attacks against them, according to World Watch Monitor (WWM).
Perhaps the most dramatic example of sectarian tension yet occurred Sunday in central Cairo, where a crowd attacked Christian mourners after they emerged from a funeral in Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral. Today Coptic Pope Tawadros II underscored rising tensions between Christians and Muslims when he criticized Islamist president Mohammed Morsi for the weekend violence which resulted in the deaths of four Christians, according to Associated Press (AP).
The state of instability, decaying economy and rise in crime have scared many Egyptians into leaving, or trying to — not least of all Egyptian Christians who say they are easy targets when trouble erupts and there is no system in place to protect them, reports WWM.
“They feel if there is an issue, there is vigilante violence,” said Douglas May, a U.S. Catholic priest based in Egypt where he has lived for 18 years.
He told WWM that although there were restrictions on minorities under former President Hosni Mubarak, Christians felt safer because there was at least a sense the country was under control.
Measured in applications to leave Egypt, the post-revolution distress is being felt by all Egyptians, according to a European diplomat based in Cairo. She said it was “most likely” a desire for security and economic well-being that had led to an increased demand at her embassy for visas she said were being sought by “Christians as well as Muslims.”
There are no official figures for how many Christians have left Egypt since the revolution, though estimates range as high as in the tens of thousands, according to WWM.
“When there is no clarity, rumors abound,” said Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak, patriarch of Egypt’s estimated 250,000 Coptic Catholics. “There are those saying hundreds of thousands, others saying thousands, but there are people leaving, this we know — and not only Christians, Muslims are leaving as well.”
“I don’t have what is needed to convince them not to travel abroad,” Sedrak told WWM. “All I can do is to tell them we are here in our country, [and] we have a message. Yes, we have difficulties here, but there are difficulties outside too."
In Egypt’s regions south of Cairo, kidnappings of Christians are increasingly common. The AP reports more than 150 kidnappings have been reported in the southern province of Minya since the revolution.
The kidnappers mostly are criminals motivated by ransom, not religion, reports WWM. But they roam freely, according to minority advocates, because they have little fear they will be held accountable for crimes against the Christian minority. "The state has made Christian blood cheap," Father Estephanos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Samalout, about 80 miles south of Cairo, told AP.
Reports issued by human-rights agencies, as well as the U.S. State Department, conclude government security forces have failed to prevent or stop violence involving Christians in several instances since the revolution. They make special note of an Oct. 9, 2011, peaceful demonstration made up of mostly Christians in front of the country’s national television building, Maspero, which resulted in as many as 28 deaths.
Salah, a 35-year-old father of four, said it was hard to imagine a life more difficult than the one he already knows in Manshiyat Naser, the impoverished slum on the outskirts of Cairo where he lives among thousands of others of the city’s Christian garbage collectors.
Providing only his first name, Salah told WWM Muslim thugs attacked the area in March 2011, after Christians there had protested the burning down of a church in another Cairo neighborhood a few days before. He recounted that military forces on hand had watched as the thugs looted and torched Christian homes in the violence.
“Houses burned, and families were destroyed and nine Christians were killed and I don’t know how many were wounded,” Salah said of the event, which local and international human rights groups documented at the time.
Salah said one of his relatives has applied “20 times” for permanent-resident status in the United States. He said he dreams of leaving too, but doesn’t think he’d be able. He is illiterate, he said, and raising his four young children alone, after his wife died giving birth three years ago.
“Many [Christians] want to leave,” Salah said, “but their possibilities are limited.”
“Please join Open Doors in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Egypt,” says Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra. “Many are caught in the crossfire of general violence and being targeted by Muslim extremists. Pray for the Lord to give them wisdom on whether to stay in their beloved homeland or flee.”
Egypt is ranked No. 25 on the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.
c. 2013 Open Doors USA. Used with permission.
For almost 60 years Open Doors has worked in the world's most oppressive and restrictive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ's light in these places. Open Doors empowers persecuted Christians by supplying Bibles and Christian literature, training Christian leaders, facilitating social/economic projects and uniting believers in the West in prayer for Christians, who are the most persecuted religious group in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our website at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
Publication date: April 9, 2013