During last year’s Christmas holiday season, it seemed a pair of brutal terror assaults on Christian congregations in Egypt and Iraq had finally brought the plight of the Middle East’s embattled Christian minorities to the fore, at least to the point where Western leaders could no longer ignore this abysmal problem.
An al-Qaida cell’s shocking raid on a Baghdad cathedral in late
October, 2010 resulted in the murder of 44 Christian worshipers, two priests and
seven Iraqi security personnel. Then, on New Year’s Day 2011, a powerful car
bomb targeted a Coptic church in Alexandria, killing 25 parishioners and
wounding nearly 100 just as they were finishing midnight Mass.
long-time observer of the Middle East, I held out hope at the time that these
tragedies would prove to be a tipping point, and that the West would finally
come to the rescue of the dwindling and battered Christian communities of the
region. But then the Arab Spring erupted and realpolitik took over. Sadly, there
was no time to deal with radical Muslim attacks on Christians when the entire
Middle East was convulsing with unprecedented mass protests.
vicious slaughter in Alexandria had left the Copts with an uneasy sense that the
Mubarak regime was no longer able to protect them. As a result, many withdrew
their traditional support for the government and joined the mass demonstrations
in Tahrir Square.
Yet now that the Muslim Brotherhood and an even more
militant Salafist faction are poised to take over the new parliament, many Copts
are having second thoughts. Already facing discrimination and harassment from a
secular regime, they realize things could actually get a lot worse under the
AN ANCIENT Christian community that according to tradition was
introduced to Egypt by Saint Mark in 42 CE, the Copts today comprise nearly 10
percent of Egypt’s 80 million people. They are a proud faith community – proud
that they have survived centuries of Muslim persecution and repeated attempts at
forced conversions to Islam. This pride goes even to the point that many have
small green crosses tattooed on their wrists.
Yet they are faced with a
dilemma under the emerging new order in Egypt. The nation’s laws require
everyone over the age of 16 to carry an identity card containing their personal
details, including their religion.
The card in necessary for employment,
education, access to public services, even to be married and buried. Thus, there
are good reasons that Copts want to be identified as Christians, but holding
such a card means facing certain discrimination in job opportunities, education
and other pursuits in life.
As a result, the Copts are anxious to see
whether the new constitution being drawn up for the country will guarantee them
both equal rights as citizens and full religious freedoms as a distinct faith
They also are fearful the army and courts will no longer be
there to shield them from Muslim agitators and terrorists. Some have serious
doubts on both accounts and Western embassies in Cairo are already reporting an
increase in Coptic Christians seeking to apply for emigration abroad.
THE Arab Spring runs its course, the litmus test of whether democracy truly is
taking root in Egypt and elsewhere in the region will be if the emerging rulers
respect the rights of their Christian minorities.
I have serious doubts
this will come about naturally.
It is totally dependent on Western
leaders expressing their outrage – loudly and clearly – at any manifestation of
Christian persecution. There must be a determined diplomatic campaign to ensure
the rights and safety of the Middle East’s indigenous Christians, including
political intervention when necessary.
There is clear historic precedent
for such outside intervention in the Arab/Muslim world to protect Christian
communities. As Ottoman rule over the Middle East began to wane, the Great
Powers moved into the region, each concluding deals with the Sultanate in
Istanbul to provide protection to various imperiled Christian denominations.
British envoys arrived to safeguard Protestant interests, France the Lebanese
Christians, Russia the Orthodox folds. The Vatican also stepped in to aid
certain sects, producing the unique hybrids of the Maronite and Greek Melkite
churches which are loyal to the papacy but retain some Eastern Orthodox beliefs
These Western interlocutors all brought with them schools,
hospitals and other modern institutions, thus vastly improving the education,
health and job opportunities of the local Christians. With this benevolent
influx also came advances for all peoples of the region.
Some locals are
sure to object to any renewed Western intervention on behalf of Middle East
Christians as a form of neo-colonialism. But no one has territorial designs here
anymore. It is just a matter of plain human decency.
No coddling of
Islamist regimes! Sanctions if necessary! Someone has to do something to help
stop the endless bleeding of Eastern Christianity.
When Christ was born
in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, an angel warned Joseph in a dream to flee with his
family to Egypt to protect the child from the maniacal Herod the Great. Today,
every warning sign says Egypt is no longer a place of refuge for his humble
The writer is media director for the International Christian