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Will America Help the Persecuted Copts of Egypt?

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Protection and justice for the Egyptian Coptic community is an issue that is very close to my heart. That is a major reason that this week’s Acton commentary highlights the grave difficulty of their situation. The inspiring news is that the international Coptic community has united to peacefully magnify their outrage of the violent shooting that took place on January 6; the date Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas Eve. I’d like to point out to our Powerblog readers one especially moving video by John Abiskaron called Coptic Justice. The short film chronicles the peaceful protests in Los Angeles on January 10.

I lived in Egypt for over two years and one thing that is especially telling about the people is how so many are very poor but filled with joy. Many of the poorest Egyptians are Christians too because of persecution by the Islamic majority and government. Living in Egypt was really the first time my eyes were opened to the heartbreaking poverty that plagues much of the globe. It was a very humbling experience and one that truly physically connects you to the deep thankfulness of your own opportunities and circumstances.

My first visit to the Zabaleen community in Cairo could only be described as almost utter disbelief. I didn’t want to believe people actually lived like that. And in a deeper spiritual sense you feel connected to them because the crosses many of them wear is a physical reminder that they are brothers and sisters in Christ. The Zebaleen are also a very proud and independent people and they have worked on many entrepreneurial endeavors with their task at trash collecting to better their own community and lives.

It is vital that Egypt receive greater pressure from the United States to vastly improve the treatment of Copts. It is important because it is a task that can be accomplished largely due to the amount of foreign aid Egypt receives from the United States. Egypt is very dependent on that aid and as Nina Shea will also reiterate in her upcoming Religion & Liberty interview, it is aid that must be leveraged for Coptic justice and protection.

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the the North State Journal in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.


  • Egyptian

    So, Ray, you’ve lived in Egypt for two years, and yet you claim that “many of the poorest Egyptians are Christians”?

    Do you not know that the RICHEST Egyptian (and in the top Arab list) is Coptic? Do you not know that the percentage of Copts working in medicine, pharmacies, jewelery is MUCH higher than Egyptian Muslims?

    You visited the “Zabaleen community,” (garbage collection/processing) which also, by the way, one of the very profitable industries dominated by Copts. You think why Copts have to deal with garbage? It is not because Copts are persecuted but because a complementary part of this industry is pig farming, which Muslims tend not to do.

    On behalf of all Egyptians, Copts and Muslims, I urge you and America to mind your own business. This is coming from an Egyptian who actually lives in Egypt.

  • Ahmose

    Egyptian, saying half the truth is a lie. Copts are descriminated against in all government jobs, public, and private sector which forced them to build their own businesses i.e. pharmacies, jewelerly, and other businesses. God blessed their businesses and flourished but it seems some people still don’t like that, let me remind you of the constant violent attacks by Islamists on the copt’s jewelerly stores to fund their terrorist attacks (never attacking muslim stores). Coptic medical students face horror in medical schools to prevent them from being teachers or specialized in Gynaecology. Zabaleen live in the worst conditions and even the pork industry you are talking about was taken away from them and their herds slaughtered (300,000 pig culled last year) under the excuse of preventing swine flu – the news were all over the world- there are no need to hide the truth from the world so as not to “damage Egypt image” as they say in the Egyptian media all the time, instead you should work on repatriation of the copts. We thank Ray for his effort and hope all the honest and free people of the World help in the Coptic plight. This message from a Copt.

  • Egyptian

    Ahmose, since I didn’t experience government or public sector, I cannot comment on it — but what I do know is that we have gov. ministers, company presidents, VP’s, and even internationally renowned Copts in key positions, such as the UN and IMF. In case you’re wondering, if the government really persecutes Copts as you say, they could’ve easily deprived them of these positions.

    In private sector, I haven’t witnessed any kind of discrimination myself. In fact, I have seen discrimination from Christian-owned businesses. Granted, there could be some small businesses who prefer Muslim or Christian employees based on their religion. But it goes both ways. And, in larger companies, I did not see any incident of discrimination from management. (again, a Christian or a Muslim employee might discriminate, but that doesn’t make you persecuted by government and private businesses)

    “[…] constant violent attacks by Islamists on the copt’s jewelerly stores to fund their terrorist attacks […]”

    I am well aware of that incident. Please give more than ONE example to to justify using “constant attacks”.

    “Coptic medical students face horror in medical schools […]”

    And yet, you see that most medical and pharma students are Coptic. Does that even make sense?

    “Zabaleen live in the worst conditions […]”
    Unfortunately, so do many Egyptians – Copts and Muslims alike!

    ” […] and even the pork industry you are talking about was taken away from them and their herds slaughtered (300,000 pig culled last year) under the excuse of preventing swine flu”

    I strongly opposed “culling” pigs but not moving them. It makes no sense at all to raise pigs in “garbage farms” in the middle of Cairo. The farms definitely needed to be removed and reallocated outside of Cairo.

    Now, Ahmose, could you honestly and truthfully tell me if you ARE actually living in Egypt right now? As usual, I highly doubt it.

    This is from an Egyptian, born, raised and living in Egypt.

  • Egyptian

    Needless to say, of course, that the attack Ray mentions, which followed Christmas mass in Nagaa Hamady that killed 7 Egyptians (6 Copts and 1 Muslim) was cowardice and is strongly condemned by Christians and Muslims alike. The killers were apprehended in hours by the government and now face execution.

  • Ahmose

    If you didn’t notice the UN is an international position and not an Egyptian government position and I am not even sure what the IMF are? Now tell me a current Copt who are holding a position in the government as university president/dean? Egypt has 24-26 governate and as far back as the 1950s only 2 Coptic governers ever came to that position (One in 1982, and the other 2007 after a lot of work and demands from copts in diaspora and pressure from the USA), Egypt’s parliment (444 seats) has 5 copts nominated by the president none elected. Private sector is not run by the government and it is possible you’ll find people descriminate both ways, but the government jobs should be available to Christians without descrimination since we pay equal -if not more- taxes and equally Egyptians. Every government Job you apply for they have a field in the form about your religion…hmmmm what does this tell you? Attacks on Coptic Jewelers are numerous since the 1980s… go back to Gamaa Islameya confessions well documented on ElJazeera TV (You can find it on you tube under Sadat Assasination documentary). Give me names of Coptic doctors specialized recently in Gynaecology? or hired as teachers in medical schools (there should be a lot since you say medical schools are full of copts). I don’t live in Egypt but I grew up in Egypt and faced descrimination myself and saw my dad suffering a lot from descrimination all his life. I am fortunate to live in a descrimination free environment and I will not forget about my prosecuted kin in Egypt, I’ll do my best to help them.

  • Ahmose

    Sorry…Just a correction I used the term ‘repatriation’ while the correct term is ‘Emancipation’ of the copts. Thanks.

  • Dear Ray, Thank you for posting this article and I am going to encourage you to continue to post these kinds of articles until religious freedom comes to Egypt. If there is no persecution of Copts in Egypt, then why is it mandatory is state your religion on your ID card? Why is it illegal to convert from Islam to Christianity in Egypt? To the first Egyptian who wrote a rebuttal to this article: Please do not ever speak on behalf of all Egyptians again, because your ignorance is an embarrassment to all of us. Thank you

  • Dalia

    Dear Ray: Thank you for your honesty. As you can see from some of the comments, you will find defensiveness instead of apologetic for their government’s mishandling of all persecution against Copts. Egypt used to be the most advanced country in the arab world, but look at it now, the worst because of all the Islamic education that is being taught in the schools, mosques, etc. Look how backward the women look with their ugly head covers and black long gowns … Unfortunately, it will take years to return Egypt to it’s civilized old self. Good help us all.

  • Tony

    Dear Ray – Thank you for the nice article, don’t mind those comments that shows how people are blind to the truth. It will take a miracle to correct the wrong, but we should push for it and never give up. It is like the moslem extremists brain wash these people. Although I have no doubt that they are educated, they sound ignorant denying the truth. No country in the world will ask for your religion on job applications, applying to universities, schools or jobs, except Egypt. As we were taught, we should pray about it and God will never let bad things happen to his people.

  • Michael

    Dear Ray, Thank you for publishing this article. It breaks my heart to see so many innocent individuals face religious intolerance and discrimination in Egypt today. There are incidents in Egypt where individuals are arrested for gathering and praying in their own homes. Converts to Christianity are not allowed to declare their Christian identity on their documents. Many times they are arrested, abused, harassed, and threatened for their lives. Most crimes amongst Coptic Christians are not punished according to the law. Authorities hold what they call “reconciliation meetings” where they force Christians to relinquish their rights. The way they go about this is randomly arresting family and friends of the victims and stating that they will only be released if the victim relinquishes their rights. The only way we can remedy these issues is by confronting them and finding ways to remedy these injustices. It has long been the government’s policy to deny these issues exist. When cofronted with evidence they often state that this is an internal affair. In reality, the persecution and ill treatment of a people based upon their religious beliefs is the concern of all civil society.

  • Great article, Ray! Thank you for shining a light on the persecution of the Copts and other Christians and marginalized peoples in Egypt. The Dhimmi, in the eyes of the Islamists. We will continue to push for religious freedom and equality, the human rights, the rights, of all people, including Christians!

  • Richard The Lionheart

    Thanks alot Ray for outlining the Coptic plight under islam.I myself have a deep conviction of outlining the plight of All the minority Christian NATIVES by the Occupying muslim invaders,who ‘Stole’ the lands of our Christian Brethren from Iraq to Sudan and Rewarded the Occupied Natives by Centuries of Orchestrated Genocide & Dhimmitude.
    Our Crusades against the Heathen muslims have made things worse IMO,
    1) we contributed to the Fall of the Byzantium Empire,
    2) we didnt eleminte the wild dogs (Muslim Occupiers of the Holy Lands) that jumped into the Lambs’ (Eastern Christian Brethren) enclosure (The Holy Lands),but only killed a few injured the rest of the dogs and left the lambs under the mercy (sic) of the wounded (now completely mad) dogs.
    Now in recent history,we contributed further to the misery of those Occupied Christians by propping up their Occupants’ muslim regimes.
    Way Ahead:
    1) Either by ‘clearing’ swathes of land in those muslim Occupied Territories & Assign it as “Independent Christian

  • Richard The Lionheart

    …Way Ahead:
    1) Either by ‘Clearing-up’ Swathes of land in those muslim Occupied Territories & Assign it as “INDEPENDENT CHRISTIAN STATES”
    (a) Withold All Aid from the muslim enclaves & halt All trade with them,afterall we are only popping-up those who bite the very hands that feed them,
    (b) Those Christian States should be established on the most Resource-rich parts of the muslim-occupied lands.
    That’ll turn the tables in the Christians’ Favour(1st time in Centuries since islamic take-over) & ensure them the Advantage of Self-sustainance through trade in their Own resources(Oil,Minerals,Agriculture,Tourism…etc),thus Saving us the Trillions of $$$ of Western Aid to muslim regimes that hate us!!!
    Add to that the +ve Contributions those Christians will add to Humanity in terms of Arts,Medicine, Science & Technology.
    (c) Withold All Interactions with the muslim enclaves…Let islam Wither & Die.
    The only interaction is Militarily, if they dare attack us or the NEWLY Formed Christian States.

  • Richard The Lionheart

    …Way Ahead:
    1)Either by ‘Clearing up’ Swathes of land in those muslim Occupied Territories & Assign it as “INDEPENDENT CHRISTIAN STATES”
    2)Launch a Global Crusade to Rid All World of Anything Islamic & Return ALL the Stolen Lands, back to its Christian Natives.
    This Option will result in the ‘Swift’ End of Islam rather the ‘Withering & Death’ as in Option 1),but may result in many Christian deaths among the Higher Collateral Damage,unless
    (a) adopting a ‘Selective’ immigration Policy of letting in Christians ONLY from the muslim-Occupied Counries.Still that will leave many Christians there,hence
    (b) Apply Overt & Covert Pressure Politics into forcing the islamic regimes into grouping the Christian Natives into self-autonomous regions guarded by Us.
    Hence during the Crusade,we wont kill Christians inadvertendly.
    Lets start using our Annual Aid of Billions of $$$ to the Occupying islamic regimes, for Our & that of our Christian Brethren’s Advantage.

  • Zak

    To Egyptian—-February 4, 2010
    So you want proof for “[…] constant violent attacks by Islamists on the copt’s jewelerly stores to fund their terrorist attacks […]”
    It is only year 2009-2010 — I could go more back but I need to do more research. I’m doing this because some people can hear and see all facts but choose to close their eyes and just ignore the facts. The fact that after each attack on Copt Moslem either shouted Alah Akber or attack Christian business.

    November 21, 2009 the Egyptian town of Farshoot, massive Muslim mob attacks vandalized and burnt Coptic properties
    November 23, 2009 early hours, the Egyptian village of “Abu Shousha”, Christian-owned businesses were looted and burnt.
    November 23, 2009, new attacks were taking place Monday night in Al-Arky village.
    November 24, 2010 Egyptian security forces cordoned off St. Mary’s Church in Talbiya, Cairo One hundred and sixty eight Copts were arrested.

    As for you claiming that you witnessed discrimination from Christian-owned businesses.

    “In fact, I have seen discrimination from Christian-owned businesses.”
    It is a fact that Christian in Egypt are 8 to 10% (minorities) some of them owe small business. You are saying “ Granted, there could be some small businesses who prefer Muslim or Christian employees based on their religion. But it goes both ways.”
    If Moslem population is 90% it is not fair to say it “But it goes both ways”

    Strongly opposed “culling” pigs but not moving them.
    So you support moving pig’s farms from the middle of Cairo. So I guess you want to move ElSal7’ana from Cairo. I bit that if it was a lamp farm you would not say so.
    Please !! Can people like you just shut up.