Arab Spring not bringing revolution or freedom for Christians

December 29, 2011 by  
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Egypt MaggieosamaEgypt, December 15, 2011:  11 months ago, the spark of revolution ignited in Tunisia. Within weeks, the first regime tumbled.
What followed in the next few months was the toppling of other repressive governments. The season of protest was soon dubbed “Arab Spring.” The movement changed the landscape of the Middle East and North Africa and sent shockwaves around the world.

However, not everyone has been benefitting from the uprisings. Carl Moeller is President and CEO of Open Doors USA, a ministry advocating on the behalf of the persecuted church. He says, “The reality for Christians in Northern Africa, Middle Eastern region, that have experienced an ‘Arab Spring’ is that the situation is far more complex and dangerous for Christians in that region than it was a year ago. The political dimension of almost every one of the revolutions has become the contours of an Islamic government.”

Christians were already a minority population in countries like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and for them the future is all but clear. Did they get any benefit from the democracy movement? It depends on who you ask. Many hailed the movement as a victory for democracy. However, the reality doesn’t resemble democracy as Americans recognize it. Moeller says, “That didn’t dim the optimism that many of our Christian brothers in Egypt had during that time frame, because they were throwing off a regime that was oppressive. One of the challenges now is to reconcile those great hopes with the unmistakable reality that there is still a very strong possibility that persecution is going to increase.”

Will 2012 bring more persecution and marginalization for Christians, or greater liberty to worship? Moeller says, “In places like Egypt, we are going to see a lot more turmoil before the day is out. There’s one thing you can say about this movement: it is still defining itself.” It’s not totally set in stone, Moeller points out.
“There are still two more election rounds to go, and we know that in those election rounds, other things can happen to form the final form of the government.”
Moeller adds that the current situation in Egypt in which the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is holding an estimated 40% of the seats in the parliamentary elections so far is a reality check for Coptic and evangelical Christians, who comprise 10% of the population. Hardline Salafists are also doing well in the on-going election.
Soon, Egyptian believers may be joining the ranks of Iraqi believers on the move. “We think that Christians will emigrate more; we think there will be an upswing in persecution and restrictions. But we’re still hopeful and prayerful that the church will continue to grow, nonetheless.”

The up-side of this story is that it means the Gospel is taking root. “Where the Gospel is penetrating more, there’s more persecution. Where there’s more persecution, it seems that there’s a greater opportunity for the Gospel to be shared and for the church to actually grow.”

It’s a paradox of note: “They become more committed to their faith as their faith that they’re committed to costs them more.”  The single most requested help coming from believers in the region is prayer.  Moeller says, “Pray for the Christians in Egypt to be strong amid the uncertainty and the increasing pressure. Pray for the political process that it will produce a government in many of these countries that will respect the rights of Christians.”

A Christian in Egypt made the following request to the Open Doors team while saying goodbye: “Thank you for coming. It was a great encouragement, and it really meant something for us. Please remember us in your prayers and ask believers in the West to pray for us. We need your prayers. We need to be one in Christ in this challenging chapter of our history. My wife and I want to stay here, but we know it will not be easy. Please, do not forget us and leave us alone.”

– mnn

House of Lords debate on Christians in the Middle East *Christians are under attack in the Middle East

December 11, 2011 by  
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The ArchbishopUnited Kingdom, December 9, 2011: The Archbishop of Canterbury introduced and closed an almost 5-hour debate in the House of Lords on the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

Lord Wood of Anfield and Lord Howell of Guildford concluded the debate on behalf of the Opposition and the Government.
Read the full Hansard record of the debate, or watch it on www.parliamentlive.tv.
Listen to Archbishop’s introductory remarks [30Mb; 16mins] and concluding remarks [11Mb; 6mins]
A transcript of the Archbishop’s introductory remarks follows.

My Lords, many people these days have a short and skewed historical memory. It is all too easy to go along with the assumption that Christianity is an import to the Middle East rather than an export from it. Because the truth is that for two millennia the Christian presence in the Middle East has been an integral part of successive civilisations—a dominant presence in the Byzantine era, a culturally very active partner in the early Muslim centuries, a patient and long-suffering element, like the historic Jewish communities of the Maghreb and the Middle East, in the complex mosaic of ethnic jurisdictions within the Ottoman Empire and, more recently, a political catalyst and nursery of radical thinking in the dawn of Arab nationalism. To be ignorant of this is to risk misunderstanding a whole world of political and religious interaction and interdependence and to yield to the damaging myth that, on the far side of the Mediterranean or the Bosphorus, there is a homogeneous Arab and Muslim world, a parallel universe. I do not need to elaborate for your Lordships the dangers we invite in accepting any such assumption. The Middle East is not a homogeneous region, and the presence of Christians there is a deep-rooted reality. We are not talking about a foreign body, but about people who would see their history and their destiny alike bound up with the countries where they live, and bound up in local conversations with a dominant Muslim culture, which they are likely to see in terms very different from those that might be used by western observers.

Yet at the present moment, the position of Christians in the region is more vulnerable than it has been for centuries. The flow of Christian refugees from Iraq in the wake of constant threat and attack has left a dramatically depleted Christian population there, and perhaps I can say in passing how very glad and grateful I was to have stood alongside the Grand Mufti of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo at a press conference here in London some three years ago joining in condemnation of attacks on Christians in Iraq. Similar senior voices from al-Azhar have been heard more recently in condemnation of anti-Christian outrages in Egypt itself.

Issues in Egypt are inevitably among the most immediate in the minds of many of us just now. Of late, the Coptic community has seen levels of emigration rise to unprecedented heights, and in a way that would have been unthinkable even a very few years ago, it is anxious about sharing the fate of other Christian communities that once seemed securely embedded in their setting. Perhaps the most troubling example, as your Lordships will be well aware, is the case of the Palestinians, one of the most sophisticated and professional Christian populations in the region, but now a fast-shrinking presence as a result of the tragic situation in the West Bank. Whether in Egypt, Israel and Palestine or Syria, what were once relatively secure communities are now increasingly seen as vulnerable. In Egypt, this involves a notably significant percentage of the population, with a deeply distinguished history, and it is not surprising if the current situation is causing apprehension, despite the many excellent examples of Christian-Muslim co-operation on the ground there.

The phenomenon of the Arab spring has brought some new considerations into play, and that is why I am particularly grateful that it has been possible to have this debate in your Lordships’ House today. Even as we speak, the future of the Arab spring is still deeply unclear. It has not been in any obvious sense a religious movement: the energy for change has originated with those who want to see accountable government, participatory politics, a robust definition and defence of equal citizenship for all, an end to repression of opinion, an end to rule by security agencies that are free to bully and torture, and an end to the culture of impunity. Perhaps it is worth noting in the light of all that that 9 December happens to be international Anti-Corruption Day. We need to remember too that so much of this is simply a demand that Governments in the region act on the commitments to human rights and dignities to which they have already signed up in a variety of international agreements.

The means by which this revolutionary energy has spread across the region have been the social networking media of our age and the accessibility of good reporting from many sources, not least Al-Jazeera. Yet the challenges to dictatorship have, just as in the Balkans, brought their own dangers and instabilities. What began as a distinctively non-sectarian set of movements has inevitably opened the door to some of those Islamic political activists who suffered repression under the old regimes. We wait to see exactly what agenda such groups will now want to advance as they win high levels of popular electoral support—whether this will mean new kinds of repression in which non-Muslim and, importantly, non-orthodox Muslim communities will become targets for discrimination or whether something more like the Turkish model will emerge: an openly and strongly Islamic Government with, equally, a strong commitment to practical pluralism and political transparency. This seems to be the direction in which Tunisia is moving, and we hope and pray that this may still be possible in Egypt. It is certainly not the case that we can assume that “extremists” are poised to take over the region tomorrow, but we still need to take with utmost seriousness the anxieties that are felt by communities already feeling exposed and uncertain.

The Arab spring has meant dramatically different things in different countries and, as these last remarks underline, there are a number of different political possibilities for governance grounded in Islamic principles. But against such a background we may get a clearer sense of how and why the Christian presence matters, and why its future is surrounded by so many anxieties. No one is seeking a privileged position for Christians in the Middle East, nor should they be. But what we can say—I firmly believe that most Muslims here and in many other places would agree entirely—is that the continued presence of Christians in the region is essential to the political and social health of the countries of the Middle East. Their presence challenges the assumption that the Arab world and the Muslim world are just one and the same thing, which is arguably good for Arabs and Muslims alike. They demonstrate that a predominantly Muslim polity can accommodate, positively and gratefully, non-Muslims as fellow citizens, partners in an enterprise that is not exclusively determined by religious loyalties even when rooted in specific religious principles.

Christians in the Middle East are very sensitive to being described as “minorities”. For them, never mind the statistics, this can imply that they are somehow necessarily alien or marginal, rather than being both indigenous to their countries and historically bound up in the fabric of their societies. One of their real grievances is what they experience as the twofold undermining of their identity that comes from a new generation of Muslim enthusiasts treating them as pawns of the West and, on the other hand, from a western political rhetoric that either ignores them totally or thoughtlessly puts them at risk by casting military conflict in religious terms. Talk of crusading comes to mind. They are looking at the prospect of centuries of coexistence being jeopardised in a new, polarised global politics. They have no illusions about the problems that have characterised their history and the record of Arab and Turkish rule is not an entirely rosy picture. Memories are still vivid of segregation in various kinds under the Ottomans. Yet, the Christians of the region will obstinately insist that this is a history in which they have been agents, not simply anonymous extras. Their absence from the region would entail a massive and damaging collective amnesia.

Many of the Christian communities face a painful dilemma at the moment. Under some of the discredited regimes of recent years, they have enjoyed a certain degree of freedom from aggression or discrimination. The first tremors of political change were felt by some Christians as a bit of a threat to a status quo that, while anything but ideal, was a bit more bearable than some alternatives. Yet many of them felt equally that the popular pressure for accountable government and clear principles of civil liberty for all was a welcome development—indeed, a development of exactly the kind that so many Arab Christian intellectuals of the early and mid-20th century had eloquently argued for. The role of Arab Christian intellectuals in helping to galvanise several important movements across the region is still a story too little known in the West. At the moment, most of these communities urgently want to know whether the Arab spring will be good or bad news for them, and for other non-Muslim or non-majority presences. Once again, it is worth insisting that concern for Christian communities in the region is inseparable from a concern for the overall good of the societies of which they are part.

Are there steps that can be taken or at least priorities to be identified for us in this very varied and complex situation? I trust that today’s debate will bring to light some of the specifics on which people wish to concentrate. One obvious overall point is that solutions can come only from within the societies of the region. The task of those outside is not to impose their own agenda and certainly not to do anything that adds colouring to the false and pernicious idea that indigenous Christians are somehow natural allies of a foreign government or an alien culture. But, that being said, it is important that we affirm as strongly as we can the importance of a political settlement in the region that will genuinely secure the good of all and be properly accountable to the peoples of the countries involved. Whether or not such a settlement involves a government conducted on Islamic principles matters less for these purposes than whether such a government are prepared to recognise an authentic status of citizenship for non-Muslims.

This is not about the creation—let me repeat once again—of a special status for Christians or others but about a general commitment to civic equality and the rule of law. This is why, incidentally, there is deep reluctance in Iraq to accept the idea of Christian enclaves as a solution to the situation there. Many recognise, with heavy hearts, that things may come to such a pass that there are few, if any, other options that will guarantee the safety of Christians. But they still feel, surely rightly, that the creation of enclaves would be the yielding of an important principle.

It is possible to argue, on the basis of Christian and Islamic thought alike, in favour of transparent government and a proper notion of civic equality. This is not a matter of any narrowly “western” idea of good governance but is about basic political ethics. That is the sort of argument about good governance as such that needs to be pursued if Christian communities are going to be secure in the future; not any sort of case for special treatment but a strong argument for justice, honesty and respectful diversity in the societies of the region.

There is one other point worth making that brings the argument closer to home. Our long-term hope, as I have insisted in these remarks, must be that the communities of which I have spoken will have a guaranteed place in their historic homelands and in the political life and discourse of their societies. Meanwhile, though, many are still forced from their homes and many end up on our own shores. One thing that often deeply intensifies the sense of being ignored and misunderstood is an attitude here towards Christian migrants or refugees from the region which assumes that they must be Muslim because they are Arab. I am sorry to say this, but in the past I have heard such sentiments even from some in government. It is an attitude that can sometimes also assume that they are converts whose faith depends on western missions and therefore in some way they are responsible, by their own choice, for their situation. A Palestinian Christian friend of mine was wont to say when asked by westerners, “When did your family become Christians?” “About 2,000 years ago”. We need some crystal clear guidance and education on these things if we are to avoid what is both a ludicrous and an insulting outcome. Syrian Orthodox children, for example—this is a real instance—were told by teachers in a British school that they should not attend a Christian assembly because they must be Muslims if they are Syrians. We can do something about this in short order, and I trust that government and public bodies will do it.

In conclusion, let me say how very grateful I am for the opportunity to raise these issues today in your Lordships’ House at a time when they could hardly be more pressing. The potential for a radical political renewal throughout the Middle East and north Africa is immense, as are the risks. My contention has been that the security and well-being of the historic Christian communities in the region are something of a litmus test in relation to these wider issues of the political health of the region. I hope that our discussion today will constantly keep those broad political and ethical hopes in focus. I expect some distinguished contributions to the debate. Perhaps I may take this opportunity in particular of acknowledging with gratitude the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, in the Chamber and look forward to his contribution to our deliberations. I am particularly aware that the observance of Shabbat will oblige him to leave the Chamber early so I am all the more appreciative of his support. I beg to move.

Christians are under attack in the Middle East

 

Egypt ChristiansUnited Kingdom, December 9th, 2011: The uprisings in north Africa and the Middle East have made life very uncomfortable for Christians in the region.

Today the Archbishop of Canterbury will introduce a debate in the House of Lords in which he will speak about the Islamists’ persecution of Christians throughout north Africa and the Middle East.
Threats, violence, the burning of houses and churches, and murder are the regular fate of Christians in these countries, but the persecutions are set to intensify following the so-called Arab Spring. In fact, Christians’ predicament has worsened already.

When the insurrections broke out earlier this year, there was an optimism among secular liberals in the West so ecstatic that it recalled William Wordsworth’s response to the French revolution: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive; but to be young was very heaven.”

Wiser commentators did not expect those bright semi-Westernised youngsters, organising their revolution in Tunisia and Egypt on their mobile phones and Facebook, to convert overnight inhabitants of ancient despotisms into Guardian-reading democrats and BBC-watching secularists.

What these commentators predicted is quickly coming to pass. From Tunisia to Egypt, Islamist parties have gained the ascendancy. In Egypt, for instance, the Muslim Brotherhood and an extreme Salafi party have between them secured two thirds of the vote. That in a state where Christians who are frequently attacked by Muslim militants receive no protection from either the Egyptian police or the security forces.

In Libya the National Transitional Council, which has succeeded the fall of Gaddafi, has declared that Sharia will be the principal source of law.

There are a million Christians in Iran and they live under constant oppression by the authorities who govern the country as a totalitarian Muslim theocracy. It is greatly feared and widely expected that the plight of Christians there will become even more perilous if and when the western powers launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iranian Christians will no doubt be targeted as co-conspirators.

Syria, already home to two million Christians, has recently received the influx of hundreds of thousands more fleeing sectarian persecution following the war in Iraq. A takeover by Islamists after Assad has been removed threatens to make the lives of Syrian Christians intolerable.

Of course, the wholesale persecution of Christians – from Tunisia all the way to the failed state of Pakistan – is nothing new. It’s just going to get ten times worse in the near future. Let us pray for the Archbishop and hope that his desire for some remedy is realised. It’s difficult, though, to see what he can do against the forces of oppression, ironically strengthened by that Arab Spring.

– peter mullen

Religious identification of two boys in Egypt restored to Christianity

December 3, 2011 by  
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Mario Adn Andrew

Mario and Andrew (Photo: Compass Direct News)

Egypt, December 1, 2011: A positive development has ended a long running case concerning twin boys in Egypt. Mario and Andrew’s religious registration was changed to “Muslim” by their father when he converted to Islam and divorced their mother, Kamilia. Although Kamilia won a custody battle in 2009, a court ruled in 2010 that the twins’ religious registration should remain “Muslim.” Kamilia later submitted an appeal.

A lawsuit filed by the mother of 15-year-old Coptic twins, Mario and Andrew, was rejected by an administrative judicial court on March 30 in Egypt. Camilia Lutfi filed the lawsuit against the Interior Minister and the director of the Civil Status Department for refusing to re-instate the Christian religion on the boys’ birth certificates. Mario and Andrew’s certificates were changed to reflect Islam as their religion when their father converted in 2005. Camilia desires to restore her sons’ identity as Christians on their birth certificates before they turn 16 in June, the age at which national ID cards are issued in Egypt. She fears that if their ID cards are issued with Islam as their religious affiliation, they will be considered apostates if they try to change their cards to reflect their Christian faith. Mario and Andrew were reportedly extremely disappointed with the verdict, saying “faith is not by force, we want to remain Christians and we do not wish to become Muslims.” (Source: Assyrian International News Agency)

The twins have now been issued with new identity cards that state their religious registration as “Christian.” This was made possible because of a Supreme Administrative Court ruling in July that explicitly overrode all previous rulings. The court ruling applies to any who were originally registered as “Christian,” but whose registration was subsequently changed to “Muslim,” whether voluntarily or involuntarily.

One implication of having these amended identity cards is that the twins should now be ‘treated as Christians within the education system. In 2008 they were held back for a school year after refusing to take an end-of-year examination for an Islamic class. They should now be exempt from those classes.

Thank the Lord for this positive development! Pray that the twins’ education will be uninterrupted. Pray that the numerous other Christians in similar positions will quickly and efficiently receive identity cards stating their religious registration as “Christian.” Pray for religious freedom in Egypt.

– middle east concern

Cairo rally: One day we’ll kill all Jews

December 1, 2011 by  
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Egypt, November 25, 2011: Muslim Brotherhood holds venomous anti-Israel rally in Cairo mosque Friday; Islamic activists chant: Tel Aviv, judgment day has come

Arab hate: A Muslim Brotherhood rally in Cairo’s most prominent mosque Friday turned into a venomous anti-Israel protest, with attendants vowing to “one day kill all Jews.”
 
Some 5,000 people joined the rally, called to promote the “battle against Jerusalem’s Judaization.” The event coincided with the anniversary of the United Nations’ partition plan in 1947, which called for the establishment of a Jewish state.

However, most worshippers who prayed at the mosque Friday quickly left it before the Muslim Brotherhood’s rally got underway. A group spokesman urged attendants to remain for the protest, asking them not to create a bad impression for the media by leaving.
 
‘Treacherous Jews’
Speakers at the event delivered impassioned, hateful speeches against Israel, slamming the “Zionist occupiers” and the “treacherous Jews.” Upon leaving the rally, worshippers were given small flags, with Egypt’s flag on one side and the Palestinian flag on the other, as well as maps of Jerusalem’s Old City detailing where “Zionists are aiming to change Jerusalem’s Muslim character.”
 
Propaganda material ahead of Egypt’s parliamentary elections was also handed out at the site.

Spiritual leader Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb charged in his speech that to this day Jews everywhere in the world are seeking to prevent Islamic and Egyptian unity.
 
“In order to build Egypt, we must be one. Politics is insufficient. Faith in Allah is the basis for everything,” he said. “The al-Aqsa Mosque is currently under an offensive by the Jews…we shall not allow the Zionists to Judaize al-Quds (Jerusalem.) We are telling Israel and Europe that we shall not allow even one stone to be moved there.”
 
‘We have different mentality’ 
Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen, as well as Palestinian guest speakers, made explicit calls for Jihad and for liberating the whole of Palestine. Time and again, a Koran quote vowing that “one day we shall kill all the Jews” was uttered at the site. Meanwhile, businessmen in the crowd were urged to invest funds in Jerusalem in order to prevent the acquisition of land and homes by Jews.
 
Throughout the event, Muslim Brotherhood activists chanted: “Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, judgment day has come.”
 
Speaking to Ynet outside the mosque following the prayer, elementary school teacher Ala al-Din said that “all Egyptian Muslims are willing to embark on Jihad for the sake of Palestine.”
 
“Why is the US losing in Afghanistan? Because the other side is willing and wants to die. We have a different mentality than that of the Americans and Jews,” he said.

– eldad beck

Coptic Christian Student Murdered By Classmates for Wearing a Cross

November 2, 2011 by  
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Ayman NabilLabib

Ayman NabilLabib

Egypt, October 10, 2011: Egyptian media published news of an altercation between Muslim and Christian students over a classroom seat at a school in Mallawi, Minya province. The altercation lead to the murder of a Christian student. The media portrayed the incident as non-sectarian. However, Copts Without Borders, a Coptic news website, refuted this version and was first to report that the Christian student was murdered because he was wearing a crucifix.

“We wanted to believe the official version,” said activist Mark Ebeid, “because the Coptic version was a catastrophe, as it would take persecution of Christians also to schools.” He blamed the church in Mallawi for keeping quiet about the incident.

Today the parents of the 17-year-old Christian student Ayman Nabil Labib, broke their silence, confirming that their son was murdered on October 16, in “cold blood because he refused to take off his crucifix as ordered by his Muslim teacher.” Nabil Labib, the father, said in a taped video interview with Copts United NGO, that his son had a cross tattooed on his wrist as per Coptic tradition, as well as another cross which he wore under his clothes.

Both parents confirmed that Ayman’s classmates, who were present during the assault and whom they met at the hospital and during the funeral, said that while Ayman was in the classroom he was told to cover up his tattooed wrist cross. He refused and defiantly got out the second cross which he wore under his shirt. “The teacher nearly choked my son and some Muslim students joined in the beating,” said his mother.

According to Ayman’s father, eyewitnesses told him that his son was not beaten up in the school yard as per the official story, but in the classroom. “They beat my son so much in the classroom that he fled to the lavatory on the ground floor, but they followed him and continued their assault. When one of the supervisors took him to his room, Ayman was still breathing. The ambulance transported him from there dead, one hour later.”

–  mary abdelmassih

Egyptian Military accused of lying over denial of anti-Christian violence

October 25, 2011 by  
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The Egyptian military has denied rolling over Christian protestors

The Egyptian military has denied rolling over Christian protestors CC BY 2.0 / Gigi Ibrahim

Egypt, October 18, 2011: The Egyptian military has been accused of lying about its role in the violence that left at least 25 people dead last week after generals denied firing on Christian protestors and running over them in armoured vehicles.

Generals from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces blamed Christian protestors for the violence, accusing them of “savage” attacks on the military. At a press conference last Wednesday (12 October) Maj Gen Adel Emara denied troops opened fire at protestors, claiming that their weapons did not contain live ammunition. He also claimed that the military were “trying to avoid running into protestors, not rolling over them”.

His account has been challenged with compelling evidence to the contrary. Khaled Abdel-Hamid, a member of the Revolution Youth Coalition, said:

These are blatant lies. The witnesses and the video clips prove that there was monstrous suppression by the army of a peaceful protest.

Journalist Samwel el-Ashay added: At a certain point, things got out of hand and the armoured vehicles running around were actually rolling over protestors. I saw it with my eyes.

Autopsies and forensic reports also refute the military’s version of events; a third of the victims – most of whom were Christians – were killed by being run over by armoured vehicles, while two-thirds were shot with live ammunition.

Liberal political groups accused the military of lying about the violence and demanded criminal prosecution of the commander of the military police involved in the clashes.

As the military rulers seek to fend off growing criticism over the violence, the military prosecutor said that he will take over the investigation, effectively barring the civilian prosecutor from continuing his own enquiry. The move has been criticised by activists and rights groups, who said that the investigation would not be impartial.

State Media Criticised

Meanwhile, Egyptian state television has also come under fire for its part in fuelling the violent assault on Christian protestors. It has been accused of spreading false information and inciting violence against Christians. During the clashes, news readers appealed for “honest Egyptians” to protect their soldiers against Christian “mobs”, while the Christians were denounced as “sons of dogs”.

There have been calls for Information Minister Osama Heikal to resign. And last Thursday (13 October) hundreds of journalists, broadcasters and public media figures marched to the state TV building in Maspero to denounce the “sectarianism of the media”; they called for a clean-up of state TV.

Calls for Justice

Last Sunday’s protest was sparked by the torching of a church in Aswan Province on 30 September; it was the latest in a long line of violent anti-Christian incidents. Following the assault on Christian protestors, senior Egyptian Church leaders have made calls for all unresolved attacks on Christians and churches to be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

The government has pledged to make changes to the laws regarding church buildings that many Christians feel are discriminatory and legitimise Muslim hostility towards them. But previous promises to lift the restrictions on church buildings have not been fulfilled. 

The leader of an Egyptian Church in the UK said that Egypt was at a “turning point” when the country can either embrace “positive reform and the building of a new Egypt … that instils a sense of citizenship, ownership and responsibility into every Egyptian”, or continue “leaving unlawful acts unresolved and unprosecuted, presenting one part of the community as a justifiable target, and continuing to drive a wedge between members of a single society, and this will lead to the demise of all… [I]t is Egypt that will weaken if Egyptians do not stand together, and if this unhealthy separation and discrimination continues.”

– barnabas team

Investigation exposes Muslim Campaign to convert Christian girls in Egypt

July 22, 2011 by  
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Alexandria,-where-the-Muslim-ring-was-uncovered

Alexandria, where the Muslim ring was uncovered CC BY-NC 3.0 by Henk Goossens

An Egyptian human rights organisation has exposed a highly organised Muslim ring that promotes sexual exploitation and blackmail to force Christian girls to convert to Islam.

Egypt4Christ, which monitors the abduction and forced Islamisation of Christian minors, published the findings in a new report last week. It launched an undercover investigation after a church leader in Alexandria reported that a ten-year-old Christian girl had been sexually abused by a 20-year-old Muslim university student.

The group discovered that a highly organised Muslim ring based at a mosque in Alexandria are orchestrating a systematic campaign in which they urge young Muslim males in high school and university to approach Christian girls aged 9-15 and manipulate them through sexual exploitation and blackmail. Named “operation soaking lupin beans” (referring to small dried beans that are soaked until they grow in size before being eaten raw), the plan aims to compromise Christian girls sexually so that they feel defiled and humiliated, forcing them to flee their homes. Conversion to Islam is then used as a “solution” to their problems.

The group published the names of those involved in the ring, which includes high-ranking officials and a Salafist leader who is reportedly considering running for president in the forthcoming Egyptian elections.

The problem of the forced conversion of Christian girls, who are then married to Muslim men, is a long-standing one in Egypt. But it has intensified since the January Revolution, with the number of Christian girls affected said to be soaring, amid wider efforts to Islamise the country. One church leader in Cairo estimates that at least 21 young girls have disappeared from his parish since the revolution, while another said that “more than two to three girls disappear everyday in Giza alone”. He added, “The cases that are brought to public attention are few compared to what the numbers actually are.”

Christian cousins Christine Ezzat Fathy (16) and Nancy Magdy Fathy (14) have been the focus of much media attention in Egypt recently after they went missing on their way to church on Sunday 12 June. Their families accused two young Muslim men of kidnapping the girls, who were found by police nearly two weeks later in Cairo; they were wearing burqas, claimed to have converted to Islam voluntarily and refused to return to their families. They were placed in a state care home while the matter was investigated further.

Christian activist Mark Ebeid said that the problem has escalated since the revolution because of the emergence of Muslim Salafists, who follow an ultra-conservative, strict and puritanical version of Islam related to Wahhabism, the official state creed of Saudi Arabia. Mr Ebeid said they “believe strongly that converting a Christian Infidel is in some ways like earning a ticket to paradise – not to mention the earthly remuneration they get from the Saudis”.

Christians complain that the military council are not intervening in the problem and they do not get any assistance from the police.

The problem is not unique to Egypt; it is also common in Pakistan, and there have been consistent reports of its occurring in India and Sri Lanka. A Christian girl who has been forced to marry a Muslim man faces a virtually hopeless future, held captive by a family who treat her as nothing more than a slave. In Pakistan and Egypt, the woman’s name and identity is changed, with her Christian religious status being replaced with Islam on her identity card.

Egyptian court ruling allows Christian reconverts to register faith

July 15, 2011 by  
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These Christian twins were registered as Muslims when their father converted to Islam

These Christian twins were registered as Muslims when their father converted to Islam

Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court has made a significant and welcome ruling that will allow Christian reconverts to have their religious registration officially changed back to “Christian”.

The ruling applies to those who were registered – on their birth certificates and/or national ID cards – as “Christian” but whose religious identity was changed to “Muslim”, either because they converted to Islam as adults, or as a consequence of a parent changing their registration, or because of a clerical error. It means that those who return to Christianity having converted to Islam will be officially identified as Christians rather than Muslims. But it does not apply to converts to Christianity from Muslim backgrounds.

These Christian twins were registered as Muslims when their father converted to Islam

Religious registration affects many important areas of life including marriage, inheritance, education and church attendance. ID cards must be presented in order to perform everyday acts such as travel or registering a complaint at a police station.

Egyptian Christians have been campaigning for this court ruling since 2004; several similar verdicts, issued in 2008, have not been implemented. One more recent ruling was blocked by the State Council’s fatwa committee, which said that each case must be reviewed individually by the court.

The latest verdict, made on 3 July, ruled that the presentation of a birth certificate stating religious registration as “Christian” with a current confirmation of faith from the church would be sufficient for the change to be made automatically.

Lawyer Peter El-Naggar was optimistic that the court order would be executed this time. But a senior Church leader was more sceptical. He said,

The problem is with the authorities who refuse to implement the court orders issued in our favour.

Identity crisis

There is a double standard in Egypt regarding the registration of converts. A senior Church leader explained:

When Christians decide to convert to Islam, they receive support from everyone including the authorities and their ID cards are changed to include their new religion in no time.

When it’s the other way round, Christians face obstacles and difficulties that obstruct their freedom of belief and the lifestyle they choose to have.

Attempts by converts to have their conversions formally recognised or their ID cards altered have repeatedly failed. Maher el-Gohary, a convert from Islam to Christianity, was forced into hiding with his daughter Dina, also a Christian, after he tried to have the religion on his ID card changed in May 2009 to reflect his faith. They tried to leave the country when the court refused his request but were stopped at the airport and their passports were confiscated. More than one attempt was made on Maher’s life, and Dina was attacked with acid. They were able to escape Egypt earlier this year and are hoping to establish a new life in America.

There are problems also for Christian children whose parent(s) converts to Islam; they are reckoned to be Muslims also and the religion on their birth certificates can be changed to Islam. But when one or both Muslim parents convert to Christianity, their children are still considered to be Muslims. In March 2010 a court rejected a lawsuit from a Christian mother asking for the Christian identity of her twin sons, Mario and Andrew Lufti, whose father converted to Islam, to be reinstated before their identity cards were issued at the age of 16.

Muslim violence after Christian woman sexually harassed in Egypt

July 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Egypt, newsletter-world, Persecution, World

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Map showing the location of Egypt

Map showing the location of Egypt

We are fed up. Every few days an incident … turns into an attack on Christians. We have to blame the policy of impunity adopted by the Army, which lets Muslims get away scot-free every time they attack [Christians].

– Egyptian Christian activist Nabil Naggar

A mob of armed Muslims in Egypt looted and torched Christian homes and businesses, and beat up Christians, following the sexual harassment of a Christian woman by Muslims at a bus terminal.

The violence broke out on Thursday (30 June) when the woman’s husband tried to defend her but was himself severely beaten. Shortly after the altercation, thousands of Muslims descended on the predominantly Christian part of Kolosna, Minya province, and started looting and torching Christian property. They were armed with swords, batons and guns, and shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“god is great”) as they carried out the attacks. Ten Christians were injured during the violence.

One Christian resident said, “They were cursing the cross and taunting us that we will stay inside and never be allowed in the streets again.”

Six Christian homes, including the property of the sexual harassment victim, were looted or torched, as well as three supermarkets and other businesses.

Meanwhile, Muslims searched cars on the main road of Kolosna. A church leader said:

If the car belonged to Christians, its passengers were beaten, insulted and windshields were smashed. If the car belonged to Muslims, it passed safely.

The army and military police were called but did not arrive for three hours and reportedly took no action while properties were attacked. They eventually fired teargas after several attempts to disperse the Muslim mob failed.

WELCOME COURT RULING

In a more positive development for Egypt’s beleaguered Christian community, a court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Muslim lawyers regarding Camilia Shehata, the wife of a church leader who was alleged to have converted to Islam and been held captive by the Egyptian Church. The Muslims demanded the disclosure of her whereabouts, but the court ruled that they had failed to provide proof to support their claim of Camilia’s detention. She has publicly denied the Muslims’ claims.

This matter has been used by Muslims as a pretext to attack Christians, including a hostage siege at a Baghdad church last October and more recently, in May, attacks on churches and Christian property in Imbaba district, Cairo, that left 12 dead and more than 200 injured.

Camilia’s lawyer Dr Naguib Gabriel said:

Today’s court ruling closes the curtain on one of the most famous and difficult cases in Egypt. Muslims will not be allowed to demonstrate regarding this matter anymore.

Forced Conversions to Islam Make Christian Families Scared for Their Two Missing Daughters

June 28, 2011 by  
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Tensions Rise in Egypt Over Two Missing Christian Girls.

ICC Note: Two young Coptic girls have alledgedly converted to islam after reportedly being kidnapped by two Muslim brothers.

Nancy Magdy Fathy & Christine Ezzat Fathy, Egypt

Nancy Magdy Fathy & Christine Ezzat Fathy

Tension is escalating over the case of 14-year-old Nancy Magdy Fathy, and her 16-year old cousin Christine Ezzat Fathy, who have disappeared and allegedly converted to Islam. Many parties are being pulled into the row over their future, including Al Azhar, the Church, activists and lately Islamist organizations, which are threatening violence against the church.

The story of the missing girls became public after they disappeared while on their way to church on Sunday June 12. A the two day sit-in staged by Copts in front of the Minya Security Headquarters, demanding Nancy and Christine’s return, focused attention on their story. Rumors in the media emerged as to their whereabouts, the identity of the perpetrators and whether the girls were actually traded to another Muslims gang.

Nearly two weeks after they disappeared, Nancy and Christine were found in Cairo wearing Burkas. They were incidentally stopped in the street by a police officer when he noticed that one of them had a cross tattooed on her wrist, as many Copts have. The girls told the policeman they converted to Islam and did not marry any Muslims sheikh as the newspapers said, but fearing the wrath of their parents, they sought shelter at the home of a Muslim man. He issued a report of the incident and let them go.

. . .

An investigation into their disappearance was launched, as their parents accused two Muslim brothers from a neighboring village of abducting them. They were also asked about the video clip which appeared on the Internet, taken in Tahrir Square, where Nancy and Christine allegedly converted to Islam.

According to the investigators, the Christian minors said they converted to Islam of their own free will, and refused to return to their families, and even applied for protection from them. The prosecution decided to put them in a state care home and provide protection for them, until the completion of the investigation. Authorities also wanted an Al-Azhar scholar to determine if they really believe in Islam.

This has angered their families, who said their girls are minors and should not be subjected to such procedures.

. . .
Al Azhar and the Fatwa (religious edict) Committee denied that the two Coptic teenagers had converted to Islam, because they are still minors and have not yet reached 18 years of age, as is required by law.

The families’ lawyer, Dr Naguib.Gabriel, said the decision to deliver the girls to the state care home belonging to the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood is contrary to the law, because they are still minors, noting that Al-Azhar said that it does not recognize their conversion, and therefore the two girls should be returned to their families.

Gabriel added that he had made a complaint to the Egyptian Public Prosecutor, on behalf of the families, as they oppose handing Nancy and Christine over to the care home.

. . .

Dr. Gabriel said that there is a possibility the two girls were subjected to pressure in order to say they converted to Islam of their free will, or they fear the reaction of their families in case they return home, especially since they come from an ultra conservative Upper Egyptian society, where the disappearance of a girl for days is considered a scandal and a shame. He said he will obtain a pledge from their families to protect them, and not to harm them in any way upon their return.

The security director of Minya told Al-Ahram newspaper on June 17 the two girls are considered minors before the law and the authorities and therefore their conversion to Islam and their marriage is not recognized officially as they do not yet have the necessary ID card, which is issued from the age of 16. On this basis, anyone involved in the incident will be punished according to the law.

The two Muslim brothers accused by the fathers are in detention pending investigation. The family of the accused protested today, calling for their release because Nancy and Christine said they left home on their own accord and where not abducted.

The Egyptian daily newspaper ElYoum7 published a statement from the Islamist “Alliance for the support of New Muslim Women,” in which the group threatened to carry out “extended protests” in all governorates in Egypt if Nancy and Christine are returned to the church. The Alliance emphasized in its statement the protests this time will escalate violently: “We will not retreat this time, until each captive is free and out of the monasteries in which they are held as prisoners.”

. . .

In the past the Alliance had staged over 20 demonstrations every Friday in support of Kamilia Shehata, the priest’s wife whom they claim converted to Islam but was held captive by the church, despite of Al Azhar confirming that she never set foot there and her appearance twice in public to refute all their claims of her conversion (AINA 9-18-2010).

“The daily abduction and forced Islamization of Coptic minors, conducted by Muslims funded by Saudi Arabia, has escalated to new levels after the January 25th Revolution,” said Coptic activist Mark Ebeid, “and has greatly enraged the Copts. Everyone is now fearing that they might not be able to stand it any longer with the continuous Islamists provocations.”

– Mary Abdelmassih (aina)

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